Microsoft Reinforces Teams for Remote Collaboration Scenarios

With office environments becoming increasingly "hybrid" post-pandemic, Microsoft is readying multiple improvements to its software to facilitate remote meetings.

Specifically, the company announced coming perks for users of the Microsoft Teams collaboration service, as well as Microsoft Viva, Microsoft's relatively new "employee experience platform." Software improvements also are coming for Microsoft Whiteboard, a screen app used for collaboratively sketching ideas during meetings. Emerging Microsoft 365 "fluid components," used to facilitate collaborations on the fly in applications, also are coming.

More Natural Remote Meetings
Microsoft's meetings enhancements are supporting the current work-from-home trend, dubbed "hybrid work," according to Jared Spataro, corporate vice president for Microsoft 365, in the announcement. He suggested that Microsoft's solutions are bringing organizations "a new operating model for people, places and process."

The coming improvements announced on Thursday generally aim to make remote meetings seem more natural. Microsoft has made many attempts to this end over the years, as described in this Microsoft hybrid meeting experience article.

For instance, Microsoft initiated a "Project Malta" research project to study remote meetings experiences. It set up a testing room, called the "Hive," to design optimal meeting spaces. In the end, Microsoft concluded from its research findings that offering "a good view of the in-room participants" to remote viewers and "normalizing the sizes of people's remote video feeds" would make remote meetings seem less fatiguing to viewers.

Fluid Components Expansion
Microsoft had introduced a preview of fluid components for Microsoft Teams in its May 2021 Build event. These fluid components enable messaging from software components, such as action items, lists or tables, when using the Teams service.

Microsoft's Thursday announcement explained that fluid components also are now newly coming to "OneNote, Outlook and Whiteboard to make it easier to collaborate synchronously and asynchronously across Teams and Office apps." The exact timing when these fluid components will be integrated, though, wasn't described. A search for "fluid components" at the Microsoft 365 roadmap page drew a blank.

The coming fluid components are new Microsoft 365 solutions built on the Microsoft Fluid Framework, a Web-based "componentized document model for shared, interactive experiences" that was first introduced at the 2019 Microsoft Build event. These fluid components will be coming to the Microsoft Teams and Whiteboard applications sometime this summer, according to this The Verge article written by Tom Warren, who interviewed Microsoft principals, including Spataro, about the fluid components.

Front Row View in Teams Rooms
Microsoft's main improvement for enhancing remote meeting experiences seems to be its new "front row" feature for Teams Rooms.

With the front row feature, remote meeting participants appear in a row at the bottom of a screen, which is supposed to be at the same eye level as would be experienced if they had actually been seated in a meeting room. The top of the screen can then be used to display presentation materials. There's also screen room on the sides to display other materials, such as a meeting agenda and a chat window.

The new front row feature "will be supported across both single and dual display configurations," Microsoft explained in a Teams Rooms announcement. It's expected to arrive "over the course of this year."

New Whiteboard App
The Microsoft Whiteboard application, which lets people draw diagrams collaboratively using digital inking, is now described as being "completely new." It has a new "Fluent toolbar" and improved inking capabilities when using a mouse. Drawn shapes get automatically straightened with a "shape recognition" capability.

The new Whiteboard app has various collaboration improvements. "Collaboration cursors" appear to identify people working together on a whiteboard. Microsoft added a laser pointer tool. It also added a "follow along" feature and new templates.

Users can create collaborative diagrams. They can insert images and documents, or write notes in the Whiteboard app. Microsoft also added so-called "reaction stickers," which can be used to show participant responses.

The new Whiteboard app has been integrated into various Microsoft 365 applications. It's available in SharePoint and OneDrive for Business, as well as It's newly available in "Teams channels and chats," per the announcement.

Headspace Coming to Microsoft Viva Insights
Microsoft is planning introduce a Headspace work-life balance application into its Microsoft Viva Insights application in Teams "starting later this month," according to an announcement. The Headspace app sets aside employee time for rest via "guided meditations and mindfulness exercises."

The Viva Insights app also will be getting a new focus mode, coming "later this year," that helps employees set aside daily focus time. Users get focus music from Headspace. There's also a timer that can be used for tasks.

Also coming later this year to Viva Insights will be the ability to configure "quiet time," which silences Outlook and Teams mobile notifications.

Some of these capabilities can be set by IT pros. For instance, there will be a new organization-level "quiet time" policy that will be coming to Microsoft Endpoint Manager.

Microsoft plans to answer questions about Viva Insights in a coming Ask Microsoft Anything event, scheduled for June 23, 2021. Viva configuration details for IT pros can be found in Microsoft Mechanics videos.