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Microsoft Teams: This new feature aims to save you from video-conferencing burnout

Together Mode whisks participants into a virtual auditorium and aims to make video meetings more interesting, engaging and social affairs.

If there’s one thing remote working is crying out for less of, it’s video conferencing. With interactions with our colleagues still taking place almost exclusively online, the daily ritual of having to log into a video is starting to take its toll. This poses a problem for businesses, who have spent months trying to figure out how they can keep employees happy and engaged at work while grappling with the nuances of telecommuting.

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Microsoft hopes it can offer a solution to this problem: a new feature for Microsoft Teams that transplants attendees in a video meeting out of their dreary home offices and into a virtual auditorium, surrounded by their colleagues. 

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Called Together Mode, it creates the illusion that you and your colleagues are all sharing the same space, thus creating a deeper sense of connection with your co-workers and engagement with the task at hand. Or so says Microsoft.

The Redmond tech company has been churning out updates for its workplace-collaboration software as Teams continues its battle with Zoom, which, despite its well-documented security woes, has proved a hit with both casual and business users during these times of remote working and social distancing.

Together Mode puts some of Microsoft’s AI technology to work, using what it calls AI segmentation technology that essentially takes a cutout of your video feed and superimposes you into a virtual lecture hall. By placing you next to, above, or behind your co-workers, Microsoft believes this allows for more realistic interactions and non-verbal cues, and mitigates some of the weirdness associated with the problem of eye contact – or lack thereof – in video conferencing.

“Together mode makes meetings more engaging by helping you focus on other people’s faces and body language and making it easier to pick up on the non-verbal cues that are so important to human interaction,” Jared Spataro, corporate vice president for Microsoft 365, said in a blog post.

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Because people in Together Mode can see where others are “sitting” in the shared space, it’s easier for your brain to keep track of who is talking and creates a more natural sense of spatial and social awareness, Spataro said. This is particularly handy in meetings when multiple people are talking – such as brainstorms or roundtable-type discussions, he added.

Microsoft hopes that Together Mode will prove particularly useful in increasing – or at least maintaining – engagement when having to attend multiple video meetings a day, or otherwise trying to keep an easily distracted crowd attentive, such as in education settings.

Together Mode is rolling out to Teams users now and will be generally available in August. To begin with, only the “auditorium view” as pictured will be available, though Microsoft will bring more virtual spaces to the feature later down the line. Together Mode was announced alongside additional updates to Teams, including a new Dynamic View mode that allows users to personalize the layout of what they see on screen and also uses AI to “dynamically optimise shared content and video participants”. This will be available over the coming weeks, according to Microsoft.

Emoji-style live reactions, chat bubbles, automatically generated meeting transcripts and support for video meetings with up to 1,000 participants will also be touching down on Teams over the coming weeks and months, alongside Cortana support for the Microsoft Teams mobile app.

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