New features coming to Microsoft Teams include imaginative settings for Together mode and a brilliant innovation: well-being considerations.
The world of video-conferencing is fiercely competitive, with the chief players, Microsoft Teams, Google Meet and Zoom, playing a cat-and-mouse game as they seek to outdo each other.
In its latest blog post, Microsoft has announced what it legitimately calls “a ton of new capabilities” – we’ll come back to some of those another time, but for now, I’m going to focus on include Together mode and the ground-breaking well-being features which include Headspace.
Together mode introduces new scenes which will be coming later in 2020. Instead of the conventional grid of images which resemble Hollywood Squares, the Brady Bunch or even the Muppet Show, it will put multiple attendees in other environments. These include an auditorium which is light and airy.
There’s also an outdoor theater with leafy decoration (though mind your head on the branches in the back rows).
There’s also a boardroom, a trendier conference room and even a spacious kitchen bar.
As for that last one, dear Teams, it looks like the bar stools are a bit too low for comfort.
Overall, Microsoft is going for something more natural-looking, including being able to show a presenter’s video feed in front of their PowerPoint slide. In my experience, this could go one of two ways, either helping everyone to get more professional with their presenting or leading to more awkward presentations. Fingers crossed it’s the former.
Well-being features will be here in October
This is a really interesting development and hugely welcome. Microsoft says that from next month, individuals, managers and business leaders will each get personalized insights with recommended action. These are “to make changing habits and improving productivity and wellbeing easier”. The insights are backed by trusted privacy safeguards.
As a recognition that remote working can lead to actual feelings of remoteness, and that studies have shown people saying that the pandemic has increased their sense of burnout at work, Teams is introducing features which can help.
So, there are ways to stay connected by scheduling 1:1 meetings, for instance, or putting focus time into your calendar so chats are muted while you concentrate on working uninterrupted.
A little further off, set for the first half of 2021, there are other features, such as a virtual commute. Don’t worry, you don’t have to buy a season ticket for this, or put on your outdoor clothes, it’s what Microsoft calls “mental bookends for your remote workday” that will “make it easier to productively start and mindfully end the workday”.
There will also be reminders to schedule breaks in your week before it’s full of meetings. Though, please note, if you book back-to-back breaks from Monday morning to Friday afternoon, someone may take a dim view of this.
Best of all, Teams is partnering with Headspace. If you haven’t tried Headspace, well, you should. It’s simple, accessible meditation which some people (including me, you can probably tell) find hugely beneficial. Teams is bringing a curated set of mindfulness experiences and science-backed meditations which you can work into your day. Headspace’s meditations last from 3 minutes to much longer. I literally never finish a meditation, of whatever duration, without thinking to myself, “that’s better”.
Next year will also bring an emotional check-in experience to tap into how you’re feeling, with guidance for how to “improve the effectiveness of… day-to-day interactions.”
With so much of video-conferencing aimed at the obvious, like better sound and visual quality, it’s good to see Microsoft pushing the envelope in an imaginative and holistic way.
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