Microsoft announced more new features for Teams at its annual developers conference Ignite. These include a ‘Together’ function to create more of a meeting feeling, a virtual commute to give structure to home working and additional features to keep colleagues connected and safe, whether at home or in the office.
The Together mode scenes aim to create more of a real-world atmosphere during video conferences. Settings such as auditoriums, conference rooms and a coffee shop will be available later this year, so presenters can select a scene as default for all meeting attendees. Their image will be placed at the foreground, while machine learning in Together mode will automatically scale and centre meeting participants in their virtual seats in the scene.
Also Breakout rooms will be available next month. Meeting organizers will be able to split up participants into smaller groups to facilitate brainstorming sessions or workgroup discussions. Presenters can then hop between breakout rooms, make announcements to all breakout rooms, and close the rooms to return everyone to the main meeting.
New hardware: Teams panels, large Hub display
The company also introduced Microsoft Teams panels, a new category of devices that can be mounted outside of a meeting space to notify participants of scheduling and occupancy and to assist with wayfinding around the office. Teams panels can also use information from other connected certified Teams devices, like cameras that support people counting, to show room capacity information. The first Teams panel partners are Crestron and Yealink.
In its own hardware range, Microsoft started pre-sales for the Surface Hub 2S 85-inch model for commercial customers in the US. Available from January 2021, this is a new display to support conferencing with Microsoft 365, Teams, Windows and other applications.
Other enhancements to Microsoft Teams Rooms and devices aim to support health and safety as some people return to their workplaces. Touchless meeting experiences will be supported by the Room remote app, Teams casting and voice assistance with Microsoft Cortana, so that employees can meet safety guidelines without spreading infection.
New personal well-being insights and features in Teams include a virtual commute launching in the first half of 2021. This is designed to give people working from home time to prepare in the morning and de-connect in the evening – an important transition time to maintain productivity during the day, Microsoft said. It also has integrated the Headspace app with Teams to help users de-stress and access meditation and mindful-ness exercises.
To help colleagues stay connected, Teams is adding features making it easy to praise top collaborators for key achievements and to schedule 1:1s to catch up. Microsoft 365 also intelligently surfaces suggested tasks and emails from Outlook and @mentions in Teams that might require follow up, and near the start of the day, individuals can receive a daily Briefing email from Cortana including key personal productivity insights and suggested tasks for that day.
Further insights from Workplace Analytics within Teams will give managers and leaders help with understanding if employees are at risk of burnout, or if employees are able to maintain strong connections with colleagues and customers.