Microsoft unveils new Teams features to make video meetings less terrible

'Together mode' makes it feel like you're in the same room as everyone else

Microsoft Teams is about to get a lot more personal as the company works to make remote work feel less distant.

The Redmond, Washington-based company announced a slew of new features coming to its Teams app. These features aim to improve video meetings, making them feel less fatiguing and improve our connectedness, even when we’re apart.

A new feature called ‘Together mode’ is the epitome of this effort. Conceived and created entirely during the pandemic, Microsoft positioned is as a “creature of the moment” that attempts to fix some of the core problems with video meetings.

Microsoft says its research shows that people feel less connected and are more fatigued by video meetings compared to in-person collaboration. Together mode seeks to remedy this by making video meetings feel like you’re sitting in the same room as other participants. Teams uses artificial intelligence (AI) segmentation technology to digitally place participants in a shared background, which makes it feel like you’re sitting in the same room.

Microsoft invited me and several other members of the press to sit in a live demo of Together mode, and it truly did feel more connected. By virtue of everyone residing in a shared virtual space, it makes it easier to determine who is speaking and focus on them. In fact, during the demo, it seemed as if participants actually turned to look at the speaker.

On top of that, Together mode allows for a certain level of non-verbal interaction. For example, everyone sees every participant in the same location, so I can point at the person below me or gesture to the person beside me, and those interactions make sense in the context of the shared virtual space.

Part of this relies on how Together mode works. The feature actually mirrors are the participants, which can confuse the brain a little and makes it harder to spot inconsistencies and errors in how people interact in the virtual space.

Microsoft says Together mode is great for meetings with multiple speakers or things like roundtable discussions. The feature is rolling out now with an ‘auditorium view’ and will be generally available in August. Plus, Microsoft says it plans to bring more views to Together mode in the future — it even teased some in a video about the feature.

Dynamic view improves regular video meetings with AI

Of course, Together mode won’t work for every situation. Thankfully, Microsoft added a variety of other views for video meetings in Teams. Part of that is a set of enhancements the company calls ‘Dynamic view.’

Microsoft says Teams uses AI to dynamically optimize shared content and video participants, including showing shared video and participants side-by-side. Further, users can personalize the view to suit their preferences and needs.

Dynamic view also builds on meeting improvements previously announced by Microsoft. That includes the 49-person large gallery view, which will roll out in August, and virtual breakout rooms for splitting participants into smaller groups for things like brainstorming sessions.

Microsoft is also adding video filters and live emoji reactions to Teams. Additionally, Teams meetings will start showing chat bubbles to keep participants in the loop. Microsoft announced it would expand its live caption feature in Teams with speaker attribution as well as add live transcriptions later this year. Users will be able to find a transcript file automatically saved in the chat tab after a meeting. Finally, Microsoft plans to add translate live captions to Teams meetings so users can follow along in a different language.

For a full rundown on everything new coming to Teams, check out Microsoft’s full blog post here.