As the hybrid workplace emerges, Microsoft and Google are stepping up their video tools

As companies scramble to reopen office buildings, not all employees want a return to the pre-pandemic status quo – forcing companies to take a “hybrid” approach to remote working. With some employees in the office and others still at home, providers of collaboration applications and hardware are now looking to support workers in the office and remotely.

With that in mind, Microsoft and Google both touted updates last week designed to connect workers more effectively, regardless of location.

Microsoft Teams and the “smart” camera

Microsoft, for example, unveiled several new smart camera features for its Teams Rooms platform to better support hybrid meetings. New features include “active speaker tracking,” which allows cameras in meeting rooms to detect who is speaking in a conference room with multiple colleagues present. It does this by tracking audio, facial movements, and hand gestures, allowing the camera to zoom in on the speaker.

Smart camera for teams Microsoft

Microsoft says its smart camera features better support hybrid meetings.

In addition, each participant in the office can be placed in their own video pane, the same way remote colleagues are presented, and facial recognition can identify participants and display their profile name.

The goal is to put remote workers on the same footing as those in an office conference room, Microsoft said.

Smart camera features will be available over the next few months in meeting room devices manufactured by hardware manufacturers such as Jabra, Neat, Poly and Yealink, ”Microsoft said.

Microsoft has also touted the upcoming updates to the existing companion mode for Teams rooms. Companion Mode already allows meeting participants to access second screen features like chat, live feedback, or Microsoft’s whiteboard on a mobile device during an in-person meeting. The company now plans to expand companion mode so that users can access meeting and device controls to turn off room cameras or mute room speakers, join a meeting, or share a presentation. PowerPoint from their mobile device.

Other new features include:

  • An RSVP feature in Outlook that allows users to specify whether they will participate in a meeting remotely or in person;
  • Hot-desking reservations that allow employees to locate and reserve office workspace from Teams or Outlook;
  • Automatic “lighting correction” for Teams video streams in low-light environments;
  • Interoperability between Teams and Apple Car Play;
  • And a Cameo feature in PowerPoint that lets you embed Microsoft Teams video into slides for better presentations (available early 2022).

Finally, Microsoft has said that a Logitech docking station with a built-in speaker that connects to Teams will be available in the coming months.

Gmail receives the Meet call, with more Workspace apps to follow

For its part, Google unveiled new features for Workspace as well as new hardware and updates to its Meet video app.

New to Meet is the ability to initiate a video or audio call directly from Gmail with the push of a button, rather than requiring a meeting to be scheduled first. Google Meet’s calling functionality will also be extended to other areas of the Workspace app, including one-on-one text chats.

Google also introduced new video conferencing hardware devices designed to work with Meet, which are part of its Series One line. The Series One Board 65 is a 65 inch. all-in-one 4K display ($ 6,999), built by Google partner Avoncor; it offers a camera and high definition audio for group video meetings, and integrates the Jamboard whiteboard application from Google. A smaller Series One Desk 27 ($ 1,999) is also available, along with third-party audio peripherals from Logitech (Logitech Rally Bar Mini and Rally Bar for Google Meet).

Google also announced interoperability between Cisco Webex hardware devices and Meet hardware, which means Cisco hardware can run Google Meet videos, and vice versa. Interoperability is expected later this year.

The arrival of companion mode in Meet, first announced during Google I / O in May, has been pushed back to November. It will allow room meeting participants to access interactive features such as chat, whiteboard, polls and more on a laptop or mobile device. Live-translated subtitles in multiple languages ​​(English to French, German, Spanish and Portuguese) will also be available through companion mode later this year.

The need to adapt to flexible working environments

The features announced by Google and Microsoft align with the new demands of hybrid workplaces, said Raúl Castañón, senior analyst at 451 Research, a division of S&P Global Market Intelligence.

The shift from the traditional office environment means that businesses need new tools to deal with the constraints imposed by physical distance and different time zones, he said. According to 451 Research’s VotE WPC Work Execution Goals & Challenges 2021 study, top challenges to improving workforce productivity after COVID-19 include adjusting to remote / hybrid work practices (25%) and low staff morale (21%).

“A key factor will be improving the user experience for everyone, especially for remote participants,” Castañón said.

User requests mean some advanced meeting features and devices have gone from “good to have” to “must have,” he said. “These features work together to improve the user experience, level the playing field for onsite and remote participants, help them connect and engage. “

Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.

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