Microsoft Teams: impressive new meeting features to rival Slack

Microsoft is celebrating the second anniversary of its Microsoft Teams launch with some impressive new features to rival Slack. The software maker now has more than 500,000 organizations using Microsoft Teams, including 91 of the Fortune 100. That’s likely due to the fact Microsoft bundles Teams with its Office 365 subscriptions, making it an appealing choice for businesses that already pay for the Office suite of apps.

Still, Microsoft Teams is growing and rivaling Slack at the same time, and the company is now adding some unique features to improve meetings on the service. After adding background blur to Skype last month, Microsoft is building on the feature in Microsoft Teams to add customizable backgrounds. This lets you join a video call and pretend you’re in an office, at the beach, or wherever you want really. The customized backgrounds feature will be available later this year, and it will work with any image that you want to use.

The most impressive new feature is one that will solve whiteboard interactions in meetings with remote participants. Microsoft has developed a way to mask out someone drawing on a physical whiteboard, allowing remote meeting members to still see the physical whiteboard when it’s in use. This works by using any regular webcam, and it will even capture the physical whiteboard and import it digitally into Microsoft Teams so remote workers can participate in meetings or the contents of the whiteboard can be archived for future use. Microsoft is letting Teams testers access this new feature as part of a public preview before it rolls it out generally.

Live captions are also making their way to Microsoft Teams meetings, improving accessibility to allow participants who are deaf or hard of hearing to read speaker captions in real time. This is also useful if you’re working from a loud location, and you miss what a particular speaker says, as the captions will be displayed in the meeting. An English preview of this feature will be available soon, and Microsoft plans to include translation in meetings at some point in the future, too.

The last major new feature coming to Microsoft Teams is Live Events. This will allow Microsoft Teams users to broadcast a meeting or event to up to 10,000 people. Viewers won’t need a Microsoft Teams account to see the streams, and they’ll even be able to participate with live Q&As. Think of it as Microsoft’s own Facebook Live-style service that will be primarily used for work meetings and events. Microsoft also launched a similar service with LinkedIn recently.

Microsoft is continuing to test its secure private channels for Microsoft Teams, and they should be available later this year. The private channels will let admin restrict channels without needing to create separate teams, and it’s a highly requested feature from current Teams users. Microsoft is currently testing this internally and with some select external customers.

All of these features add up to a big push from Microsoft to differentiate its Teams product from Slack. Microsoft’s main rival is valued at around $5.1 billion, and it acquired rival HipChat last year to shut the service down and migrate users to its own chat service. Slack has also been improving its service in the past couple of years, including a new dark mode, improved search, and shared channels.

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