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Microsoft Ignite 2021: Teams Extends Meeting Capabilities, Workflows


A screen for Microsoft Loop
Source: Microsoft
Microsoft Ignite is an annual opportunity to see what the company’s prioritizing and how it will transform the way enterprises work, and this year’s user and partner event is no exception. Microsoft today announced a host of new features for Microsoft Teams, continuing its emphasis on Teams as the centerpiece for collaboration.
Teams Connect Update Adds Chat, Admin Options
First, Microsoft’s tool to address cross-organization collaboration, Teams Connect, received several new features. With Teams Connect, users can schedule a shared channel meeting, use Microsoft apps across organizations, and share individual Teams Connect channels with up to 50 teams. Additionally, users can chat with external collaborators via Teams shared chat by the end of the year.
Historically, managing guest access was a pain-point for many enterprises, as it often required a tenant-switch and cumbersome guest access settings, as Randy Chapman, modern workplace architect for Symity, shared in a recent No Jitter on Air podcast. "You have to log out effectively from your environment, and then log into their environment to just see that one thing," Chapman said. "And while you are [in the guest environment], you can't get at your existing stuff" like your documents, phone calls, communication and collaboration apps, and more, Chapman added.
With Teams Connect, the shared channel is added to the user's home tenant, allowing them to access both external and internal collaboration resources within Teams and without the need of switching between apps, Chapman explained. To provide more granular control over guest access and to differentiate access levels for external organizations, Microsoft will add new Azure AD access settings, coming to preview in early 2022.
IT Admin: New Device Management, Analytics Options
Elsewhere in IT admin, Microsoft made several changes to its admin center and added more device management options, including:
  • Surface Hubs management — Users can now manage Surface Hub whiteboards via the Teams admin center. Additionally, enterprises can use Microsoft’s managed services to manage their Surface Hubs, available by the end of 2021.
  • Improved search for any function, discoverability options — To make managing devices and spaces easier, Microsoft revealed several changes to the admin center, designed to improve search and discoverability. Admins can now search for any function in the Teams admin center and an app discovery tool can surface relevant apps, which will then provide additional app details.

Several other Teams admin features are in public preview and include:

  • Device analytics dashboard — Admins can customize views to display timeseries data and device utilization metrics. Additionally, the device analytics dashboard can provide troubleshooting tips, suggested actions, proactive alerts, and the option to download and share reports.
  • Workspace view — Admins can gather data and analytics for all devices in a specific location with a workplace view. Admins can monitor the performance of the technology in the space and manage connected devices with the workplace view.
  • Priority account notification and alerts — To monitor Teams performance of high-priority users (like executives), admins can now receive real-time device alerts and post-call quality metrics of a prioritized group of users.
For hybrid meetings, Teams users now have expanded direct guest join options, and can now join meetings hosted on a non-Microsoft meeting platform, including Zoom and Cisco, from a Teams Room device. Support for other meeting services will expand to include BlueJeans and GoToMeeting, available in the first half of 2022.
Microsoft Touts Partner Devices
To support hybrid work, Microsoft also shared devices news around its partner ecosystem and devices. The company announced the Yealink deskVision AIO24, and the standalone touchscreen device for Teams can be used as a standalone device or as a second screen, includes a native Teams display experience, and can be used to charge PCs and mobile devices. The device will support the Teams hot-desking feature, as will the Neat Frame in 2022. This is in addition to the previously announced hot-desk support with the Lenovo ThinkSmart View device.
The Logitech Tap Scheduler is also now a part of the Teams panels portfolio. The device allows users to view meeting room availability, location information, and meeting details. An update rolling out by the end of 2021 will add the ability to check into a room using the panel and sensor integration, which will change room availability if no one has checked in after a certain amount of time.
Chat, Webinar, Workflow Apps News
Microsoft will roll out a series of new features between now and early 2022 for Teams chat, expanding its capacity so information is easier to find and resurface on scheduled cues. These features include:
  • Chat-with-yourself feature — Users can send themselves a message or reminder within Teams chat.
  • Chat density options — Users will be able to select a Compact or Comfortable mode to customize the number of chat messages they see on screen. The Compact mode will fit 50% more messages on a screen to reduce the need for scrolling, while Comfortable mode is the current default for Teams chat.
  • Delay message delivery — Users can schedule a chat message to be delivered at a specific time.
  • Updated search results UI — Users can soon filter search results in chat and toggle between tabs to find information.
And for enterprise users who host webinars via Teams, Microsoft introduced a host of new features, including:
  • A green-room feature — Event organizers and presenters can monitor chat and Q&A in a virtual green room, available in preview in early 2022.
  • Event control — Webinar hosts can control the webinar experience, so participants only see what is brought on screen. This feature will be available in preview in early 2022.
  • A meeting co-organization feature — Up to 10 different webinar organizers can co-organize an event, allowing them to manage the webinar options, create polls, and control audio settings. This feature will be GA by end of 2021.
  • Updated Q&A in Teams — With a new Q&A in Teams experience, organizers can mark best answers, filter responses, dismiss questions, and pin posts like welcome messages. This feature will be available in preview some time in November 2021.
  • Isolated audio feed — Event producers can create an audio mix by using isolated audio feeds from different individuals. This feature will be available in preview some time in November 2021.
  • Cvent integration — Hospitality management platform Cvent can now be integrated into Teams. Webinar hosts can use Cvent for registration and agenda management.
Microsoft also unveiled a new app called Microsoft Loop that provides collaborative workspaces that allow end users to complete a workflow across multiple Microsoft 365 apps. Built on the Fluid Framework open-source platform, Loop features three elements, including:
  • Loop workspaces — Loop workspaces are shared spaces that allow users to see and group components together.
  • Loop page — A canvas where users can organize components and add in links, files, or data.
  • Loop components — Loop components are individual workflow items like lists, tables, or customer sales records from Dynamics 365 that can be used within and across information-containing assets like chats, meetings, emails, documents, and more. New Loop components are being added regularly, with recent ones including voting tables and a status tracker to help gather information.
Additionally, app developers will be able to build custom Loop components by extending their message extensions apps and Microsoft Graph Connector integrations. Microsoft will reveal more details on Loop at Microsoft Build 2022.