Microsoft to make hybrid meetings work better with new Teams features coming later this year

Microsoft and Google are vying in the race to make their office and collaboration apps ready for the new hybrid work future. Microsoft's focus is on Teams, Fluid Framework, a new digital whiteboard and more.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor on
Credit: Microsoft

Earlier this week, Microsoft productivity-suite nemesis Google announced its next steps in making Google Workspace more collaborative and ready for remote work. On June 17, Microsoft is doing the same for Teams, unveiling its roadmap to bring more new capabilities to its Teams platform to support hybrid work scenarios over the coming months.

In May this year, Microsoft circulated a video showing off how hybrid meetings might look and feel in the future, based on Microsoft's own research. That video showed off how Teams Rooms capabilities could work in different sized and scaled spaces, like a focus room, medium space and large space when using intelligent speakers, cameras, and large-screen displays like Teams Panels and Surface Hubs.

Today, June 17, officials expanded on that vision with plans outlined during a "What's Next for Hybrid Work" virtual event. In that set of announcements, Microsoft execs also shared more Teams Meetings and Teams Room features that will be rolled out over the course of calendar 2021. 

These include:

  • A new "Front Row" feature in Teams Rooms that's meant to make meeting interactions between virtual and in-the-room meeting participants more immersive and natural. Microsoft is moving the video gallery to the bottom of the screen, so remote participants are actually face-to-face with people in the room. And, Teams Rooms will use new video layouts that disperse the video gallery across multiple displays when content isn't shared.
  • Meeting content will be surrounded by contextual information like agenda, tasks and notes.
  • The meeting chat will be visible to those in the Teams Room so they can see and respond to comments shared throughout the chat.
  • More Teams desktop features will be coming to Teams Rooms this summer that are meant to bring more attention to remote participants in a meeting. These include live reactions, spotlight and the ability to pin multiple video streams (as of this fall) and chat bubbles when using the classic video grid layout.
  • More clearly identifying those who speak in meetings via Teams intelligent speakers, which are now available from EPOS and Yealink. These speakers are designed for Teams Rooms and use Microsoft voice recognition technology that's in Teams to identify people speaking in the room and apply their names to the meeting transcript. In addition, partners Jabra, Logitech, Poly and Neat are working on using AI-powered camera tech to provide new video views that will allow every person in the rooms to be seen more clearly.

Microsoft also is showing off today its updated digital Whiteboard, which will be available this summer. This new Whiteboard will allow all attendees to access the same digital canvas by allowing anyone to bring existing content to the whiteboard for coauthoring. New templates also are coming that will aim to help groups start creating content more quickly. In addition, the new Whiteboard is getting "Collaboration Cursors" to help remote participants more easily follow along; a new Laser Pointer and more features.

Microsoft unveiled today some of the features coming to the next version of Teams on Surface Hub, its large-screen conferencing system. Microsoft plans to bring more Teams desktop features to Teams on Surface Hub, such as Together Mode scenes, an updated meeting stage and PowerPoint Live. The new Microsoft Whiteboard also will be available on Surface Hub as of this fall.

Microsoft officials announced today the next steps in getting Fluid Framework incorporated into Teams and other Office apps.

Fluid Framework, introduced in 2019, is infrastructural technology that Microsoft has built to improve coauthoring performance and allow users to create and embed components inside applications and documents that will always remain up-to-date because of this fast collaboration and synchronization technology. For example, via Fluid Framework, a spreadsheet component that's embedded in various apps will sync continuously so that everyone who accesses it anywhere will see the most up-to-date version.

In May at Build, Microsoft announced it would make Fluid components available for Teams chat via a private preview. Fluid in Teams Chat will enable users to send messages with embedded components, like tables, lists, to-do items, etc., which can be coauthored and edited by all participants. In addition, fluid components can be copied and pasted across chats in Teams and Office apps.

Today, Microsoft said it would be making Fluid components available in Teams Meetings, OneNote, Outlook and Whiteboard to help users collaborate across Teams and Office apps. For example, when used in Teams Meetings, these components will allow participants to create agendas, take notes, and assign tasks within the Teams meeting.

Microsoft officials also said they would be adding a new Teams chat feature that makes even more synchronized collaboration. Users will be able to pin messages that will be available to participants and reply to a specific chat message while maintaining context across and between meetings.

Editorial standards