Microsoft Teams: Now you can turn off chat to stop people talking through your meeting

Microsoft is making it easier to switch chat off and on again during meetings, which should make it easier to cut back on distractions.
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer

Microsoft has listened to requests from meeting organizers – including teachers – who've wanted a way to prevent participants from chatting while they're meant to be focused on the conversation. 

A Microsoft engineer has explained in the Teams user feedback forum that Teams now includes the ability to disable and enable chat during a meeting: the company has also posted a support note explaining how meeting organizers can control chat during meetings

Previously, a domain admin could set up a policy to ban chat in all video meetings. However, individuals who initiated a meeting could not disable chat on a per-meeting basis or during part of it. 

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Zoom has had this control over chat during meeting for a while, as one teacher who is now required to use Microsoft Teams, complained. With so many teachers conducting remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic, it's an understandable feature request among teachers. 

The initial request, posted in March 2020 at the outset of the first lockdown, appears to have been filed by a general meeting organizer rather than a teacher. 

"Please allow meeting organizer to temporarily disable chat during a meeting. We often have people so focused on the chat, they don't pay any attention to the actual meeting. We'd love to be able to turn off chat at the beginning of the meeting, and then turn it back on at an appropriate point," they wrote.

However, many of the most recent requests were filed by teachers who've been having difficulties controlling online classrooms.  

"Yes, completely. A teacher should be able to turn on or off students' access to chat," wrote another anonymous user wrote on January 23.  

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"The chat during the meeting is very distracting to students, especially the younger ones," wrote another Teams user. "It has been a struggle to maintain a class meeting and monitoring the chat activity at the same time. Please consider making a disable chat option in a meeting a priority. Teams is our schools go-to platform for remote teaching!"

At last count in October 2020, Microsoft said it had 115 million daily active users of Teams. Zoom presents its numbers differently, stating in November it had 300 million daily meeting participants, but signaling its continued popularity, its Q3 2020 revenues shot up 367% from a year ago.

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