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Microsoft brings collaborative Office apps to Teams to support hybrid workflows

Microsoft is announcing several updates to the Microsoft Teams desktop application that allow for more collaboration using fully integrated Office apps. In addition, Microsoft has announced some changes to the Teams Rooms experience that put a greater emphasis on hybrid offices and remote collaboration.

These features and others being announced are designed for hybrid work environments and helping people connect and engage with each other. Microsoft clearly believes that hybrid work is the future, and with these new updates, hopes to make Teams the ultimate destination for that future.

More Fluid Components in Teams

“I used to go to the office, and now I go to Teams.”

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That’s what Microsoft Teams General Manager Nicole Herskowitz told Digital Trends in a meeting before the news was announced. She was, of course, speaking of what one of her customers that had told her about how much work has changed in the past year.

As more and more of office life happens online, messaging platforms like Teams and Slack have become where the majority of work gets done. Herskowitz told us that many of her same customers have noticed this trend, and have been wanting to reduce the amount of time that’s spent switching between applications. That’s where Fluid Components comes into play, offering a way of bringing collaboration apps right into Teams.

Pinning a message in Microsoft Teams.

Fluid Components have been around since earlier this year, but Microsoft is announcing a significant expansion that includes integration with Outlook, OneNote, and a host of other Office applications.

For example, Fluid Components enable you to co-author and edit chat messages inline in Teams and even during meetings. This allows for you to work with your co-workers on things like bulleted lists, checklists, numbered lists, a task list, or even a table in real time. You can even copy the components to other chat threads, so that all edits will be in sync. Fluid Components will also be carried over to the Outlook Calendar board on Outlook on the web. This allows you to better manage your time across Microsoft’s apps.

Fluid Components are not to be confused with PowerPoint Live, though, which is also getting updates. New features for this in Teams include Slide Translate, which allows attendees to see the presentation in their chosen language. And with a new inking experience, you can annotate your PowerPoint as you present or use a laser pointer to call attention to key points.

Fluid Components in Microsoft Teams improve collaboration.

We’re not, however, quite at the point where we can entirely ditch PowerPoint and Excel to live entirely in Teams. But Herskowitz says Fluid Components will still enable a far more collaborative experience than what currently exists.

The Whiteboard app is one area that’s receiving a big update in Microsoft Teams this time around. Changes include collaboration cursors, which show what others are doing on a Whiteboard, as well as a laser pointer, which can help you get the attention of others. Follow Along, which lets you guide others through your ideas, and templates for common tasks like problem-solving, planning, and workshopping are new too.

Whiteboard collaboration in Microsoft Teams.

“There are many times when it makes more sense to be in a native application,” Herskowitz pointed out, defending the need for maintaining the distinct experience of using stand-alone Office apps. “I’m a finance person, and I want to go deep on my ERP data. I’m not going to get all that information in Teams. That doesn’t make sense. But maybe getting some financial data to a senior exec while you’re in the middle of a board meeting could make a lot of sense in Teams.”

Google, of course, has also made a significant play for a more seamless collaboration experience, first announced at Google I/O. Allowing Google Meet calls to integrate right into a shared Google Doc or tag contacts in your workplace from that same document demonstrated just how much more is possible. Microsoft’s Teams update don’t answer those new features one-for-one, but its solutions are certainly built to overcome the same hurdles.

Herskowitz also pointed to the 850 apps that have integrated into the Teams app store that can be used in the context of a Teams meeting, chat, or channel.

Microsoft Teams desktop app updates

Microsoft Teams now allows replying to specific messages.

But that’s not all. Microsoft is also working on fleshing out the capabilities of Microsoft Teams apart from mobile devices. The desktop Teams app will finally have the ability to reply to a specific message in Teams, which has long been present in the corresponding iOS and Android apps. It works as you’d expect: Just click the three dots next to a message and then choose reply. The message will then show up in your reply text box, so everyone will see what was previously mentioned.

As for the pin message feature, you can get to it by accessing the same  ” . . . ” menu and then choosing Pin. Once a message is pinned, you’ll be able to drive awareness, provide chat members quick access to critical content, and stay in sync on important content.

Microsoft is also introducing new abilities to insert images and documents and a new ability to combine lines, text, and ink with collaborative diagrams. For more fun times, there are even reaction stickers and smoother mouse inking, too.

All these features will live in a new Fluent Toolbar and menu bar at the top of Whiteboard in Teams, helping you access things more easily and see what is going on.

Microsoft Teams Room updates

The Front Row features in Microsoft Teams Rooms.

When it comes to updates for Teams Rooms, which is Microsoft’s purpose-built calling and meeting room solution, the biggest new feature is Front Row. With Front Row, Microsoft is moving the video gallery to the bottom of the screen so remote participants are face to face with those in the room. Meeting content also moves, so it is surrounded by contextual information like agenda, tasks, and notes. Even the chat moves to the left so that people can respond more easily.

Other than Front Row, Microsoft is also introducing new video layouts for Teams Rooms that will disperse the video gallery across multiple displays when content isn’t shared. The increased space means remote participants show up larger and more true to life. That pairs up with features like live reactions, spotlight, and the ability to pin multiple video streams (coming this fall) and chat bubbles when using the classic video grid layout, which have all been ported over from the desktop version of Teams.

Finally, Microsoft is bringing a new Teams Rooms experience for Surface Hub. The experience delivers on a modernized meeting stage, new Whiteboard app, Together Mode scenes, and PowerPoint Live. It will be coming this fall.

Arif Bacchus
Arif Bacchus is a native New Yorker and a fan of all things technology. Arif works as a freelance writer at Digital Trends…
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