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Innovation

Microsoft has a new idea to make meetings a little more awful

Why would this be a good idea? Why would it even be a thing?
Written by Chris Matyszczyk, Contributing Writer on
Woman smiling at laptop with earphones in
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I sit in my fair share of Microsoft Teams meetings.

Sometimes, even an unfair share.

Mostly, I find Teams perfectly functional, if occasionally unintuitive.

But I sit, listen, and try to resist talking as long as I can. 

Somehow, though, the meetings I sit in are generally simple affairs. There's a controlled number of people, usually less than 10. 

Some turn their cameras off once the meeting has begun, while others sit and do something else at the same time -- like check their emails or place their bets on the 3.30 race at Del Mar.

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I've never stopped to consider, however, whether there's a spatial hierarchy. Then again, I don't get invited to meetings in Together mode.

This simulates people being in the same room, even if they're never going to be on the same page.

Should you have never experienced Together mode, you can make participants' heads and top-halves appear in various places all together -- for example, in an afternoon movie theater, seated in quite comfy seats. Yes, even if they're really sitting on a plastic chair in their kitchen.

It's a perfectly kindly attempt at virtual camaraderie. Or, at least, real-life meeting simulation.

But now, Microsoft has come up with a perfectly twisted kink, one whose nuances have its own nuances.

The idea is to allow meeting organizers to assign seats to participants. Yes, virtual seats, because they're not actually there.

Distressingly, Microsoft's announcement doesn't explain why this is a good idea.

So here I am having to posit any logic that may be lurking in the Microsoft psyche.

Perhaps the company wants to allow the meeting organizer to feel more powerful. Perhaps it wants to give the organizer the agency to put certain people together who really don't (ever) want to be together.

Could it be that this allows the organizer to put fully remote employees next to those who are merely hybrid to foster a sense of (visual) camaraderie?

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But, may I remind you, these people aren't really there. Why would they care who they're next to on a screen? Why, in fact, would Microsoft concoct such a kink and give meeting organizers the power?

Or might this be a cunning way to create a little power game or two?

Some things in technology make perfect sense. Not too many, in my estimation. But entertaining a meeting organizer by giving them a perfectly artificial power will only lead to participants thinking: "Why has he put him next to her?"

And "Why has she put her next to her?" Or even: "Why is no one sitting next to him?"

I fear I know how this idea came about. Someone at Microsoft thought they'd impress someone else at Microsoft. And someone else at Microsoft said: "Wow. That's cool."

I can, of course, imagine wily, teenage-minded managers -- I'm not specifically referring to any current or former CEO of Twitter here -- taking great advantage of this feature.

So here it is. Please enjoy it. It can only make meetings very slightly worse.

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