KEY POINTS

  • COVID-19 forced many to work from home using video conferencing software
  • Some professionals say video conferences and working remotely causes fatigue
  • Microsoft introduced a new Teams feature to help deal with this issue

Microsoft added a slew of new features to Teams, including one that will place all video call participants into the same "room."

The current COVID-19 pandemic has forced people everywhere to stay home for their own safety. While video conferencing platforms have made it easy for people to communicate with co-workers while working from home, they can't take the place of interacting with others face-to-face, as well as having meetings where everyone's in the same room.

Some professionals who shifted to working from home admit that they've experienced fatigue from video conferencing.

"After a week of shelter-in-place, I was just flabbergasted by how intense and exhausting it was," Stanford University professor Jeremy Bailenson, an expert who spent two decades researching digital communication and behavior, told Microsoft.

In response to such a situation, Microsoft worked on creating what it now calls "Together Mode" – a new Teams feature that places all video call participants in the same "room" so that they'll feel like they're beside each other in real life, even if it's just inside a video call.

Microsoft claims that Together Mode can make virtual meetings more "engaging" by letting participants focus on other people's faces and body language, something that may not have been easy to do previously and in other platforms.

The mode uses AI to change the background behind each video call participant and place them together in one virtual "room." Instead of seeing all participants in a grid that frequently changes each member's position based on who's talking, all participants will be shown seated beside each other in a conference room, auditorium and more.

Participants will be "seated" in the same place the entire time, regardless of whoever is speaking in the call. Everyone will see the same placement, allowing them to interact with each other more naturally. Users can even "touch" others in the call and can give one another a virtual pat in the back.

Microsoft said Together Mode is now rolling out with an Auditorium view as the first available background. The company said more views will come soon.

Working Computer Working on a computer. Photo: Reuters