The pandemic forced a lot of people to find new tools that would allow them to communicate and collaborate while working remotely. These tools became the same tools that we relied on to connect with friends and family members. For over a year, my entire entire existence with the outside world was a virtual one. I spent several hours a day interacting with others in Microsoft Teams or on Zoom in work meetings, in virtual happy hours, or working with non-profits and community organizations. The new normal arrived very quickly and there was little resistance to the virtual meeting, the only substitute to meeting face to face.
What I did discover was that while the tools only allowed for a “virtual connection”, these tools did allow me to stay connected to others. As we are start to return to normal, I think these tools that allow us to quickly connect with family and friends will endure, and furthermore, my guess is that they will continue to improve.
Proving that point is Microsoft. Today, Microsoft announced a personal version of Microsoft Teams. At first glance, it appears that this personal version of Teams will compete with services like Zoom. Some of the features of the personal version of Microsoft Teams will address some of the shortcomings of competing platforms.
One of my first experiences on Zoom came courtesy of my sister-in-law. She had planned for 3 family members to connect using Zoom. We logged-in, but there were a few technical difficulties that prevented us from starting at the agreed time. By the time we all were admitted, we realized that we only had 25 minutes remaining. We were using a free Zoom link and those meetings are limited to only 40-minutes.
The newly released version of Microsoft Teams for personal use will allow users to communicate one-on-one using voice and/or video for up to 24 hours. If you’d like to meet with a group, you can meet with up to 300 people for up to 24 hours. It has been reported that Microsoft will throttle the number of users (to 100 for one hour) at some point, but we do not have any information on when users might expect this change to occur.
Microsoft has also shared that video call links can be shared with users that are not using Microsoft Teams.
Together mode for the less formal get together
Microsoft has expanded on Zoom’s virtual “sharing circle” by moving beyond the “fun” backgrounds. Microsoft is promoting a feature called Together Mode which will digitally impose all attendees into shared background. Microsoft is attempting to make these virtual experiences feel more like a “get-together”. As I mentioned, I appreciate the ability of Zoom to help me stay connected, but I must be honest, I don’t have fun in these meetings. Even chat, emojis, and fun backgrounds do not change the fact that I am spending most of my time just looking into my camera and at my face on the computer screen. I’m looking forward to checking out Together Mode and the virtual lounge, café and resort.
Beyond video and audio calling
I can certainly see a case for Microsoft Teams being used to keep a group of friends and family members connected. I have several group chats that I participate in. We talk about fantasy football, weekend plans, and even plan our annual camping trip via chat. Polling, shared to-do lists, and the ability to instantly connect with someone from the group are features that my groups would surely use.