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Microsoft Teams Use Spikes in Its Third Year

Microsoft Teams use has greatly accelerated in its third year, coinciding with public reactions to the novel coronavirus disease pandemic.

Use of the Teams collaboration solution "has grown by 12 million in just the last seven days," Microsoft indicated in a Thursday announcement. Teams is now used by "more than 44 million daily users," it added. A daily user is defined as someone who performed an "intentional action" on a Teams client.

Microsoft has approximately 50,000 of its own employees in Washington state that are working from home. The shift was part of an effort early on by some tech companies to encourage teleworking in response to the pandemic. Many U.S. companies have since followed the same practice, especially in states where restrictions on public gatherings have been imposed by government officials.

"We believe that this sudden, globe-spanning move to remote work will be a turning point in how we work and learn," said Jared Spataro, corporate vice president for Microsoft 365, in the announcement.

Microsoft has offered six months of Teams use to organizations for free. The offer is described in this recently published Microsoft document.

Earlier this week, Teams users experienced messaging problems, mostly in Europe. After some back-and-forth attempts, Microsoft pronounced the problem fixed, per a report by veteran Microsoft reporter Mary Jo Foley.

Remote Work Support
Tips on how to support remote workers using various Microsoft products can be found in this Microsoft blog post. Microsoft also offered tips for online meetings using Teams in this post.

Spataro offered his own tips on remote worker support in this post. He shared Microsoft's work-from-home guide (PDF download) for its employees that organizations also can use. In addition, Spataro recommended the use of Teams for meetings with "250 or fewer attendees" but organizations should use Microsoft 365 Live Events when meetings involve "up to 10,000 people," per this announcement

It's possible to record meetings in Teams. The video gets saved using the Microsoft Stream video broadcasting service. Organizations will need an "Office 365 Enterprise E1, E3, or E5 license" to record and save these meetings, according to this Microsoft document.

Coming Teams Features
In addition to promoting Teams, which reached its Year 3 anniversary this month, Microsoft this week announced several Teams enhancements that will be "available later this year." They include:

  • Offline support for Teams, as well as support for low-bandwidth connections.
  • Teams chats that pop out in a separate Windows.
  • The addition of the Bookings app in Teams.
  • Upgrades to the Shifts app in Teams for "firstline managers and firstline workers," plus Shifts integration with Kronos Workforce Central v.8.1, and a "Your Shifts" view for end users.
  • Real-time noise suppression to address background noise on Teams connections.
  • A "raise hand" feature for Teams video participants.

More details on these new Teams features are described in this Microsoft announcement. It specifically described a coming "new Satin codec" used with Teams to improve the calling experience, even with low-bandwidth connections.

"Teams will soon be able to deliver crystal clear wideband audio with as little as 7 kbps!" the announcement indicated with regard to the Satin codec. This new Microsoft-developed codec be coming to Teams users "in the coming months."

In addition, Teams users will be able to communicate with users of the consumer Skype videoconferencing service, starting "by the end of March" with the availability of a new Teams and Skype interoperability preview.

Microsoft also announced a few things noteworthy for IT pros. In "the next few weeks," Microsoft will bump up the Teams group chat limit to "up to 250 people." Next month, Microsoft plans to increase the size of Teams team memberships from "5,000 to 10,000 users."

Licensing Additions
Microsoft expanded some licensing options associated with Teams use.

First, Microsoft is adding a Microsoft 365 Business Voice telephony option for small and medium business users of Teams in the U.S. market, starting on April 1, per an announcement. On that date, Microsoft 365 Business Voice will be available in more than 70 countries for businesses using "a calling plan provided by a third party," the announcement added.

Microsoft 365 Business Voice is described as being similar to Microsoft's earlier Enterprise Voice telephony solution. Organizations with "any Office 365 or Microsoft 365 subscription that includes Teams" can add it for a monthly cost.

Here's how Microsoft described Microsoft 365 Business Voice, which supports voice-over-IP calls, but also calls using the public switched telephone network:

Microsoft 365 Business Voice combines essential telephony components into a single package for $20 per user, per month. It includes a phone system, audio conferencing, and domestic calling plan.

Microsoft 365 Business Voice is described as removing the hassles of maintaining a PBX. The announcement included a walkthrough on how to set up phone numbers for employees via a graphical user interface-based administrative console. The Teams Admin Center also can be used for certain actions.

Second, Microsoft is adding a new F1 "firstline workers" option for Microsoft 365 Enterprise subscribers, supplanting the current F1 option. The new F1 plan, providing access to "Microsoft Teams, SharePoint, Yammer, Stream, and Enterprise Security + Management," will cost $4 per user per month and will get "rolled out" on April 1, per an announcement. The old F1 plan, priced at $10 per user per month, will get renamed as the "F3" plan at that time. Microsoft's announcement included a table showing the plan differences.

These firstline workers plans will have access to the Walkie Talkie audio and video feature of Teams. It lets mobile devices substitute for Walkie Talkie communication devices. The Walkie Talkie feature will be available "starting in July." It'll be supported on Samsung Galaxy XCover Pro mobile devices.

Teams Hardware Additions
The Teams service is supported by various hardware devices built by Microsoft's partners. This week, Microsoft described a few new devices for Teams.

Users of Teams can now use new "collaboration bar" devices in smaller conference rooms (for one to five people), which mount on top of a conference room screen.

Here's how Microsoft described collaboration bar devices in an announcement:

This integrated [collaboration bar] device brings together microphones, speakers, a camera and a native Teams experience to deliver a solution that is easy to deploy and less to manage. These Android-based collaboration bars have fewer cables and can be mounted on a display within minutes. IT Admins can keep track of device inventory and remotely manage collaboration bars using the Teams Admin Center.

The Yealink VC210 collaboration bar is the first such product and is available today. Another partner is Poly, which designed a Poly Studio X Series of collaboration bar products. These Poly collaboration bar devices are expected to launch "later this spring."

Microsoft also announced Teams integration with RealWear's ruggedized helmets, which include cameras for remote field-work inspections. The helmets show video and sound for real time collaborations on problems. Teams on RealWear devices will be available "later this year."

Microsoft announced that the Bose Noise Cancelling headphone 700 UC product, which can be used with Teams, will be "available for purchase in late spring."

IT pros soon will get the ability in the Microsoft Teams Admin Center to manage these kinds of Teams devices, Microsoft promised:

Today, administrators have the ability to manage certified Microsoft Teams phones from the Microsoft Teams admin center. Coming soon, we will extend this support for Microsoft Teams room devices and collaboration bars. This will empower admins to perform key actions such as update settings, restart devices, gather logs, review device call quality data, and more.

Microsoft Stream
Users of the Microsoft Stream video broadcasting service are getting the ability to record videos from mobile devices, as well as the ability to add videos into PowerApps and Microsoft Forms, according to an announcement, although the timing wasn't described. IT pros will be able to manage video content for users via a new Stream Admin Mode.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.

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