Microsoft updates Outlook, Teams and PowerPoint to be ready for hybrid working

Microsoft was one of the first companies to warn other businesses that the pandemic would change work habits forever. Two years later, Microsoft has embraced remote working both in its products and in practice regarding how and where its employees work. Today, he’s announcing hardware changes to Microsoft Teams, Outlook, PowerPoint, and even Surface to improve the hybrid realities of remote and in-office work.

As more businesses return to the office and consider a combination of remote and desktop work, Microsoft is updating Outlook to make it easier to see whether colleagues plan to attend in-person meetings or not. A new Outlook RSVP feature will appear in public preview in the web version of Outlook in Q2, allowing meeting attendees to choose whether to join virtually or in person.

New Outlook RSVP interface.
Picture: Microsoft

“That’s just one thing that I think will really help employees understand who will be in the office and how to optimize those meeting experiences,” Nicole Herskowitz, vice president of Microsoft Teams, says in an interview with The edge. It doesn’t appear to be as comprehensive as Gmail’s workplace feature, but Shiraz Cupala, general manager of Microsoft Teams, says The edge the company is thinking about “how can we highlight this view at a glance of your day or week”.

Once people are in a Microsoft Teams meeting, various improvements are coming to better accommodate remote participants. A new Front Row layout is launching today in Teams that moves the video gallery down one screen so people physically present in meeting rooms can see their remote colleagues face-to-face. Microsoft has been promising this new layout for nearly a year, and it’s been a big part of the company’s vision for the future of meetings.

Likewise, Microsoft is updating the companion device experience for Teams Rooms so that in-person attendees can join meetings with their own device and be prompted to turn on their video so remote attendees can see them more easily. in a meeting room. “There are more than 90 million conference rooms worldwide, and less than 8% are equipped with video,” Herskowitz says. So this is a key change for most businesses.

Microsoft Teams Front Row video layout.
Picture: Microsoft

Speaking of video meetings, Microsoft is also introducing a new Surface Hub smart camera. You can read all about it here.

Another big part of Microsoft’s vision for the future of work is Loop components. Microsoft Loop components are blocks of collaborative Office content that can live independently and be copied, pasted, and shared with others. Imagine taking notes in a Teams meeting and then copying those notes to an email, but the notes continue to update as other people edit them in emails and Teams.

It’s a powerful concept, previously known as Fluid, that Microsoft has been promising for a few years now. After appearing in Teams in January, the Loop components are now making their way to Outlook messaging, linking Microsoft’s core communication tools.

Microsoft’s take on hybrid working wouldn’t be complete without some PowerPoint improvements. PowerPoint’s new cameo and recording studio features are now combined. Cameo lets you integrate a Microsoft Teams camera into your presentation slideshow, and Recording Studio lets you record yourself speaking to any slide. They’re both designed to improve the meeting experience for remote colleagues, and the combination will be available in Q2.

Microsoft Whiteboard is getting new templates.
Picture: Microsoft

Some enhancements to Microsoft Whiteboard in Teams are also coming in Q2. If you’ve never used the whiteboard, it’s essentially a blank canvas for brainstorming, but it can be difficult to envision how to visually represent your ideas. Microsoft is now adding over 50 templates to make it faster to start jotting down ideas, and there are new in-context reactions for instant feedback from colleagues.

All of these product changes are influenced by Microsoft’s own research data from more than 30,000 people at companies around the world. The latest data from Microsoft’s Work Trends Index provides insight into employee thoughts on hybrid working.

“We find from our data that more than 50% of people are more likely to prioritize health and wellness at work than before the pandemic,” Herskowitz says. Microsoft data also reveals that 18% of people left their jobs in the last year, and many say work-life balance, flexibility and well-being are key, even when compared to salary considerations.

The problem for companies now is to make offices interesting and to embrace flexible working more. “Leaders need to make sure the office is worth the trip,” Herskowitz says. Many will be faced with the choice of going to an office when it makes sense and working from home, so Microsoft’s changes to how Teams works will be a welcome improvement in ensuring remote colleagues feel just as important as those who attend in person.

Microsoft is now gearing up to show us how it will shape Windows for hybrid working. The software maker is hosting an event on April 5 that will focus on new Windows 11 productivity and security enhancements that reflect the new reality of in-office and remote work that many now face.