Day one of Ignite yesterday (Sept 22 2020), was full of many new announcements across Microsoft 365, Azure and Power Platform but day 1 was certainly dominated by a new stack of updates coming now or very soon to Microsoft Teams, with the list including well-being tools for employees, calling enhancements, new webinar features and breakout rooms and a whole lot more.
Here’s my review of the key new features. There’s also a quick video I recorded from the main Teams session…
With the virtual commute feature, Teams users will be able to schedule a virtual commute to structure their day so they can have a productive start in the morning and mindfully disconnect in the evening.
As part of Virtual Commute, Microsoft has partnered with Headspace to bring a curated set of mindfulness experiences and science-backed meditations into Teams based on the user’s day, and how busy their day appears from their activity across Teams and Office 365. This is designed to help make it easier for employees to find time to relax and recover and therefore better focus.
“There’s a lot of activity happening in Teams, we can see that. We also hear people telling us that there are adverse effects and that leads us to product strategy and what you’re seeing at Ignite,” said Microsoft executive Jared Spataro.
“The sudden transition to working from home during the pandemic has completely upended the lives of workers around the world.”
While many employees used to use their morning commute as a chance to relax or reflect on the day ahead of them, the switch to remote working has taken this personal time from them. To make matters worse, many organisations now expect their workers to begin their jobs right at the start of the day since they no longer need to travel to and from the office.
According to a study from Microsoft Research, commutes can serve as meaningful transitions at the beginning and end of the workday and in fact, the reflection done during this time can increase productivity by 12 to 15 percent.
New Well-being tools
With rollout starting in October and with new enhancements coming over the new few months, is a new set of well-being features and productivity insights for Microsoft Teams.
This will be powered by a combination of MyAnalytics and a new Workplace Analytics experience designed for Teams, Microsoft said that this aims to will gives individuals, managers, and business leaders powerful insights which are personalised about their roles and their teams within work and to ensure employees and employers can focus more effort and energy into their people (the heart of their business) helping everyone to focus on their work, and be their best.
Teams users will see recommended actions to help them make changing their work habits and improving their productivity and well-being easier. Examples include suggested tasks for the day, reminders to have breaks and taking time away from the screen which will be delivered to your Outlook inbox.
In addition, a new stay connected experience will also help individuals strengthen relationships with their colleagues by making it easy to praise top collaborators for key achievements and to schedule one-on-ones to catch up.
Finally, there will be new insights tab in Teams that allow leaders to ask natural questions like, “Are employees at risk for burnout? Are people maintaining strong internal connections? Are relationships with customers being maintained?”
Webinar Registration and reporting
For more structured meetings and events such as customer webinars, meeting and event organisers will soon be able to use powerful event registration with automated emails to make it easier to manage attendance. Ater the meeting, you’ll be able view a detailed reporting dashboard that will help understand attendee engagement. These new features are expected to begin to roll out by end of 2020 – and i suspect the Advanced Communications license will be needed to use these features (just a hunch).
Teams templates, which are now in the rollout phase, are designed to help teams get started faster and be more effective. Teams owners can now choose from common business scenarios, such as event management or crisis response, and industry-specific templates, like a hospital ward or bank branch. Each template comes with pre-defined channels, apps, and guidance and admins can create their own for your organisation.
New backgrounds for Together mode
Promised between now and the end of 2020, Together Mode feature will see some improvements with new Together mode scenes which will include conference rooms and a coffee shop and later, the ability to add your own such as meetings rooms from your own office. Microsoft hopes these features can help people feel connected and engaged from anywhere and reduce fatigue caused by regular grid view meetings.
With these improvements, like custom backgrounds in video chats, presenters will soon be able to select a scene from the gallery as the default scene for all together mode meeting attendees. Microsoft said they will also be enhancing the feature further to automatically scale and center participants in their virtual seats, regardless of how close or far they are from their camera.
Additionally, custom layouts in Teams meeting (not just Together mode) will allow presenters to customise how meeting content is displayed for participants during the meeting.
Similar to a weather forecast or the news, participants will be able to see the presenter’s video feed transposed onto the foreground of the content being presented on screen making for a more professional presentation.
Already in preview for education, Teams meetings is getting a much-anticipated breakout room feature.
This highly requested feature will allow meeting organisers to split participants into smaller groups (manually or automatically) so they can have their own discussions. It’s ideal for brainstorming and workgroup discussions or for running event with multiple streams or optional sessions for example.
This means presenters will then be able to hop between different breakout rooms and make announcements to all breakout rooms, and close the rooms to return everyone to the main meeting room. Participants will still be able to access the notes, chat, files and whiteboards from the breakout session after the breakout rooms close.
Starting rollout from the end of this month, is a new set of calling improvements for Teams.
One of these is Collaborative Calling, which enables users better collaborate and share information from within the channel while taking calls from employees or their customers in the queue.
Also included are a host of improvements to transcription, live captions, recording, and the ability to transfer between Teams mobile and desktop apps when doing one-on-one calls seemlessly.
Microsoft also said that their new live captions with speaker attribution is now generally available (though I don’t see it yet). This provides a live and recap service for the meeting which includes the recording, an online transcript, chat, shared files, and more.
New Microsoft Teams panels
As employees begin to return to the office, part time, occasionally or permanently, meeting rooms will provide a welcome change to their work from home setups and will likely be at a premium.
To make it easier for workers to know when a meeting room is occupied, Microsoft has unveiled a new category of devices called Microsoft Teams panels that can be mounted outside of a meeting space.
These devices are essentially small tablets that can also use information from other connected certified Teams devices such as cameras to show room capacity information and help workers follow their organisation’s social distancing guidelines.
OK.. There is more…
In addition to these main announcements yesterday, Microsoft also announced several new smaller enhancements to Teams which include:
- New Search Experience
- Ability to create tasks directly from a team’s chat or channel
- New Cortana powered hands-free meeting controls in Teams Rooms
Let me know what I missed….