Launched in 2017, Teams has become Microsoft’s fastest-growing application and has really found its stride in 2020. As businesses quickly adapted to remote working Microsoft 365 saw its revenue grow by 19% in a three month period up to the end of June. Microsoft Teams saw a single-day high of 200 million meeting participants during that time. In the words of Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella, such growth constituted “two years of digital transformation in two months.” This year has also seen Microsoft release some welcome new features, including Custom Backgrounds, 3 x 3 view on Desktops and Raise your Hand in Meetings. As the features keep rolling out the team at IT.ie have picked the top new features announced at or leading up to the Microsoft’s Virtual Ignite 2020 event.
Together Mode was launched earlier in the summer and is designed to place all meeting participants together in a virtual space that looks as if they are all sharing the same room. There’s certainly an element of fun with it but also at a time when work colleagues are physically separated, it allows them to be together, even if only in a virtual environment. I read one commentator refer to it as resembling something akin to the Muppet Show and I can see what he means but as they release more virtual environments and customisations, I can see this as a very useful feature in terms of engagement and user experience for business and education users. The Verge reports that this feature is also being used by NBA to put fans together by installing large LED screens around basketball courts that have no fans during the pandemic.
Custom meeting layouts allow presenters to customise how their presentations and their own video feeds appear. With this, a presenter can superimpose his/her own video image over the presentation. This way participants don’t have to pick between watching the presenter or looking and the presentation deck separately. Microsoft has used the technology already available for Background Blur mode and Together Mode to enable this feature.
This new feature announced in July and due to be released in October will allow meeting hosts to create and control breakout rooms during Teams meetings. Once again you can immediately see the benefits of this to both business and education. Large meetings can be difficult to control and keep everyone engaged. Breakout rooms will allow for small groups to meet while still under the control of the meeting organiser, who would also assign participants to each break out room.
This is an auto-generated summary of a Teams meeting including transcript, chat, shared files and will be shared in the meeting Chat tab viewable in the Details tab for each meeting. A link to the recap will also be available in the meeting’s event in your Outlook calendar. I can see this features as a very effective way of recording the minutes of a meeting that are then available for review prior any follow-up meetings. What’s more, Teams meeting recording will now be stored on OneDrive/SharePoint, rather than stored directly in Microsoft’s Stream.
A much-improved calling app (Microsoft refer to their native experiences as apps in teams). A new streamlined view that shows contacts, voicemail and calling history and current device information.
In terms of telephony features, the news that Microsoft Partners will be offering Survivable Branch Appliance for Teams is welcome news. These appliances allow for telephony functions to continue when the internet or Microsoft 365 is down and will work with the new Teams Offline Mode.
With much of the global workforce working remotely Microsoft says that they have been working hard to provide managers and business leaders with insights and recommended actions to “achieve a better day, a better week, and a better experience for themselves, their teams, and their organisations”. Powered by MyAnalytics and Workplace Analytics this new feature will focus on the wellbeing of remote workers with Microsoft saying that “Productivity should never come at the cost of wellbeing”.
Microsoft Lists is another excellent feature that Microsoft began rolling out in July. Unlike the other features mentioned here, this one isn’t simply a Teams Update and comes as both a stand-alone app for desktop and mobile and also as a Teams app, making it an excellent all-round tool for Microsoft 365 business users. Microsoft Lists is designed for users to track issues, assets, routines, inventory and more using customisable views and smart rules and alerts to keep everyone in sync. The app comes with several handy templates and you can import from or export to Excel. I personally love this new app and have started to use it for tracking my work schedule and planning my marketing content.
These are just some of our favourite new or soon to be released features and I suggest that you look at the Microsoft 365 Roadmap for all the new and planned features across the entire suite. Microsoft Teams was very much designed to be part of the overall Microsoft 365 productivity suite, however, I think that many of the new features will not only be welcomed by business users but maybe even more so by educators. Together Mode creates a virtual auditorium similar to what many student and lecturers would be accustomed to and Break Our Rooms would be ideal for lectures where you break students into small teams for group projects. Teams was built from the ground up by Microsoft and they appear to be devoting a lot of resources to their favourite child. As more features are rolled out and more integrations become available via the app store, I expect that Teams will take over as the collaboration and telephony tool of choice for 365 users worldwide.