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Microsoft (MSFT) is rolling out a number of new features for its Teams app that it says will make the change to hybrid work easier for companies as employees slowly trickle back into the workplace and set up shop in their own remote offices.
The features, which will begin rolling out in the coming weeks and months, will make remote workers feel more like part of team meetings, improve remote presentations, and let users join Teams meetings using Siri via Apple’s CarPlay.
After working from home for more than a year, millions of Americans are now hoping to be able to continue the practice. In its first-annual Work Trends Index, Microsoft surveyed 30,000 people from 31 countries and found that 73% want to work from home at least part time. But the company says that businesses aren’t quite ready for the transition.
“[The world is] woefully unprepared to create good experiences for this new hybrid way of working,” Microsoft CVP of Modern Work Jared Spataro told Yahoo Finance.
“If we assume that just about every organization is going to have people who are coming in virtually, all of a sudden, just with that simple kind of framing, we recognize we are not ready, we are very unprepared for what's about to happen.”
The series of technologies include intelligent cameras that, when combined with the new software, will among other things, allow participants conference rooms to appear in their own chat windows within the Teams app as if they were joining remotely.
The idea is to make it easier for remote workers to see everyone in a conference room, rather than staring down the center of a table and being unable to see anyone but those closest to the video camera.
“That starts to become really powerful because people on the other end who are remote can actually see what's happening in the meeting, they get the sense that they are a full participant in the meeting because people are facing them,” Spataro explained.
Beyond displaying multiple in-person participants in their own video panes, the feature will automatically track who’s talking, using audio and facial movements to provide a better shot for remote workers. A people recognition feature will also show the name of in-person participants below their images, so you don’t have to guess who anyone in the room is.
Microsoft is also going to launch what it calls its Cameo feature in PowerPoint early next year. The feature will allow you to present PowerPoint presentations remotely while overlaying your video stream from your Teams app.
The thinking is that everyone who sees your PowerPoint remotely will also be able to see you give your presentation, making it feel a lot more personal than having to just watch slides pass by without any other human interaction.
For workers on the go, Microsoft will also add the ability to join Teams meetings and make hands-free calls using Apple’s Siri voice assistant via Apple CarPlay.
“You can actually say ‘Hey, Siri, join this Teams meeting,’ and you can actually join the meeting, put yourself on mute, take yourself off mute and so there's quite a bit of safety involved,” Spataro said.
The feature will roll out later this month.
Microsoft has been pushing Teams as the go-to for the new hybrid work environment for months, with the goal of battling the likes of Zoom and Google’s own workplace collaboration software.
The app now has 250 million monthly active users, according to Microsoft’s latest earnings call. And with just 7.8% of more than 90 million meeting rooms worldwide equipped with video capabilities, according to Frost & Sullivan, the company has plenty of room to continue that growth.
Correction: A previous version of this article said Teams has 250 million daily active users when in fact it has 250 million monthly active users. The error has been corrected.
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