Microsoft Adds Features to Teams to Fight Remote Work Fatigue

Microsoft says the new features were conceived of and built in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
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Microsoft is making a slew of updates to Teams, its workplace chat and collaboration software, aimed at making virtual meetings less exhausting. 

The tech giant announced the new Teams features this week, saying that they were inspired by the COVID-19 pandemic and the sense of fatigue many workers doing business in an all-virtual environment. Shares of Microsoft  (MSFT) - Get Report were rising 0.5% to $213.85 on Thursday afternoon.

The new features include 'Together Mode', which places a live avatar of meeting participants in a virtual setting, and is aimed at making videoconferences feel more natural. 

"It was totally motivated, conceived, prototyped, tested, and realized during the pandemic," said Jaron Lanier, scientist at Microsoft Research, speaking of Together Mode. "I suspect had it not been for the pandemic, it would have been years of testing and development to release something like this." 

Other features include a dynamic view, which allows for more flexible presentation of content alongside video and smoother transitions between participants. Microsoft is also adding video filters to adjust lighting levels or your webcam's focus, live emoji reactions, and transcripts coming later this year. Soon, Teams will also be able to support up to 1,000 participants, or up to 20,000 if most are watching rather than presenting. 

Microsoft says that it worked with a number of large customers, including Levi Strauss & Co, Stony Brook University, and the University of Texas at Arlington, to test the new Teams features. Lanier added that they were inspired in part by real-life, live performances, and how being part of an "audience" -- even if virtual -- can affect perception. 

"This wouldn’t have happened so quickly were it not that there was a bunch of research and prototyping going on that was in the general area of experimenting with new kinds of video conferencing design," he added. 

Microsoft and others in the realm of remote work software are working to spin up new features to accommodate heavy use during the pandemic. Slack  (WORK) - Get Report, for example, just acquired Rimeto, maker of directory software, with the goal of offering a searchable directory of information alongside its collaboration software. 

Microsoft has reported surging adoption of Teams during COVID-19, and believes that much of the adoption will stick even after employers have partially returned to the office. The company says that in regions that have partially reopened, such as China, Singapore and South Korea, the number of daily active Teams users continues to rise. 

Microsoft shares are up 32% year to date.