Today, Microsoft is laying out its vision for the future of meetings. Following a year in which more people dialled into the office remotely, the company is once again pounding the table in favour of hybrid work: a model that combines remote access with in-person work.
While the company has been teasing new Microsoft Teams concepts in recent months, it is now beginning to bring to life an updated interface for the communications software that will help blend remote colleagues into physical meeting rooms.
Microsoft’s plans are detailed in a new video, which includes larger screens to facilitate face-to-face meetings with life-sized remote colleagues. Microsoft envisions meeting rooms with cameras placed at eye level to improve eye contact, as well as spatial audio that allows you to hear colleagues’ voices when they are dialled in. This spatial audio is also said to make it appear as if a remote colleague is more present in a room.
This futuristic meeting room, on the other hand, appears to necessitate a significant amount of hardware. Customers will require new intelligent video cameras that can detect who is speaking and bring them into view, spatial audio speakers, and even microphones embedded in ceilings. Microsoft may provide some of this hardware: the company recently began selling Intelligent Speakers for Teams, which will help bring this future meeting room scenario to life.
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This futuristic meeting room is part of Microsoft’s larger push to prepare for what it sees as a hybrid approach to work, in which more employees will work remotely or dip in and out of the office.
In a LinkedIn post outlining the company’s approach, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella says, “Hybrid work represents the biggest shift in how we work in our generation.” “It will also necessitate a new operating model that spans people, places, and processes.” Microsoft is releasing a playbook for businesses looking to implement a hybrid model, based on data and research gathered during the pandemic.
In recent months, Microsoft has been gradually opening up its campus in Redmond, Washington, and remote meetings have become a major focus point. “In fact, meeting recordings are the fastest-growing content type at Microsoft,” says Nadella. “Employees now expect all meeting information — whether recordings, transcripts, or highlights — to be available on-demand, at double speed, and at a time that is convenient for them.”
The push toward hybrid work raises security concerns for organizations. Microsoft is embracing this new era by removing its own employees from corporate networks and instead focusing on the internet. That means abandoning the old era of corporate domains and intranets, for which VPNs are required, and storing all data in the cloud. Of course, Microsoft also owns Azure, so the company has an incentive to promote its cloud business as well as an incentive to switch. Other businesses may find it difficult to fully embrace the cloud.
Microsoft is also requiring its own employees who work from home to “run a test of their home networks to ensure they are secure,” as well as managing every mobile device that accesses corporate information. During the pandemic, we’ve seen a variety of ransomware attacks and an increase in phishing attempts, and Microsoft says the threats are only getting worse.
“The threat landscape has never been more complex or challenging, and security has never been more important,” Nadella says. “Last year, we intercepted and thwarted a record 30 billion email threats, and we are currently tracking over 40 active nation-state actors and 140 threat groups.”