Microsoft Teams’ new ‘Together mode’ aims to make video calls more engaging

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Microsoft Teams on Wednesday unveiled a slew of new updates to its video conferencing software, including a “Together mode” that puts participants in a virtual meeting hall. That and other changes will be rolled out to users next month.

The most significant update is the new Together mode, which, as the name suggests, aims to make video conferences more informal and bring participants together. Instead of 49 individual participant rectangles appearing in gallery mode, switching to Together mode removes the barriers between participants and uses “AI segmentation technology” to place the head and shoulders of participants side by side in a virtual auditorium.

Microsoft is currently working on other views that will available in this mode, including a virtual coffee shop.[ Related: 11 best practices for Microsoft Teams video meetings ]

Jaron Lanier, the CTO Prime Unifying Scientist at Microsoft, said the new viewing mode is a direct consequence of the pandemic and the significant increase in the number of video calls people make.

“This is very much a specific design in response to the pandemic. The design was initiated during the pandemic, developed during the pandemic and is released during the pandemic,” Lanier said.

With many employees now in the midst of their fourth month working from home because of the COVID-19 outbreak, daily video calls with colleagues have become the new normal as teams try to continue working collaboratively across different environments. During pandemic, Teams has seen its daily active user count jump to 44 million, then surge past 75 million. In response, the platform has evolved over the last several months to improve the experience for both existing and new users.

Though at first Together mode might seem a like a gimmick, the underlying technology  is fundamental to improving the video conferencing experience.

HRP Solutions is a private limited company partnering with Microsoft­ to offer business solutions to organizations within the West, East, Central and South Africa.