2020 has definitely been the year of Microsoft Teams. Even before the COVID-19 outbreak, the platform was growing steadily, but its popularity has exploded in recent months. With millions of people forced to work from home, Teams saw a 70% increase in user numbers in April 2020 alone. Many companies would be content to sit back and enjoy this success, but not Microsoft. As you and your staff have probably noticed, the company has taken advantage of Teams’ newfound popularity to launch a whole host of new updates and features. At the same time, Teams has found itself at the centre of several high profile controversies. To put it mildly, it’s been an eventful year for the platform. Here are just a few of the highlights.
The headline Teams story for 2020 must surely be the platform’s unprecedented growth. In April 2020, Teams surpassed 75 million daily active users, and this number is likely to have grown further since then. You need only compare this to the platform’s user base of 20 million in November 2019 to see what an amazing year Teams has had.
Older versions of Teams only allowed users to have one meeting or call open at a time. However, with more and more of our work being conducted remotely, Microsoft announced the introduction of “multi-window experiences”. You and your staff can now conduct several meetings at once via the Teams collaboration app, an addition that Microsoft believes helps “optimize workflow”. This will allow you to quickly cross reference information with previously saved meetings, or to relay information from one call to another without having to merge the meetings.
One of the main areas in which Teams has always struggled to compete with Zoom is in the number of visible video participants it allows on a call. Originally, only four participants could be seen at a time, making large meetings somewhat clunky as you would be forced to switch between participants to keep track of everyone. In the spring, Microsoft addressed this by introducing a 3×3 grid view, allowing for 9 visible participants at once. But this was only the beginning. The company recently announced that it would be rolling out a 49 person gallery view, bringing it level with the number of visible participants allowed on a Zoom call.
Microsoft was quick to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak. Realising immediately the effect that it would have on working patterns, the company offered a free 6 month Office 365 E1 subscription to all businesses and institutions that weren’t currently licensed. By introducing thousands of new users to the benefits of Teams and Microsoft 365 Business Voice, the company was able to get a head start on its rivals in the booming remote working market.
We’re offering our own Microsoft 365 Business Voice free trial, with free licencing (if you aren’t already using Microsoft 365). Find out more here.
Success comes at a price, and some of Microsoft’s rivals weren’t happy about Teams’ sudden popularity. In July, rival platform Slack went to the European Commission to file an antitrust complaint against Microsoft. Slack alleged that, by tying in Teams with Microsoft 365, the company had unfairly forced users to choose it over other platforms. Microsoft responded that the public’s preference for Teams was due to the platform’s superior video conferencing capabilities. The case is ongoing, with a result expected later in the year. But, for now, we’ll let you be the judge.
Teams has always offered video functionality but, in the past, many users have opted to make audio only calls. The COVID-19 outbreak has changed all this, with video calls becoming the norm for many Teams users. With colleagues unable to see each other in person, video calls have proved to be a great way to maintain a sense of team spirit. In March 2020, video was used in 43% of Teams meetings, compared to just 21% the month before. Overall, Teams video calls have grown by more than 1,000% as a result of the pandemic.
Lockdown has been a lonely experience for many. Video calls will never feel the same as a face to face conversation, but Teams’ new Together Mode could be the next best thing. This brand new feature uses AI segmentation technology to allow up to 50 users to share a single background. Available backgrounds will include an auditorium, a conference room and a cafe, letting participants create a suitable atmosphere for any type of the meeting.
As well as the features we’ve described in detail, Microsoft has added a whole host of other tweaks and upgrades to the Teams package. Meeting hosts can now end a session with a single click using the “end meeting” button in the toolbar, removing the awkward post-meeting ritual of participants gradually leaving one by one. The new “raise hand” feature is also a godsend in larger meetings as it allows participants to attract attention without having to shout over one another.
Microsoft is relentless when it comes to innovation, so you can expect plenty more Teams news as the year goes on. It will be interesting to see if the company can retain its user numbers as life returns to normal. Only time will tell, but it’s never a good idea to bet against Microsoft.