Microsoft Teams is getting virtual commutes and Headspace meditation

Microsoft Teams is getting virtual commutes and Headspace meditation

New features are on the way for the tool which has seen usage skyrocket since the beginning of the pandemic.

Published on 5th November 2020

Microsoft yesterday announced a slew of Teams features available now, coming later this year, and even arriving in 2021. The standout features are focused on mental health, including virtual commutes, meditation breaks, and work habits. Other new additions span Together Mode, Dynamic View, Breakout Rooms, recaps, presentation, calling, and new devices.

At its Build 2020 developers conference in May, Microsoft gave business developers new tools to build Teams apps. At its Inspire 2020 partners conference in July, Microsoft doubled down on helping businesses transition to a hybrid remote work approach. This week, at its Ignite 2020 IT Pros conference, the company is talking about mental health.

Since 2018, Microsoft Teams has been the company’s fastest-growing business app ever, long before lockdowns started juicing up remote work and learning numbers. In April, Teams hit 75 million daily active users, and in May Microsoft’s Jeff Teper told VentureBeat Teams “will be even bigger than Windows.” While the pandemic has resulted in impressive growth, Microsoft is realizing it has a responsibility to make sure companies using its platform in an increasing WFH and remote work world can offer mental health tools.

Virtual commutes, meditation breaks, and work habits

Nobody misses traffic and the wasteful practice known as commuting. But Microsoft Research studies have found that “the reflection typically done during that time can increase productivity by 12-15%.” And so, in the first half of 2021, Microsoft Teams will let you schedule a virtual commute at the start and end of your day.

“What we’re finding is that that commute experience — it’s good for it not to be too long, but it did play a role in helping us clear our heads,” Microsoft 365 corporate vice president Jared Spataro said in a press briefing. “Think about what we were going into in the day and think about clearing up what we are coming out of in a day. And so this virtual commute experience allows you to take a step back, again going into and coming out of your day to just organize your thoughts and to make sure you’re really processing, doing some pre- and post-processing of your work. It turns out the research shows us that can be very helpful.”

Separately, Microsoft has partnered with Headspace to bring a curated set of mindfulness experiences and science-backed meditations into Teams. Microsoft envisions these being used help employees focus before a big presentation and de-stress after a long workday.

“You can either schedule a meditation as part of your virtual commute or as part of a mindfulness break throughout the day,” Spataro said. “We think that’s going to be really powerful. … After just four sessions using the Headspace app, one group of health care professionals experienced a reduction of burnout of 14%. And another study with a broader population: 30 days of Headspace resulted in a 32% decrease in stress. So there are clear indications that these types of things can really make a big difference.”

In October, Microsoft will roll out productivity insights for Teams powered by Workplace Analytics. Managers will get line of sight into teamwork norms like after-hours collaboration, focus time, meeting effectiveness, and cross-company connections. Individuals, managers, and business leaders will get insights personalized to their role, with recommended actions for changing habits to improve productivity and well-being. Suggestions will remind individuals to unplug at the end of the day, reclaim time to focus, and reduce meeting overload. These features, plus an emotional check-in experience, will be available in 2021.

Together Mode, Dynamic View, and Breakout Rooms

In July, Microsoft unveiled Together Mode and Dynamic View for Teams. The former uses AI segmentation technology to digitally place participants in a shared background (if you’ve watched an NBA game recently, this is the experience that powers the virtual crowds). The latter gives you more control over how you see shared content and other participants in a meeting.

Today Microsoft announced new Together Mode scenes including auditoriums, conference rooms, and a coffee shop coming later this year. Microsoft will also start using machine learning in Together Mode to automatically scale and center meeting participants in their virtual seats, regardless of how close or far they are from their camera.

Next, Dynamic View is getting custom layouts later this year that will allow presenters to customize how content shows up for participants during the meeting. This feature uses the same AI segmentation technology employed by background blur and Together Mode. The hope is presenters will be able to direct their audiences’ attention through hand gestures and facial cues without making the viewer choose between the speaker and the content. When presenting a PowerPoint slide, for example, participants will be able to see the presenter’s video feed transposed onto the foreground of the current slide.

Breakout Rooms, which Microsoft previously said were coming in the fall, are now slated to arrive in October. Meeting organizers will be able to split up participants into smaller groups for brainstorming sessions or workgroup discussions. Presenters can hop between rooms, make announcements across them, and send everyone back to the main meeting.

Recaps, presentations, and calling

Live captions with speaker attribution is now generally available. Even better, Teams can now create a recap after any meeting. Recaps include the meeting recording, transcript, chat, and files shared in the meeting’s Chat and Details tabs. The recap will also be available in your Outlook calendar by going to the meeting event. Meeting recordings will soon be automatically stored as files in Microsoft SharePoint for sharing with external participants.

If you use Teams for customer presentations or webinars, you’ll be happy to know attendee registration with automated emails is coming. You’ll be able to manage attendance and view a reporting dashboard after the meeting. Microsoft is even promising attendee reporting and scheduling APIs so customers can bring the data into their CRM and marketing apps.

Later this year, the Calling experience within Teams will get a streamlined view that shows contacts, voicemail, and calling history at once. Other enhancements include Collaborative Calling (connect a Call Queue to a Teams Channel) and 1:1 call meeting features (transcription, live captions, recording, and the ability to transfer between Teams mobile and desktop apps).

Microsoft will also be adding new Teams devices to its lineup, including USB peripherals that have dial pads and a modern Teams UI. “Microsoft Teams displays” are all-in-one dedicated Teams devices with an ambient touchscreen and a hands-free experience powered by Cortana. “Teams panels” can meanwhile be mounted outside a meeting space to streamline space management, let users view space and meeting details, reserve a space, and view upcoming reservations. Finally, Microsoft is working with AudioCodes, Poly, and Yealink to offer affordable Teams phones designed for common areas.


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