With the uplifting of lockdown, offices are starting to reopen. But looking at the current situation, a lot of corporations and startups are planning to operate on a hybrid model. Recognizing the growing adoption of hybrid workforce, Microsoft Teams has announced that it will be incorporating more new features to support remote and hybrid setups over the next few months. 

In a pre-recorded video released with the product announcements, Jared Spataro, Corporate vice President at Microsoft 365, said that as much of the world shifts to a hybrid work model, it is clear that we are living via a pivotal moment that amounts to a once-in-a-generation shift in the way we work.

The company said in a statement “today, we are announcing new innovations – in Microsoft Teams Rooms, Microsoft Viva and Fluid – which are all designed to empower your people for hybrid work.”

Here’s a breakdown of the hybrid features that are to be incorporated in Microsoft’s ecosystem.

Hybrid workforce features in Microsoft products

“Going forward, the workplace will be hybrid,” says a post by Microsoft Teams.  In March, the company unveiled its vision for the Teams Rooms’ future, where people feel included, connections feel natural and people can collaborate without boundaries. Over the course of , Microsoft will be delivering new features and experiences, capabilities and devices that will support hybrid meetings. 

There will be more collaboration tools made available for users of Teams. Teams chat now has now given users the ability to pin chats, co-create agendas, assign tasks and take notes within a Teams meeting. The tasks, agendas and notes gather under the meeting notes tab ‘OneNote’ automatically.

Microsoft Corporation has expanded its products’ “fluid components” feature that will be suitable for live collaboration. The feature will be available in Teams meetings, Outlook, OneNote and Whiteboard. 

The tech giant has also introduced PowerPoint Live along with Dynamic view to the mobile app of Teams. Custom backgrounds will now be available on iOS and will later on come to Android as well.

The ‘Front Row’ layout

To give individuals in a meeting a better sense of connection to participants working remotely, Microsoft has announced “front row”. It is a new content layout by Microsoft that will better support collaboration before, during and after meetings. 

With this new layout, the video gallery will be moved to the bottom of the screen. This will enable in-room participants to see the faces of remote colleagues across a horizontal pane, just as if they were in the conference room.

The content of the meeting will be surrounded by fluid elements, like the tasks, agenda and notes. Participants will be able to update this in real-time. Moreover, the chat feature will be clearly brought into the view, so that participants can continuously and easily see the conversation happening and engage in real-time.

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Video layouts

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Microsoft will also be bringing video layouts for Teams Rooms. This layout will help in establishing genuine presence of remote participants in the room. The company plans on maximizing the screen assets by dividing the video gallery across all the available displays available when no content is being shared. This increased screen space for all participants will make them be seen more clearly. Pinning multiple video streams will also now be possible on Teams with Spotlight.

In terms of Teams-focused hardware, Microsoft has partners Logitech, Jabra Poly and Neat will be offering Artificial Intelligence-powered camera technology to enhance the Teams meeting experience. Later in 2021, Teams experiences are to be available across the device portfolio of Neat. 

New features announced for Whiteboard

Microsoft says that it introduced Whiteboard with the aim of bringing individuals together for better visual collaboration, working in office as well as remotely. Realizing that customers want virtual-first tools to collectively and creatively solve problems, a whole new Microsoft has been announced by the company. 

Users of the collaborative visual workspace of Microsoft Whiteboard will be empowered with further new tools, integrations, and a better, improved drawing experience along with a new user interface, according to the company.

Users can get the attention of collaborators with a ‘laser pointer’ feature. Collaboration cursors that are coming soon will show where other participants are on the whiteboard. And participants have new templates for planning as well as workshop sessions. Whiteboard will now be available in Teams chats and channels.

Whiteboard has also been provided with new capabilities of inserting existing images and documents. Users will now be able to add a “notes grid” for organizing their ideas and thoughts. Users will also be able to post reaction stickers for feedback. 

A top bar window will show who is working on the whiteboard and the ‘mouse inking feature’ has been enhanced, so that the app will straighten hand-drawn shapes. 

Moreover, by this spring, Microsoft Whiteboard on Surface Hub will enable users to draw on the same digital canvas. Additionally, this winter, more new Whiteboard features will enable users to bring existing content to edit. The company says that more new templates will be added in the future.

Headspace’s integration with Viva

Starting later in June, Microsoft will be introducing some new wellbeing experiences. These wellbeing integrations will empower people to balance the need of staying informed and connected with the need to recharge and disconnect. One such experience will be a Headspace integration with Microsoft Viva Insights. 

Microsoft will bring a curated set of mindfulness exercises and guided meditations from Headspace to the app of Viva Insights. This has been incorporated to help users start their day grounded and make them feel relaxed before a stressful day or presentation.

To help users stay focused on their work, Viva Insights will also offer the ability to schedule daily focus time where Teams notifications will be muted. Later in 2021, the company will also introduce a new focus mode in the app featuring Focus music from Headspace. It will also have the ability to implement timers to help users time their progress on important tasks with planned breaks.

There are many more features supporting hybrid workforce announced by Microsoft. Some have already been implemented and some will be incorporated soon – later this month or in this year.

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