Microsoft is introducing some big updates to Microsoft Teams today. The software giant has been working on a new “Together Mode” for Teams ever since the COVID-19 pandemic began, and it’s designed to create a virtual live avatar of yourself that’s supposed to help you better engage with meetings. Microsoft is using AI to segment your face and shoulders and place you and your co-workers together in a virtual space.
That space could be a meeting room-like environment, a coffee shop, or other places you’d normally have face-to-face meetings. I got a chance to experience this new mode earlier this week. It felt a little gimmicky at first, especially as you can wave at co-workers, tap them on the shoulder, or do virtual high fives. Once you get over the fun or gimmicky parts of it, it actually feels like a far better way to remove visual distractions that you normally see in large gallery views in meetings.
I could easily see who was actually talking properly as well as the types of body language from other people in the meeting that can be difficult to pick up on when people are in their home environments or using custom backgrounds.
Microsoft is rolling out this new Together Mode to Microsoft Teams now, and it will be generally available to all users in August. It will debut initially with an auditorium view, but Microsoft is working on more views that will arrive in the future.
Alongside Together Mode, Microsoft is also launching a dynamic view for Teams. It’s designed to allow people to dynamically share content side by side with participants. It sounds like a mode that’s really useful if you’re presenting with a group of co-workers and you want your slidedeck on one side and specific team members’ video to show alongside to all meeting participants.
Microsoft is also adding in video filters and live reactions to Microsoft Teams. You can use the filters to adjust lighting levels or soften the focus of the camera to improve your webcam in Teams. Live reactions will allow participants to react with emoji during meetings that will appear for everyone.
Teams meetings will also soon grow to support up to 1,000 participants and even up to 20,000 if people are joining to watch a presentation or discussion. It’s a big jump that will allow a number of companies to handle all-hands calls through Teams. Microsoft is also adding live transcripts to Teams later this year alongside the ability to translate live captions into subtitles so anyone can follow a meeting that’s being held in another language.
If you’re used to using suggested replies in emails, this same feature is coming to Microsoft Teams. The short automated replies will be based on the context of previous messages in channels, allowing Teams users to quickly respond to questions and more. Microsoft is also adding in chat bubbles support later this year so that chats sent during Teams meetings will appear on top of the call so everyone can see them more clearly.
If all of this wasn’t enough for Teams, Cortana integration is even arriving to the mobile version of the app soon. You’ll be able to ask Cortana to make a call, join meetings, share files with colleagues, or even send chat messages.
Most of these new Microsoft Teams features will arrive in the app later this year, and they’re a clear indication of just how fast Microsoft is responding to competition and an ongoing pandemic that’s shaping how we live and learn.
Microsoft is even recruiting Lenovo and Yealink to create special new Microsoft Teams displays. These dedicated Teams devices will include a touchscreen and hands-free experience through Cortana. Lenovo’s ThinkSmart View will be one of the first Microsoft Teams displays, and it looks similar to the company’s existing Google-powered Smart Displays.