Background change in Teams

Microsoft Teams celebrates second birthday with new features that will help you get more work done

Customised backgrounds, live captions and automatic data protection are just some of the new Teams features that have been announced to mark the second anniversary of its launch.

The updates to Microsoft’s popular collaboration tool, which is free with Office 365 and includes secure group chat, web conferencing and one-to-one chat services, will “make meetings more inclusive and effective while delivering new levels of security and compliance”, the company said.

It comes amid a surge in popularity for Teams, with 91 of the largest 100 companies in the US using the product.

Anyone using Teams will soon be able to customise their background (top), allowing them to add a company logo or office environment when working from home, for example. The feature builds on a current tool that lets people blur their background to minimize distractions.

There will also be support for additional USB cameras. Using Microsoft’s new Intelligent Capture tool, Teams will focus, resize and enhance images and text on whiteboards – even when someone is standing in front of the content – so people watching remotely will see everything clearly (below).

New Whiteboard feature in Teams

Another upcoming feature creates an infinite whiteboard within Teams that callers can use to collaborate. They can also add content from a physical whiteboard onto the digital canvas within Teams without having to recreate it.

For participants who are deaf or hard of hearing, or have different levels of language proficiency, Teams will soon support live captions. Powered by the Cognitive Speech Services available on Azure, they will initially be available in English, with more languages to follow later this year.

“This week marks the second anniversary of the worldwide launch of Microsoft Teams,” said Lori Wright, General Manager of Microsoft 365. “Over the past two years, Teams has grown significantly in both new capabilities and customer usage, as the hub for teamwork that brings people together and fosters a culture of engagement and inclusion. Today, more than 500,000 organizations, including 91 of the Fortune 100, are using Teams to collaborate across locations, time zones and languages.

“Microsoft Teams is improving workplace collaboration by helping organizations move from an array of disparate apps to a single, secure hub that brings together what teams need including chat, meetings and calling, all with native integration to the Office 365 apps. Users can customize and extend their experience with third-party apps, processes and devices, giving them the tools they need to get work done.”

Another new Teams feature coming later this year is “secure private channels”, which lets users decide which members of their team can access selected conversations and files. This limits exposure to sensitive content without the need to create separate groups. According to Microsoft, this was one of the most requested features.

Microsoft Teams at two

Similarly, “information barriers” let you limit who can collaborate and communicate with each other in Teams. “This is particularly helpful for organisations that need to adhere to ethical walls requirements and other related industry standards and regulations,” Wright said.

Cybersecurity is high on most executives’ priority list. According to research by charity Business in the Community, 40% of small businesses have not taken any action on cybersecurity in the past year. In addition, more than three-quarters of companies said they had no policy for controlling access to their data systems.

Microsoft has announced it will roll out Data Loss Prevention in Teams chats and conversations to enable customers to detect, automatically protect and monitor sensitive information in conversations. This will help admins prevent sensitive information from unintentionally being shared or leaked.

Teams Live

Live Events in Microsoft 365

Finally, “Live Events in Microsoft 365” allows anyone to create live and on-demand events using video and interactive discussion across Teams, Stream or Yammer. Up to 10,000 attendees can participate in real-time from any location, on any device, or catch up at a later date with AI features such as automatic transcription.

Teams has grown in popularity since its launch in 2017, with companies such as Pfizer, General Motors and National Bank of Canada using the tool to help their staff collaborate. Around 80,000 organisations have started using the tool since the end of January, while a Spiceworks survey at the end of last year revealed that Teams adoption has risen from 3% of IT professionals in 2016 to 21% in 2018.

Microsoft also revealed Teams will soon support nine additional languages – Hindi, Filipino, Bengali, Telugu, Tamil, Marathi, Gujarati, Kannada, and Malayalam – adding to the 44 currently available in 181 markets across the world.