I think it is fair to say that the use of video conferencing has exploded across the country and the globe due to COVID-19 restrictions. Everyone from professionals to our grandparents are currently using videoconferencing to communicate. While vendors like Zoom and GoToMeeting are popular choices, some of us have been using Microsoft Teams as an alternative, especially with the lingering questions surrounding security issues with the use of some videoconferencing services.
If you are not familiar with the product, Microsoft Teams is available within Office 365 business and enterprise plans; it is often described as a collaborative space that lets users easily share files, chat, assign tasks, hold online meetings and share notes. Its videoconferencing features comprise just one aspect of the service. With the use of videoconferencing on the rise, however, Microsoft has decided to accelerate the rollout of some much-needed features to help users conduct meetings.
Last week, Microsoft published an article discussing recent and future updates being rolled out for its online meetings. They describe these updates as ones that are intended to “decrease pain points, increase human connection, and make work a bit more fun.” Some of these updates include:
End Meeting. Last week, Microsoft released the ability for meeting organizers to end a meeting for all participants. To end an in-progress meeting, go to your meeting controls and select More options > End meeting. You'll be asked to confirm. When you do, the meeting will end for everyone right away. Sometime later this month, you should also be able to download a participant report, found in the participation list, that includes join and leave times for all participants.
Raise Hand. Microsoft plans to roll out this feature sometime this month. This feature will let anyone in the meeting send a visual sign that they have something to say. This decreases the risk of meeting participants talking over one another.
Increase in the number of participants appearing on screen. Recently, Microsoft announced that it would be increasing the number of participants who can be viewed on screen from 4 to 9. While this isn’t the 49 you can see on Zoom or the 25 you can see in G-Suites Hangouts or Cisco WebEx, this is a much-needed improvement.
Custom Backgrounds. Microsoft announced it is working towards including the ability to upload custom images that can be used as backgrounds. Currently, their background feature allows you to blur the environment behind you which is helpful when working from home rather than your office. To blur your background, first, start your video from a meeting and then simply click on the Ellipsis icon (…) from the meeting options and choose Blur My Background. To un-blur your video, choose the Ellipsis icon again and select Don’t Blur Background.
Real-time noise suppression. This feature should be released later this year, and will help minimize distracting background noises allowing the participants to hear what is being said. I think at this point we’ve all been in a remote meeting when a participant is loudly typing on their keyboard, or someone’s dog is barking in the background, so this feature ,I am sure, will be welcomed by users.
All-in-all, it appears that Microsoft is responding to the increased need for a solid videoconferencing platform, and they are working towards rolling out new features more quickly than expected. If you are using Office 365, Teams may be a great option for collaboration, not just for videoconferencing, since it uses and integrates many of the current Office 365 applications.