Even by Microsoft’s high standards, 2020 has been a hugely successful year, and this is largely due to the explosion in popularity of Microsoft Teams. The platform was already making steady progress at the start of the year, but the sudden and unexpected nature of the COVID-19 outbreak pushed things to an entirely new level.
Almost overnight, huge swathes of the world’s population were working from home and Microsoft moved quickly to position itself as the go-to platform for remote conferencing. By offering a free 6-month subscription to companies without a Microsoft 365 licence, the company all but cornered the market and saw a 70% increase in the use of Teams in April 2020 alone.
Microsoft has responded to this success by introducing a whole host of new features to make the Teams experience even better. Earlier in the year, the company launched a number of updates including multiple meeting windows and shared backgrounds to create a sense of community. Now, it has taken things even further with the announcement of an even more extensive package of new features during Microsoft's annual gathering of technology leaders and practitioners, Ignite 2020. Let’s take a closer look at some of the changes coming your way.
1. Calling features
Although most people think of Teams as a video conferencing platform, it also doubles as a highly effective phone service, thanks to Microsoft 365 Business Voice (did you know that offer a free Voice trial?) As more remote workers start to use Teams as a replacement for their office phones, Microsoft has improved the calling interface and added new features to streamline the experience. A new layout will allow you and your staff to see your contacts, calling history and voicemail on a single screen, letting you make and return calls with a single click. Your most commonly used contacts will appear on a speed dial menu, speeding things up even further.
You will also be able to set up a collaborative calling channel, replicating the features of your IT help desk or HR hotline. Incoming calls can be placed in a certain channel’s queue to be answered by whichever member of your team becomes available first. This means that, even though you are working from home, your customer service won’t suffer.
2. Better meetings
Meetings are a huge component of Teams and Microsoft is doing everything it can to make the experience as pleasant and efficient as possible. The popular Together Mode feature allowing users to meet in a shared space has been updated to include new backgrounds. As well as conference rooms and auditoriums, you can now create an informal atmosphere by meeting in a coffee shop.
Microsoft has also added Breakout Rooms, allowing meeting participants to split off into smaller rooms for a quick brainstorming session. Meeting hosts can jump between breakout rooms to gather ideas, or can address the entire meeting at once to bring everyone back together.
Finally, and perhaps most impressively, an automatic Meeting Recap feature has been added. Every meeting will now be recorded and transcribed, allowing anyone who missed the meeting to catch up, and those who participated to remind themselves of what happened. You can access meeting recaps via the meeting’s 'Details' tab, and they will also be added automatically to your Outlook calendar.
3. Safer meeting rooms
For those still going into the office, Microsoft is introducing a number of features to encourage safety and social distancing in physical meeting rooms. Several touchless options including Cortana voice assistance and a Proximity Join feature will allow you to control meetings without handling shared equipment. There will also be a room capacity warning which will use people-counting technology to notify you when a room is becoming too full.
4. Heightened security
The more staff who work remotely, the greater the security risk. Thankfully, Microsoft has introduced a number of security features to keep your Teams data safe. Microsoft already encrypts your Teams data in its data centres, but soon you will be able to add a second layer of encryption yourself using your own Teams key. This works in a similar fashion to other Microsoft services such as SharePoint Online, Exchange Online and OneDrive and should be available for public preview by the end of the year.
On a more technical note, several new APIs will also be added to Teams. The Microsoft Graph API for Teams allows you to apply DLP (Data Loss Protection) actions to Teams messages, and even to build your own apps to prevent data loss. Meanwhile, The Teams Export API allows you to export Teams messages to another location for safe archiving.
5. Easier collaboration
As the name would suggest, Teams is all about teamwork, and Microsoft continues to update the platform to further facilitate collaboration. The new Teams Templates allow you to choose a layout for specific industries and scenarios such as a bank branch or a hospital ward. These templates come with pre-designed channels and apps that are relevant to the given situation. You can also create your own templates to reflect your working environment.
Microsoft is also working on improving the Teams search function to help you find information more efficiently. The new search bar will allow you to find people, conversations and files by using AI to prioritise the most useful information based on your common interactions.
For larger companies, Microsoft is increasing the maximum team size from 10,000 to 25,000. While this is unlikely to make a difference to your business, it shows just how ambitious the company is for the future of its product.
Finally, Microsoft is making the Lists app available to all commercial customers. Lists allow you to keep track of your team and your workload in a simple and flexible way. You can create a new list directly as a channel tab in Teams.
6. More effective management
Managing a team can be a challenge, especially if your staff are working remotely. The latest batch of Teams updates contains several new features for managers, making the Teams Admin Center a one-stop hub for all things managerial.
Administrators will be able to control which Teams features are available to their users with the new Bulk Policy Assignment feature. Policies can be applied to as many as 50,000 users at once, saving you a great deal of time. Global admins will also be able to delegate control of certain devices to other staff members using the devices section of the Teams Admin Center.
Lastly, on the technical side, improvements to the Call Quality Dashboard will allow more detailed monitoring of calling data for troubleshooting and quality improvement purposes.
7. Better integration with Microsoft 365
The beauty of Microsoft products is the way that they seamlessly blend together. To this end, the company has taken steps to further integrate Teams into the Microsoft experience.
From October, MyAnalytics and Workplace Analytics will use your Teams data to make wellbeing and productivity recommendations. Based on your working patterns, both you and your staff will be given personalised tips and advice on ways to increase your happiness and productivity. From early 2021, this will be combined with a number of other mental health-based features. These include a virtual commute to provide a sense of structure and guided daily meditations courtesy of Headspace.
Later this year, you will also be given the option of integrating the SharePoint home site into your organisation’s intranet. This will allow you to access company pages directly through Teams. The SharePoint icon can be customised to match your company’s name and branding and pinned directly to the Teams taskbar.
8. Integration of third party apps
Another great aspect of Microsoft products is the ability to customise them using third-party apps. A huge range of Teams add-ons are either available now or coming soon, allowing you to tweak your Teams experience to your exact needs. Here are just a few examples:
- Integrations with DocuSign and AdobeSign are expected later this year, allowing you to give and request legal consent on electronic documents.
- The PowerBI app will be enhanced, allowing you to gather and analyse data from across your organisation. This includes the ability to view Excel data within Teams, letting you spot patterns and gain insights in real-time.
- The Power Automate App will allow you to automate certain Teams actions using pre-designed templates.
- A new version of the popular GitHub for Teams app will provide a convenient platform from which to control your Teams experience. You can keep track of multiple projects from a single hub, assigning tasks and dealing with problems as they arise.
Teams is here to stay
The breadth of these new features shows that Microsoft is putting a lot of faith in Teams. The company clearly sees it as more than a short term solution to the COVID-19 pandemic, and instead hopes that it will form the backbone of a whole new way of working. This remains to be seen, but for now, there is plenty to enjoy.
New to Microsoft Teams? Not a problem. Discover how to get started with our Quick Start Guide to Microsoft Teams. Download it now.
Find out more about the latest Teams updates from Microsoft Ignite 2020, here.
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