Microsoft unveiled new features for its Teams corporate-chat software, timed to the product’s third anniversary and arriving amid a surge of interest in digital workplace communications tools.
The new tools may be especially useful for employees in the new world of work from home. Real-time noise suppression should block out the sounds of background typing and family members sharing the same space amid virus isolation orders. Another feature lets users virtually “raise their hand,” a boon for large conference calls when everyone’s trying to talk.
There’s also offline and low-bandwidth support, which allows users to read and write messages without an internet connection, and a new tool in the U.S. that lets smaller businesses use Teams as their phone service.
Another feature can automatically replace the background during a video chat. Other new features include:
- Through a new integration between Teams and RealWear head-mounted devices, Firstline Workers will be able to access information and communicate hands-free with remote experts from their job site.
- Conducting B2C virtual appointments is a common requirement for situations like healthcare patient visits, client meetings, or job candidate interviews. the Bookings app in Teams makes it easy to schedule, manage, and conduct virtual appointments.
- Teams will soon enable you to pop out chats into a separate window to help you streamline your workflow and move more easily between ongoing conversations.
- Microsoft is also expanding the Teams devices ecosystem, with new devices certified for Teams. The Yealink VC210, now generally available, is the first collaboration bar certified for Teams, and brings together speakers, microphones, a camera, and a native Teams experience. In addition, the Bose Noise Cancelling headphone 700 UC is available for purchase in late spring.
In addition, Microsoft introduced Microsoft 365 Business Voice in the U.S., a new offering for small-and mid-sized businesses that makes Teams a complete phone system, as well as a new Microsoft 365 Enterprise plan lineup that will include additional licensing options for Firstline Workers.
The new capabilities will be available later this year.
Microsoft Chief Executive Officer Satya Nadella said that while everyone is most focused on health and safety, as well as the economic impacts of the virus, technology like Teams can help.
“We also of course recognize the role of technology and how it can play a supporting role for those working tirelessly to reduce the impact of Covid-19 — from health-care providers staying connected with tele-health solutions, schools and universities teaching via virtual classrooms and remote learning, to businesses of all sizes who are enabling their employees to work remotely,” Nadella said in a virtual press briefing.
Microsoft charges fees to businesses for its full versions of Teams, but there is a free version that can be used by consumers.
Rival Slack Technologies Inc. on Wednesday unveiled an app redesign meant to make its workplace communications software simpler to use and more tailored to an individual’s needs, as it tries to fend of Teams. The new Slack will start rolling out over the next several weeks and you'll be able to:
- Navigate channels and search across your organization with a new navigation bar
- Discover key conversations, files, apps and more—all at the top of your sidebar
- Start a message from anywhere with a handy new compose button
- Organize channels, messages and apps into custom, collapsible sections (you know, like folders)
- Take swift action with your apps through shortcuts.
Microsoft said Teams had 44 million daily users as of Wednesday. The app gained more than 12 million daily users in one week, a 37.5% jump as more people worked from home during the coronavirus outbreak. The software now counts 20 clients with more than 100,000 users apiece, according to Microsoft.
Slack last reported 12 million daily users in September but that was before the recent explosion of remote work.
Zoom Technologies Inc.’s teleconferencing software is also getting more use, but not for the reasons they hoped.