Yet more updates have arrived for users of Teams; Jared Spataro did a good session at Inspire in July, outlining some changes that are already available for some and talked about new capabilities that are on the way. There’s a cool background noise suppression capability to remove the clamour that’s happening behind someone, and a load of transcription / captioning technology that works alongside meeting recording, to highlight who said what.
Jared also announced Team Room services (more on rooms.microsoft.com), providing a management and monitoring service for physical rooms that are equipped with Teams kit, as well as the performance of the meeting space. The intent is to make the meeting experience better when we have a mix of in-person and remote people, as the world transitions to some kind of normality.
While we’re still in a predominantly-remote working cycle, Together Mode introduces an intriguing way of displaying videos from a group of people – rather than the “Gallery Mode” of video boxes arranged in a grid, Together mode uses the same technology which can apply a custom background to cut out the user’s video of their person, and place that in a lecture / theatre type setting.
It takes some getting used to, especially if the meeting is one where there’s a predominant speaker – like a teacher – who appears in one of the chairs in the room rather than separate from it. Also, you might have some people who sit relatively close to their camera and will appear huge, while others look like they’d be sitting with feet dangling in the air.
To learn more about how to use Together Mode, and for some info on what is planned for the future, see here.
We’ve all been there. Either as the source of background distraction on a Teams call, or one of the participants perhaps wondering how best to handle it. Sometimes it’s better to intervene if you can see who’s doing the heavy breathing or who’s sitting in a noisy environment, rather than making a fuss about it.
If you show the participant list during a team call, you’ll see who is muted, and depending on your own role in the meeting, you can mute others who might be unwittingly generating noise (identifiable by the “halo” surrounding their profile picture or initials, which flickers as they talk or as their mic picks up other sounds). The Organiser or any Presenter in the meeting can mute anyone else.
Muting a participant displays a notification in their Teams client to the effect that they have been shushed and can unmute themselves, and if they’re dialled in, they’ll be told by an announcer that they’ve been muted and told how to unmute themselves.
The person who’s been quietened doesn’t know who did the deed (one feature request is to log who’s doing it, as there have been reports of miscreants randomly muting and booting out participants from virtual classrooms during lockdown). If you’ve already muted a participant (or even all participants), it’s not possible to unmute anyone – only they can control that process, since an organiser unmuting someone could put them in an awkward position (#poorJennifer again?).
There are requests to allow finer control of muting in some circs, though – preventing people from unmuting unless given permission, for example – in a large meeting, it could be better to police Q&A by asking people to “raise their hand”, and only allow them to unmute when the presenter virtually gives them the mic.
If you’re going to do a load of noisy typing whilst on a call, one trick to memorise is to flick the focus from OneNote/Outlook/whatever to Teams by quickly tapping ALT+TAB, then tap CTRL+SHIFT+M to mute and unmute yourself – this is probably a lot quicker than trying to click the microphone icon within the Teams app.
There have been plenty of ToW missives over the last few months on the subject of remote working, video conferencing and the like. Businesses who have Microsoft 365 – the new umbrella name that includes Office 365 – already have access to Teams, though personal users and non-subscribers could still set up a free version.
Other chat, video and collaboration tools have clearly been finding many new users during the COVID-19 lockdown…
Slack, which established itself as a texty business collaboration tool (especially in the technology industry), has been overtaken somewhat by the rush to video calling and meeting. Slack’s partner AWS, who also have a video/audio/chat service called Chime, announced plans to integrate under the covers. Meanwhile, Slack thinks it’s finally time to ditch email and their CEO also has an interesting take on how remote working will evolve – will this be the end of the real estate bubble in the Bay Area, for example?
Salesforce has launched a new offering called Anywhere, which aims to take back collaboration and comms tasks from Slack or Teams. And in the “you can tell any story you like by using the right set of numbers” file, Teams has been reported as outgrowing the media’s darling, Zoom, as the feature battles between the two have intensified. Skype and Google’s
Teams will soon have the ability to show up to 49 people at once (having rolled out a 3×3 grid of video windows recently)…
… and has also released an updated free offer, aimed at friends and family communications.
Initially available in the mobile apps, the focus is on providing free collaborative functionality for groups you can set up, as well as being able to schedule video calls and meetings.
If you don’t already have the Teams mobile app on your phone, then go to iOS App Store or Google Play to install it. If you’re already using Teams through your work account, you can add a personal account by going to the settings icon in the top left, and at the very bottom of the list is “Add Account”.
This will guide you through the process of associating with an existing Microsoft Account, including signing up for free Teams service if you haven’t already.
At the moment, the service is in Preview, and it does involve switching between profiles when you need to, but offers a load more than just WhatsApp-style text chat and the odd call.
As well as file sharing, there’s even a “Safe” feature on its way, which will let you share WiFi Passwords or other more sensitive information that requires 2-factor authentication.
So, for once in the last 3+ months, now’s a good time to spread something to the rest of your family and your wider circle of friends…
Video conferencing has been used in tech circles for years, though it was foretold many years earlier. 1989’s Back to the Future II showed one vision of how the future might look, and it wasn’t the only wry prediction.
Now that you’ve frouffed-up your home office backdrop and maybe thought about how you look on video calls, even going for a custom background image, maybe it’s time to mix things up and jazz up your video feed itself.
One approach could be to play with Snap Camera, a PC or Mac software solution from SnapChat that takes the feed from your regular camera and applies some effects to it, before presenting that modified stream as a virtual hardware camera to any app that wants it.
If you install Snap Camera, you can then use a catalog of “lenses” to add attributes to your video, or to alter the lighting or background, even if your chosen video conferencing app doesn’t give the option of doing so natively.
Roots or dodgy haircut starting to show in the lockdown? Perhaps try a nice tint?
Want to practice online before going out to the shops? Maybe choose a groovy mask?
Whatever your choice, if you install Snap Camera and choose (or even create) a suitable lens, then the software will run in the background and if you choose the “camera” from your video conferencing app, then the software will augment the feed from your real camera and present that image to your chosen software.
So for Teams, if you want to prank your colleagues, you can set up the lens of choice using that software, then when you go to join a meeting, click the “PC, Mic and Speakers” settings cog, to get the Device Settings pane, and choose the Snap Camera as your source.
Just remember to switch back to the regular camera before you have an important customer meeting, OK?
As another week draws to a close, in a world which is starting to feel a lot less like a temporary aberration and a lot more like The New Normal, we continue to look for things that distract, entertain (lots of good stuff on Netflix – dat’s the fact, jack), educate and give us cause us to think of others. Sadly, we lost TBT and Stirling this week, as well as too many others.
But technology marches on, sometimes a bit more slowly than we’d normally expect, and sometimes accelerated – Teams has rolled out the new background effects feature (though not everyone can yet choose a custom image – that’s on its way too, though it’s possible to add your own under the covers – create or find a picture, ideally 1920×1080 pixels, then press Start and enter %APPDATA%\Microsoft\Teams\Backgrounds\Uploads – drop your pic in there and it’ll show up in the list of backgrounds, right at the bottom).
Collections allows you to quickly add groups of related sites/pages into a kind-of folder which you can add notes to, quickly open or share, and it also keeps a preview of the page so it’s smarter than just favourites or bookmarks.
If you’re an Office 365 user, check out Edge PMM Eric Van Aelstyn’s post with some good tips on WFH, especially if it’s not on a work computer, including setting up the Enterprise tab (so you get Office 365 content rather than Microsoft News clickbait).
Eric also espouses using the default Bing search engine with Edge, as it can generate Microsoft Rewards for you – and with a few clicks you can give the reward points to charity.
US based Bingers can switch to Give mode, but UK users appear to have a different method and only a few target charities, but it’s free money you collect by searching, so you might as well give it away to a good cause. Take a look on your rewards page and you can choose to Shop, Win or Donate – select the latter and see if you like the look of any of the charities listed.
As the developed world stays in and starts to go a bit stir crazy, life beginning to feel like an episode of Big Brutha, we’re increasingly turning to streaming and video conferencing apps typically used for business, to keep in touch with friends and family, go dating, virtually visit a museum and many other things.
Online conferencing app Zoom has seen huge take-up over recent weeks, though its security has been questioned & tested by Zoom Bombing, leading the company to quickly release updates to give more control.
Microsoft Teams has announced some feature updates too – though there’s still more to do. Custom Backgrounds will be rolled out very soon, so users can replace their messy kitchen backdrop with a scene of serenity.
It’s getting easier to schedule and join Skype video meetings, too – from within the Skype app or even in a browser, you can Meet Now and quickly generate a URL that can be shared with others, who can join as a guest without needing to have an account or signing in.
Skype still has a huge user base, with over 40 million daily users of late.
Teams and Skype have started interoperating more, too, though it’s a limited experience at the moment. Expect Teams for Consumer, due to arrive later this year, to have tighter integration – and perhaps may eventually replace Skype.
As more of the world is in lock-down and pretty much everyone who can is working at home, apps like Teams have taken a more central role in many lives. Alongside adding 12m users the other week, there was a substantial increase in resources dedicated to running the back-end – millions of additional CPU cores were provisioned to the Teams service.
Mobile Teams users are getting some new functionality, and the blog post about the 40% growth in usage teased some features that are coming later in the year, notably background noise-cancelling (to supress the tap-tap-tap of the typical team-mate’s typing), and a new action which lets attendees ask for help or offer to contribute by “raising their hand”. That might help avoid people talking over each other.
This feature is in test currently and is expected to appear a little later this year, along with a raft of other improvements, like having custom backgrounds (in addition to blurring of the existing background), and the ability to break out chats into separate windows rather than have everything in one.
When the hand-raising feature is rolled out, assuming you can see the People pane to the side of the Teams window, anyone who has their hand raised will be listed with a hand icon, meaning the organiser could ask them to chime in.
On the COVID-19 pandemic – the WHO publishes a view of the spread of the disease, with the help of Microsoft’s ISV partner ESRI, using their ArcGIS platform. See the global WHO dashboard, or look at the county-by-county map of the US, here. It’s all very sobering. There’s a Coronavirus Tracker on Bing and a load of other resources on Microsoft.com.
In these uncertain times, many organisations are scrambling to enable their workers to be able to carry on even when the rest of the world is seemingly losing control. At least the meme creators are busy.
Ex-Microsoftie Allister Frost has some wise words to share about Working From Home, and given that he was Chief Puppy Controller for a well-known marketing team, he knows things that are currently relevant.
Microsoft Teams may have had a couple of bumps since the Covid-19 virus started to cause people to stay at home; early in the week there were a couple of outages that have been swiftly resolved, but it’s since been announced that the service added 12 million daily active users in the last 7 days – that’s a 40% increase in usage, so it’s no surprise if the infrastructure creaked a little as it grew.
There are many tips for making good use of Teams –
Stay at home, stay safe, and follow Buzz Aldrin’s advice.
It’s been a busy few weeks on the Teams team. As an aside, what do you call a team that’s set up in Teams? Is it a Teams Site, or a Teams team, just a “Team” or …? Documentation talks about creating a team, which is fine when you’re already in Teams, but talking with someone about Teams teams can be a bit like a tongue twister.
It was recently announced that Teams has 20 million daily active users, up from 13 million since July. Talk to enterprise customers who have adopted Teams, and many have a user base that really loves it. There may be more to the story, but as many Office 365 users get Teams as part of their subscription, it’s inevitable that its usage will grow. It’s great to hear stories of how customers are using technology like Teams to positively change the way they work.
At the Ignite Conference in October, some forthcoming functionality was announced, from nascent integration into Outlook (coming next year) to some nearer-term stuff like the ability to create Private channels within a Team, which has already rolled out.
Outlook Tasks and To-Do integration is also expected next year, and the app is increasingly being used as a focal point for other sources of data too – such as using PowerApps to bring business reports or other custom functionality into the same canvas.
There were quite a few Ignite sessions devoted to using Teams for calling and for meetings. One innovation to look forward to is the ability to not just blur your background, but to add a specific background image, either from a library or one of your own.