Microsoft Teams is upgrading its virtual platform to accommodate larger groups for meetings and classes.
As part of this new upgrade, meeting organisers who want to have more people watch a presentation or discussion, will soon be able to bring together up to 20, 000 participants at a go but for a view-only meeting experience.
“As the global response to COVID-19 evolves, communities around the world have moved from an era of “remote everything” into a more hybrid model of work, learning, and life. As we all scramble to keep up, the future of work and education is being shaped right before our eyes. At Microsoft, we have spent the last few months learning from our customers and studying how they use our tools,” Jared Spataro, Corporate Vice President for Microsoft 365.
And for more interactive meetings—where attendees can chat, unmute to talk, and turn on their videos for real-time collaboration, Teams meetings are growing to support up to 1,000 participants, up from a maximum of 250 participants currently.
These upgrades are part of new features in Microsoft Teams that will make virtual interactions more natural, more engaging, and ultimately, more human. These features offer three critical benefits for people at work and in education. First, they help you feel more connected with your team and reduce meeting fatigue. Second, they make meetings more inclusive and engaging. Lastly, they help streamline your work and save time. It’s all about enabling people everywhere to collaborate, to stay connected, and to discover new ways to be productive from anywhere.
Out of the new features announced – the Together Mode – which will be available for users from August 2020, presents a new meeting experience in Teams that uses AI segmentation technology that digitally places participants in a shared background. This makes it feel like you are sitting in the same room with everyone else in the meeting or class. Research has shown that since most people started doing work remotely, many people are feeling less connected and experience more fatigue during video meetings than during in-person collaboration.
This mode makes meetings more engaging by helping you focus on other people’s faces and body language and making it easier to pick up on the non-verbal cues that are so important to human interaction.
“It’s great for meetings in which multiple people will speak, such as brainstorms or roundtable discussions, because it makes it easier for participants to understand who is talking,” Spataro explains.
The second feature – the Dynamic view – offers new meeting experience but it’s not intended for every meeting. A set of enhancements we call dynamic view gives you more control over how you see shared content and other participants in a meeting. Using AI, meetings dynamically optimise shared content and video participants. New controls—including the ability to show shared content and specific participants side-by-side—let you personalise the view to suit your preferences and needs.
The third feature is the Video filters which allow users to subtly adjust lighting levels and soften the focus of the camera to customise their appearance. Also introduced is the Reflect messaging extension, which is based on research that shows that employee well-being is more important to productivity than ever. Creating an emotionally supportive environment is key to keeping people healthy, happy, and focused.
The new Reflect messaging extension gives managers, leaders, and teachers an easy way to check in with how their team or students are feeling — either in general, or about a specific topic like work-life balance, the status of a project, current events, or a change within the organisation. IT administrators will be able to install the Reflect extension from GitHub, and then make it available to employees in their organisation in the message extension menu.
In addition to the above, Teams users will soon be able to react during a meeting using emojis that will appear to all participants. Live reaction is a shared feature with PowerPoint Live Presentations, which allows audience members to provide instant feedback to the presenter.
Also, during meetings, chat has become a lively space for conversation and idea-sharing. It offers an option for people to participate in the discussion without having to jump in verbally. But it can be challenging to pay attention to video feeds, presentations, and chats all at the same time. Currently, Teams users need to open a chat window to view the chat screen manually. Soon, however, chats sent during a Teams meeting will surface on the screens of all meeting participants, making the chat more central to the conversation.
Live transcripts, coming later this year, provide another way to follow along with what has been said and who said it. After a meeting, the transcript file is automatically saved in a tab as a part of the meeting.
“Unless otherwise specified, all of these features will roll out later this year. And they all reflect our vision for the future of work: where everyone can contribute and do their best work; where they can move fluidly between experiences, apps, and devices; where AI lends a helping hand to streamline tasks, provide short cuts, and save you time; and where technology contributes to well-being and doesn’t detract from it,” Spataro noted in conclusion.
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