Microsoft Teams new features to support work from home

In September 2020, Microsoft detailed the new features of Microsoft Teams. Pressure from Zoom and from Covid is mounting up and it is necessary to remain competitive in this landscape. Schools and businesses continue to work from home in unprecedented levels, creating more demand for collaboration services from different levels of Internet connectivity. Zoom is advancing it’s market share despite the security challenges that recently made headlines around the world.

Microsoft Teams Performance Improvements

At the moment, the desktop Teams client in Windows and MacOS runs when there is a limited bandwidth connection, or even when there is no connection. Microsoft will be providing the feature of offline operation. The users will be able to write their messages while offline. When connectivity is established or restored, the messages will be sent automatically.

The launch time of the desktop client will also be improved by 30% while changes are also being made to video rendering. Microsoft is also optimizing battery life when using Teams in iOS devices. The Android app will be optimized for low-bandwidth connections.

Features to compete with Zoom

Breakout Rooms

Microsoft is introducing Breakout rooms. This sophisticated feature will allow people to break off into smaller groups during a meeting. This feature can help brainstorming sessions or group discussions. A presenter can connect to all breakout rooms, make announcements to everyone, and can also close the breakout rooms. This action will bring everyone back to the main meeting.

MS Teams Breakout Rooms View

49 Participants

Another important improvement is the ability to see up to 49 participants on-screen during a call, a feature that Zoom already has. This will require the multi-window meeting experience turned on.

Please note that 49 participants on screen is a feature that requires a lot of computer processing power, and not all computers will be able to sustain it. The Zoom client is set to 25 participants by default. A user would manually have to enable 49 participants in the client. But the Zoom client detects the computer’s processing power and if it is not enough, it won’t let you enable 49 participants. It stands to reason that Microsoft will do the same.

49 participants large gallery view in MS Teams

Meeting Recap

The Meeting Recap is a feature which helps users stay on track by having a record of what was discussed. It also benefits users who left early or did not attend the meeting. All information related to the meeting is to get all the information related to the meeting.

A meeting recap includes the meeting recording, a transcript, notes, chat, any shared files and other information. The Meeting Recap will be available in the meeting Chat tab, in the Details tab and also in the Outlook calendar meeting entry.

MS Teams Meeting Recap View

More Features

The webinar registration and reporting feature enables more structured meetings such as webinars where the organizers can use event registration. Attendees will receive automated emails. After the meeting, a detailed reporting dashboard will help understand attendee engagement. Webinar registration is expected to roll out by the end of the year.

Other features enhance the meeting rooms experiences, such as Meeting Rooms Capacity Notifications. This is actually a name for cameras counting people…! This can alert administrators if room capacity is exceeded and can help enforcing social distancing.

A new calling experience will show contacts, voicemail and calling history in the same streamlined view. It will now be easier to initiate a call with a single click.

The Teams Templates help create a Team space faster by using ready made business scenarios. You can create an event management or crisis response team easilly, or even use industry-specific templates such as a hospital or bank branch template. These templates come with a predefined setup of channels, apps and guidance.

The nice thing about templates is that your organization administrator can create custom templates based on your company’s specific requirements.

There are countless other new features such as Microsoft Lists in Teams and many others across several categories of features. One category is the Microsoft 365 Integrations, aimed at providing a competitive advantage to Microsoft over Zoom. SharePoint Home site in Teams is one of them. Walkie Talkie on Android is a push-to-talk experience enabling first-line workers to communicate walkie-talkie style with their Smartphones and Tablets. Only this Walkie Talkie is not affected by range in the same way that real ones do. If you have Wi-Fi then you can communicate, even in a building miles away from your colleagues.

Other Adminsitrative enhancements include the Teams Admin Center updates for device, app and policy management. Delegation of admin roles, Call Quality Dashboard enhancements, Bulk Policy Assignment and other features help administrators manage the organizations’ Teams infrastructure in a more efficient and powerful way. Single Sign-On for Developers using the Azure Active Directory will now be possible.

Clash of the Titans

This will be a very interesting Clash of Titans, as both companies are determined to improve their weak points to get more market share and displace the opponent. Zoom has made fast and decisive steps towards improving the overall security of the platform. Microsoft, on the other side, is focusing on the performance issues which appear when meetings grow larger. Microsoft is seeking to win more business users. An advantage of Microsoft is that the security of the platform has not been questioned so far, while Zoom security flaws were exposed in the media.

But are these two Titans standards-based? Are they open to external communication?

Microsoft is of the “Closed environment” school. This is as we call it a “technology island”. Microsoft builds everything under the assumption that it will not be standards-based and you will need special gateways and integrations to interoperate. If you want to call a Teams meeting with standards-based H.323 or SIP systems, then you’ll be on your way after you buy the relevant Polycom RealConnect or Pexip CVI service, or the Blue Jeans equivalent. These are priced per session so it can ramp up very quickly.

The Zoom services are of similar nature. They provide the H.323 and SIP connector for an additional fee, enabling any standards-based system to join the Zoom meetings.

The difference between the two is that Zoom is much easier to deal with. To use H.323/SIP video endpoints or software clients, you simply buy the service add-on and dial the provided IP address or SIP URI that Zoom provides. With Microsoft, you’ll wait for the service provider to give you a company-specific set of PowerShell commands together with settings in the Teams admin center. After this setup is done, you can call the service. But this setup is not the most straightforward to achieve and often takes time, effort and a lot of frustration on the way to successfully make your first call.

Final Remarks

Microsoft has a strong offering which is becoming even more powerful. It is feature-rich, heavily integrated with many other Microsoft products and services, and provides a true full UC experience to the user, with the best and most pleasant and intuitive interfaces.

Zoom, on the other hand, is all about simplicity and straightforward operation. Zoom is focused on Video Calling and web collaboration with simple setup and plenty of features. Their signup process for a completely new user is much faster than Microsoft’s process.

This battle is not over yet, we are just witnessing the new episode. Both Titans are determined to move forward and we’ll see how each of their strategies will play out in the future. The ones to benefit will be the end users, who will be able to choose between two great, feature-rich services.