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Microsoft Teams, Outlook To Get New Hybrid Work Capabilities

“I can’t hire enough people,” Jim Brennan, president of Huntingdon Valley, Pa.-based managed service provider Managed Services IT, told CRN in an interview. “If anybody was on the fence last year on moving to a virtual environment, all these conversations all summer have been, ‘Oh my God, what if it comes back in the fall? What do I do?’”

Microsoft unveiled new capabilities in its Teams collaboration application and Outlook email application Thursday as part of an effort to improve hybrid work environments and make them easier for employers to deploy.

Even this far into the pandemic, remote employees can feel unheard and unseen and conference rooms still lack the hardware, software and furniture for effective hybrid meetings, Nicole Herskowitz, Microsoft general manager of Teams and the Microsoft 365 Platform, said in a statement. Herskowitz also noted that Microsoft itself had to enable 160,000 people to work from home and remotely onboarded 25,000 new employees during the pandemic.

“The shift to remote work over the last 18 months is one of the most significant changes in work culture since the Industrial Revolution,” she said.

She continued: “As employees settle into a mode where they’re splitting time between in person and remote work, most organizations are not prepared. Hybrid work is hard.”

[RELATED: Microsoft Partners: Windows 11 Is An ‘Important’ Update For Security, Productivity, Collaboration]

Thursday’s announcements included Microsoft’s plan to make LinkedIn’s skill-building platform Learning Hub generally available in two weeks. The company has also made nearly 40 LinkedIn Learning courses free until Nov. 9, according to a statement.

In the “coming weeks,” the Viva Connections mobile app enters public preview for companies to share news and resources from Teams, according to a statement. This month, Teams comes to Apple CarPlay to allow users to join meetings and make hands-free calls with Apple virtual assistant Siri.

The continued rush to adopt hybrid work technologies has been a boon to partners. Jim Brennan, president of Huntingdon Valley, Pa.-based managed service provider Managed Services IT, told CRN in an interview that his clients continue to demand Teams and Azure Virtual Desktop services amid fear of rising cases of COVID-19’s delta variant.

“I can’t hire enough people,” Brennan said. “If anybody was on the fence last year on moving to a virtual environment, all these conversations all summer have been, ‘Oh my God, what if it comes back in the fall? What do I do?’”

Microsoft’s announcements Thursday included a new category of intelligent cameras whose elements will be available to original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) in the coming months and roll out as updates “over the course of the next year,” according to a company statement. The cameras use audio, facial movements and gestures to detect who is speaking in a room and zoom in on that person’s face. The intelligent cameras also allow for multiple video streams to place in-room participants in individual video panes. The cameras can also identify and display enrolled users’ profile names in an individual video pane.

The Redmond, Wash.-based tech giant plans to release in the “next few months” an updated “companion mode” in Teams mobile to give in-room participants quick access to chat, live reactions, Microsoft Whiteboard and other engagement features.

Interestingly, Google recently announced a “companion mode” for Google Meet launching later this year, giving each participant their own video tile, so they can stay connected to remote colleagues, and everyone can participate in polls, chat and question-and-answer sessions in real time.

Also in the “coming months” is an automatic lighting correction feature to help users in low-light environments, plus a Logi Dock docking station with built-in speakerphone and touch controls designed to work with Teams, according to a statement.

A new hot desking experience on Lenovo ThinkSmart View will be released by the end of the year. This experience will allow Teams users to locate and reserve flexible workspaces in an office, book the space and access Teams calendars, chats, meetings and more. People can use Teams displays as standalone devices or second screens. When users sign out, all personal information is removed from the device, according to a Microsoft statement.

Among the new features to start rolling out in early 2022 is a redesigned working hours feature in Outlook that allows users to put work schedule specifics directly into calendars to let others know when and where they are working plus a new RSVP feature that shows if people will attend meetings in person or online, according to a statement.

A new PowerPoint experience called “cameo” will be released in early 2022. This experience integrates Teams camera feeds into PowerPoint presentations so users can customize how and where they appear on slides, according to a statement.

Early next year, Microsoft will release “speaker coach” in Microsoft Teams, a feature that uses AI to privately share guidance on pace, when interrupting someone and reminding speakers to check in with the audience, according to a statement.

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