Microsoft Teams Together Mode Gets Release Date, Stares Down Zoom

New Microsoft Teams features, including “Together Mode,” set to roll out soon, will potentially eliminate the status quo and fatigue of online video meetings.

Microsoft Teams meetings will offer a more natural experience with this month’s release of Together Mode, the company revealed Wednesday.

Together Mode is an alternative to the common approach of presenting meeting participants in square tiles, in grid-like galleries. Instead, Together mode simulates them in more realistic context.

We broke down 12 new Microsoft Teams virtual meeting features.

Initially, Together Mode will render meeting participants in auditoriums or classrooms, with leaders or teachers at a lectern. It will do so with what Microsoft calls segmentation technology, using artificial intelligence to digitally place participants in a shared background.

Among other new Microsoft Teams capabilities in the pipeline are dynamic views and speaker attribution for live captions and transcripts. Also coming are chat bubbles to surface messages more clearly, an enhanced whiteboard and an integrated tasks app.

But Together Mode is the most significant addition, according to Microsoft, because it will enable more engaging virtual meetings. On the surface, it may appear as the latest gimmick to move beyond custom backgrounds.

However, since COVID-19 has confined workers and students to their homes, millions of people have relied on video meeting services. While Microsoft Teams, Zoom and others have helped bridge the gap, 60% feel less connected, according to a Microsoft survey.

“Together Mode makes you feel like you’re sitting in the same room as everyone in the meeting,” said Microsoft corporate VP Jared Spataro, during an online briefing with media and analysts. “It also enables human social connection, including making eye gaze to feel more natural. And it makes it easier for people to take turns speaking.”

A Lasting Trend

As many workers return to their offices, online meeting services will remain a core part of collaboration, Spataro added.

“We see this shift to fluid work and workspaces not as passing trend, but as a durable or lasting shift,” he said.

Spataro emphasized that Microsoft’s research backs this claim. For example, in countries where workplaces have reopened, the number of active Teams users continues to rise. Among them are China, New Zealand and South Korea.

“People also continue to turn on their video two times more than before at 46% of all meetings,” Spataro said. “Among education customers, this number jumps to around 70%.”

Together Mode will start to appear with other new Microsoft Teams features during the coming weeks, the company revealed.

Some are already available. Among them are support for up to 49 participants in a meeting, a number set to rise to 1,000. Meeting participants can also filter out background nose and blur their backgrounds, among other new Microsoft Teams features.

Even prior to the pandemic’s now enduring impact on the workplace, Microsoft had identified Teams as its most strategic offering. Now with dozens of online video meeting platforms available, Microsoft wants to make Teams the preferred choice.

Microsoft’s stiffest competition comes from …

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