Video meetings. While the move to remote work during the COVID-19 pandemic may have made them mainstream, they are not without issues and more and more people are now opting out. And for good reason. As it turns out, it’s really hard for our brains to sustain concentration while we’re trying to focus on 20 people in neat squares, all with different backgrounds and never quite looking at the camera. While we’ve had quite a bit of anecdotal evidence for this, Microsoft today released some of the research it did in this area, as well as new features in Teams that it hopes will make video meetings easier and less tiring.
The first of these is Together mode. The idea here is actually pretty simple. To be able to change backgrounds or add background blur, Teams already features Microsoft’s AI segmentation technology to detect and cut out a participant’s image from the background. Now, with Together Mode, it is taking everybody’s images and putting them into a shared space, starting with an auditorium. So instead of lots of little squares, all of the meeting participants now sit in this auditorium. This, Microsoft’s research shows, is actually quite a bit easier on the brain to process than standard remote collaboration tools.
“In our preliminary research — and it’s only been preliminary thus far, this has only been around for a couple of months — we’ve noticed quite a few things,” Microsoft’s Melissa Salazar explained to me ahead of today’s announcement. “First and foremost, you’ll notice the way that we’re looking at each other is obviously very different than something we’re used to, not only are we out of the grid, but we’re looking at this, ‘mirror image’ of ourselves.” This view of ourselves, Microsoft argues, is something we’re quite used to from being at the barbershop, for example, where we talk to the mirror. This also tricks our brain into mitigating some of the eye contact problems we’ve all experienced in video meetings.
“Our research has also shown that people tend to be happier, be more engaged in meetings, feel more comfortable keeping their camera on longer — even if they’re not asked to in this mode. And then — I think most importantly — be able to pick up on the behavioral social cues that are so important to human interaction,” said Salazar.
Michael Bohan, a director in Microsoft’s Human Factors Engineering group, noted that just removing the grid view already makes a major difference here. “When you have a grid view, everybody’s boxed off and so your brain has to treat those as individual parts — it has to parse all information. When you remove those edges, then your brain can start to see a more unified view of things.”
For now, Together Mode only features the auditorium view, which can handle up to 49 participants, but Microsoft is already working on other views, including a more intimate coffee shop mode.
The other new mode Microsoft is introducing is Dynamic view. The idea here is that Together Mode is obviously not perfect for every kind of meeting, so this view provides more control over how you see shared content and the other participants in a meeting, including the ability to see content and specific participants side-by-side.
Also new in this update are video filters, to tweak your lighting levels, for example, and soon, Teams will add live reactions, which let you share your sentiment with emojis without interrupting the meeting. Coming soon, too, are PowerPoint Live Presentations to Teams, chat bubbles so you don’t have to keep a separate chat view open, and speaker attribution and translation for live captions and transcripts. For chats in teams, Microsoft is introducing Gmail-like suggested replies.
But there is more. Teams will soon let you bring the whole company together, with meetings that can support up to 1,000 participants. And for presentations, Teams will support up to 20,000 participants.
And since Cortana still lives, she is also now coming to the Teams mobile app to help you make calls, join meetings and more.
Another new feature Microsoft CVP Jared Spataro stressed when I talked to him ahead of today’s announcement was the new Reflect messaging extension. “This allows you to have a manager check in on the wellbeing of your team,” he explained. “You can do that anonymously or publicly. We’ve already been doing some of that on my team — just trying to check in with people — and this gives you a more structured way to do that. I think it’ll be really well received based on what I’m talking about with customers because this well-being component is becoming very important.”
It seems like every software funding and product announcement these days includes some sort of reference to “no code” platforms or functionality. The frequent callbacks to this buzzy term reflect a realization that we’re entering a new software era.
Similar to cloud, no code is not a category itself, but rather a shift in how users interface with software tools. In the same way that PCs democratized software usage, APIs democratized software connectivity and the cloud democratized the purchase and deployment of software, no code will usher in the next wave of enterprise innovation by democratizing technical skill sets. No code is empowering business users to take over functionality previously owned by technical users by abstracting complexity and centering around a visual workflow. This profound generational shift has the power to touch every software market and every user across the enterprise.
In a perfect world, all enterprise applications would be properly integrated, every front end would be shiny and polished, and internal processes would be efficient and automated. Alas, in the real world, engineering and IT teams spend a disproportionate share of their time fighting fires in security, fixing internal product bugs and running vendor audits. These teams are bursting at the seams, spending an estimated 30% of their resources building and maintaining internal tools, torpedoing productivity and compounding technical debt.
Seventy-two percent of IT leaders now say project backlogs prevent them from working on strategic projects. Hiring alone can’t solve the problem. The demand for technical talent far outpaces supply, as demonstrated by the fact that six out of 10 CIOs expect skills shortages to prevent their organizations from keeping up with the pace of change.
At the same time that IT and engineering teams are struggling to maintain internal applications, business teams keep adding fragmented third-party tools to increase their own agility. In fact, the average enterprise is supporting 1,200 cloud-based applications at any given time. Lacking internal support, business users bring in external IT consultants. Cloud promised easy as-needed software adoption with seamless integration, but the realities of quickly changing business needs have led to a roaring comeback of expensive custom software.
Distressed satellite constellation operator OneWeb, which had entered bankruptcy protection proceedings at the end of March, has completed a sale process, with a consortium led by the UK Government as the winner. The group, which includes funding from India’s Bharti Global – part of business magnate Sunila Mittal’s Bharti Enterprises – plan to pursue OneWeb’s plans of building out a broadband internets satellite network, while the UK would also like to potentially use the constellation for Positioning, Navigation and Timing (PNT) services in order to replace the EU’s sat-nav resource, which the UK lost access to in January as a result of Brexit.
The deal involves both Bharti Global and the UK government putting up around $500 million each, respectively, with the UK taking a 20 percent equity stake in OneWeb, and Bharti supplying the business management and commercial operations for the satellite firm.
OneWeb, which has launched a total of 74 of its planned 650 satellite constellation to date, suffered lay-offs and the subsequent bankruptcy filing after an attempt to raise additional funding to support continued launches and operations fell through. That was reportedly due in large part to majority private investor SoftBank backing out of commitments to invest additional funds.
The BBC reports that while OneWeb plans to essentially scale back up its existing operations, including reversing lay-offs, should the deal pass regulatory scrutiny, there’s a possibility that down the road it could relocate some of its existing manufacturing capacity to the UK. Currently, OneWeb does its spacecraft manufacturing out of Florida in a partnership with Airbus.
OneWeb is a London-based company already, and its constellation can provide access to low latency, high-speed broadband via low Earth orbit small satellites, which could potentially be a great resource for connecting UK citizens to affordable, quality connections. The PNT navigation services extension would be an extension of OneWeb’s existing mission, but theoretically, it’s a relatively inexpensive way to leverage planned in-space assets to serve a second purpose.
Also, while the UK currently lacks its own native launch capabilities, the country is working towards developing a number of spaceports for both vertical and horizontal take-off – which could enable companies like Virgin Orbit, and other newcomers like Skyrora, to establish small-sat launch capabilities from UK soil, which would make maintaining and extending in-space assets like OneWeb’s constellation much more accessible as a domestic resource.