I’ve been in sales and marketing my entire life, so most of my connections have been made with a handshake and a face-to-face conversation. I also have two young children at home that are heavily involved in sports, hanging out with friends, causing trouble, and finding new best friends everywhere we go.
This year, all of that turned upside down for the entire world. We can’t shake hands for fear contamination, our schools were all virtual, our sports are limited to online chat rooms, all of the neighborhood kids stay away from each other and we don’t dare go out in public as we might bring something home with us that can dramatically impact us and everyone around us.
Through all of this, though, I have been very fortunate. Just before the chaos began, I left the sales and marketing side of things and entered the tech world with Blueprint Technologies. We are always looking to build the Next Big Thing, and all our work revolves around that idea. We get to provide impactful technology solutions to people in diverse fields such as medicine, education, government, and just about anything else you can think of.
One area where we’ve seen Microsoft positioning itself to have a major impact on is the crucial area of online collaboration with Teams. Teams stands above the competition in so many areas. Security and privacy are top priorities and Teams makes collaboration easier than ever before. Teams has been a powerhouse for years in the corporations and is now making its way to the non-business world.
While there are many aspects worthy of discussion when considering Teams, my personal favorite and so far the most impactful to me personally is how my children’s teachers use Teams to keep distance learning engaging and secure. My children love to see their classmates, chat, and learn in real time and I appreciate that, unlike many teleconferencing systems, Teams creates a space that is secure from inappropriate content as well as unwelcome intruders.
Microsoft also actively seeks out customer feedback centered on ways to improve Teams, a product that is already working well. Their UserVoice website serves as a platform for clients to suggest improvements to their products. Microsoft takes this process very seriously and researches each suggestion. Users can also go here to see which features have just been released or are currently in the works. But I’ll save you a click and list a few new features that are exciting to me.
- Up to 49 participants on a single screen: Currently Teams is limited to a 3×3 grid, but that is expanding to 7×7 over the course of 2020. This will boost participant engagement and improve social and emotional connections as well as allow for larger “face-to-face” conversations.
- Virtual breakout rooms: Teams already has pop-out chats but pop-out meetings are coming soon. This new feature will help people meet and collaborate in small groups while the larger meeting continues, as well as bring a virtual flavor to a staple activity at conferences and professional gatherings.
- Enhanced student participation: In ‘Teams for Education’, students can digitally “raise their hands” during class meetings. Educators can also see attendance reports and, later in the year, view class insights, an intelligent data analytics breakdown on student engagement in class, rate of assignments turned in, activity metrics and grades, with a new trends view.
- Meeting lobby: Maintaining student safety and control over the classroom experience is critical. New meeting options in Teams prevent students from starting meetings unattended, allow educators to determine presenters in a meeting, and give educators the ability to ensure only assigned students can join a meeting.
- Customized images and personalized learning spaces: With people working, living, and learning in shared spaces at home, the ability to anonymize and customize the visual aspect of teams is a key addition. Beyond using background blur and pre-selected background images, students and teachers can customize their own images and as a result, personalize their own learning space.
- Partner integrations: ‘Teams for Education’ now also includes integrations with Kahoot, Prezi, GO1, Nearpod, Piazza, Gaggle, Moodle, Canvas, and others. Microsoft will continue to add partner integrations making it easier for schools and universities to use Microsoft Teams.
As its mobile platform grows, Teams is becoming more inclusive and ubiquitous. In many ways, Teams is becoming a one-stop personal collaboration shop. On Teams I can chat with friends, family, and colleagues, live video stream with them, share and integrate my calendar, and use the maps to share my location to let them know where I am. I can safely share and store sensitive information and can call or message all of my contacts that use Skype from my Teams work account. Microsoft is truly breaking down organizational and geographical barriers while enabling and improving collaboration, sharing, and remote work and learning, all in a user-friendly and totally secure interface.