Microsoft Teams

Microsoft Teams can now place everyone in the same space, like an auditorium

New features coming to Microsoft Teams include shared backgrounds, visual cues, shared surveys — and the ability to have more than 1,000 people participating at once

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In your next Microsoft Teams meeting, you may find everyone seated in the same auditorium, rather than small squares with different backgrounds. The new feature, Together mode, is just one element rolling out to Microsoft Teams users this summer, all of them designed to help ease meeting fatigue, while making virtual spaces more engaging and inclusive.

Covid-19 sent much of the world into social distancing, forcing people to continue to work, socialize and also learn. And Microsoft took the last several months to understand how people were using Teams, and even the pain points people found as well.

They found that 60 percent of people felt less connected to their colleagues since going to a more remote work set-up. Plus, the work from home scenario is unlikely to be disappearing, as 82 percent of managers that Microsoft surveyed said they actually expect more flexible work from home policies after the pandemic.

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Making the virtual work space — dominated not just by Microsoft but competitors, including Zoom — mirror more closely how people interact in a physical space was behind some of these new changes. But Teams is used by far more than work colleagues. Hospitals use the tool to hold virtual doctor appointments with patients, and schools are using Teams as well, a way to support the remote learning that took place across the world as the coronavirus pandemic grew.

Microsoft Teams Live ReactionsYou can clap hands and send hearts to show how you feel about what's being presented, a new feature in Microsoft TeamsMicrosoft

Visual cues and captions

In addition to being able to put all of your Teams members into a shared auditorium view, there are other visual cues coming that will help people better focus.

People who are speaking, for example, will now get framed in purple, while someone with a raised hand and a question will be framed in yellow. Chat bubbles will also be centered — and can be used to let people know you're running late, for example. People who are joining through video also will be centered more in the main part of the frame, while those joining with just audio will be moved to the right.

And taking a play right from social media, you'll be able to add clapping hands and even heart emojis over your frame to let people know how you feel about what they're presented and said.

People can also create live captions now that clarify, by name, who is speaking. And transcriptions can be generated, live, as a meeting is taking place, with everyone alerted when this feature is made live.

Microsoft Teams Together ModePeople will be able to sit virtually together in auditoriums and other settings including cafes.Microsoft

Size and Space

Teams will not be able to have more than 1,000 participants — and 20,000 viewers. And each frame can hold 49 people at once through Gallery view, which Microsoft had previously announced.

While the auditorium view is the first for the Together mode, other virtual spaces will be coming as well, including a cafe mode. When demonstrated, the auditorium view isn't perfect — people are sized differently depending on how big they appear in their own personal frame.

But there are some help aspects to a shared space, Microsoft noted. With different backgrounds gone, people then focus on the person, not the bookshelves behind them, for example, and body language is more amplified making it easier to see if someone has a question, or is confused.

Microsoft Teams transcriptionsLive transcriptions will appear on the right as people speak, which can be accessed laterMicrosoft

Cortana and mobile

In the Teams mobile app, Cortana is getting some muscle, able to send details and files to people, send messages, even block time for focusing.

Microsoft found that Teams was being used more outside of regular work hours, with Teams chats between 8 and 9 am and 6 to 8pm up 15 to 23 percent. People will be able to block notifications from coming through by setting up reflection or quiet time in their calendar — visible to all their Teams members — unless someone has special permission to break through.

All of these features are hopefully going to help Teams users feel more connected to their colleagues, while also giving them a chance to take a breather during their day, something everyone in this Covid-19 time can certainly use.

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