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3 new Microsoft Teams features to improve hybrid working

18 Jun 2021

The collaboration platform has announced new chat features, new video layouts and features to help reduce stress for employees.

Since the beginning of the pandemic and the mass move to remote working, employees around the world have had to switch their office-based collaboration to a virtual meeting room.

One of the biggest players in the virtual workspace arena, Microsoft Teams, has announced a host of new features to enhance hybrid working models as pandemic restrictions begin to lift around the world.

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“As we emerge into this new hybrid reality, we are focused on building experiences in Teams that are designed to ensure all voices are heard including the people not in the room – empowering everyone to connect and engage, from anywhere and at any time,” said Jared Spataro, corporate vice-president for Microsoft 365.

“But Covid-19 also taught us that meeting fatigue and digital overload is real, and remote work has challenged our wellbeing. To help, Microsoft has built Microsoft Viva – our integrated employee experience platform – into Teams, so that employees can find ways to protect time and preserve their wellbeing right in the flow of their work.”

Expanding Fluid components

Fluid capabilities already exist in Microsoft Teams chat, enabling users to send a live component, such as a table or to-do list, that could be edited by everyone in real-time.

Now, the Fluid framework is coming to Teams meetings, OneNote, Outlook and Whiteboard.

This will make it easier for users to take notes and assign tasks within a Teams meeting, which will then be automatically placed in the new meeting notes home of OneNote.

“We’re also announcing new chat features that further support asynchronous collaboration, so you can keep the work moving forward in between meetings,” said Spataro.

“Pin a message, providing your chat members with quick access to critical content anytime, and reply to a specific chat message maintaining context within the ongoing conversation.”

More natural meetings

The company is rolling out a number of updates to meetings as well as Teams Rooms to give remote workers a more engaging experience.

One element is a new ‘front row’ in Teams Rooms, which will be rolled out throughout the year. This feature aims to make interactions feel more natural and give in-room participants a greater sense of connection to remote participants.

“We’ve moved the video gallery to the bottom of the screen so remote participants are face-to-face with those in the room. And to help everyone stay engaged, meeting content is surrounded by contextual meeting information like the agenda, tasks, and notes. Meeting chat will also be clearly visible to those in the room, so they can see and respond to comments shared through chat,” said Spataro.

A large screen showing Microsoft Teams with its new front row feature with three remote employee screens along the bottom.

Image: Microsoft Teams

When content isn’t being shared, Microsoft Teams also plans to expand screen real estate using new video layouts that disperse the video gallery across multiple displays. This will allow remote participants to show up “larger and more true to life”.

Improving employee wellbeing

Microsoft Teams is also addressing the issue of increased stress, digital overload and virtual meeting fatigue.

According to Microsoft, weekly meeting time for Teams users has more than doubled since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Back-to-back meetings increase stress and make it harder to stay engaged and focused,” said Spataro.

With this in mind, the company plans to bring guided meditations and mindfulness exercises from mental health app Headspace to its Viva Insights app later this month. It announced its partnership with Headspace at its Ignite conference last September.

It’s also introducing a new focus mode later this year. This will feature focus music from Headspace. It will also implement timers to help users make progress on important tasks with planned breaks at regular intervals.

“Later this year, Viva Insights will offer the ability to configure quiet time to silence mobile notifications from Outlook and Teams outside your working hours as well as provide personalised insights on how well you are disconnecting,” said Spataro.

“Quiet time settings will also be available for users in Teams and Outlook mobile and accompanied by IT administrator controls in Microsoft Endpoint Manager to support the creation of organisation-wide policies to mute after-hours notifications.”

Jenny Darmody
By Jenny Darmody

Jenny Darmody became the deputy editor of Silicon Republic in 2020, having worked as the careers editor until June 2019. When she’s not writing about the science and tech industry, she’s writing short stories and attempting novels. She continuously buys more books than she can read in a lifetime and pretty stationery is her kryptonite. She also believes seagulls to be the root of all evil and her baking is the stuff of legends.

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