Both companies are responding to the growing demand for workforce flexibility as companies seek to implement hybrid remote work strategies and keep employees connected wherever they are.
While companies are working to reopen office buildings, not all employees are interested in returning to the pre-pandemic status quo, forcing companies to take a «hybrid» approach to teleworking. With some employees in the office and others still at home, hardware and collaboration applications are now looking to support both office workers and remote workers.
With that in mind, both Microsoft and Google promoted updates last week designed to connect workers more efficiently, regardless of location.
Microsoft Teams and the «smart» camera
Microsoft, for example, has launched several new smart camera features for the Teams Rooms platform to better support hybrid meetings. New features include «active speaker tracking», which allows meeting rooms to detect who is speaking in a conference room with several colleagues present. It does this by watching the sound, facial movements and hand gestures, allowing the camera to approach the speaker.
- Smart room for teams
- Microsoft says its smart camera provides better support for hybrid meetings.
- In addition, each participant in the office can be placed in their own video panel, in the same way that remote colleagues are presented, and facial recognition can identify participants and display their profile name.
The goal is to put distance workers on an equal footing with those in an office conference room, Microsoft said.
Smart camera features will be available in the coming months on meeting room devices manufactured by hardware manufacturers such as Jabra, Neat, Poly and Yealink, ”said Microsoft.
Microsoft also supported future updates to the existing companion mode for Teams Rooms. Buddy mode now allows meeting participants to access features of the second screen, such as chat, live feedback, or the Microsoft whiteboard from a mobile device during an in-person meeting. The company now intends to extend Companion mode so that users can access meeting and device controls to turn off the cameras in the room or turn off the speakers in the room, join a meeting, or share a PowerPoint presentation on their device. mobile.
Other new features include:
- An RSVP feature in Outlook that allows users to specify whether to join a remote or personal meeting;
- «Shared desktop» bookings that allow workers to locate and book a desktop workspace from Teams or Outlook;
- Automatic «light 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 a Microsoft Teams video in slides for better presentations (available in early 2022).
- Finally, Microsoft said a Logitech docking station with a built-in speaker that connects to Teams will be available in the coming months.
Gmail receives calls from Meet, with other Workspace applications to follow
For its part, Google has introduced new features for Workspace, along with new hardware and updates for its Meet video application.
New to Meet is the ability to initiate an audio or video call directly from Gmail at the push of a button, rather than requesting an appointment first. Google Meet’s call functionality will be extended to other areas of Workspace, including individual text chats.
Google has also supported new video conferencing hardware designed to work with Meet, which is part of its Series 1 range. The Series 65 board is a 65-inch board. 4K all-in-one display ($ 6,999), built by Google partner Avoncor; It offers high-definition camera and group video sound and has a built-in Google Jamboard whiteboard app. There is also a smaller Series One Desk 27 desk ($ 1,999), as well as Logitech audio devices (Logitech Rally Bar Mini and Rally Bar for Google Meet).
Google also announced interoperability between Cisco Webex hardware devices and Meet hardware, which means that Cisco hardware can run Google Meet videos and vice versa. Interoperability will take place at the end of this year.
The arrival of Companion mode on Meet, which was first announced on Google I / O in May, has been delayed until November. It will allow meeting room participants to access interactive features such as chat, whiteboard, polls and more on a laptop or mobile device. Subtitles translated live into multiple languages (from English to French, German, Spanish and Portuguese) will also be available in Companion mode later this year.
The need to adapt to flexible work environments
The functions announced by Google and Microsoft are in line with emerging requirements for hybrid jobs, said Raúl Castañón, a senior analyst at 451 Research, a division of S&P Global Market Intelligence.
Moving the traditional office environment means that companies need new tools to address the limitations imposed by physical distance and different time zones, he said. The main challenges for improving labor productivity after COVID-19 include adapting to remote / hybrid work practices (25%) and low staff morale (21%), according to the WPC WPC Work Execution Goals & Study. Challenges 2021 of 451 Research.
«A key factor will be to improve the user experience for everyone, especially for remote participants,» Castañón said.
User requests mean that some advanced meeting features and devices have shifted from «nice to have» to «must have,» he said. «These features work together to enhance the user experience, leveling the playing field for on-site and remote participants, helping them connect and participate.»