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The significant push by businesses to enable remote work in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic spurred many companies to deploy one-stop unified communications tools from Microsoft that encompassed audio, chat, video and other collaboration capabilities.
Still, some of the features are more relevant than others. And keeping track of Teams releases remains challenging, despite the availability of Microsoft's roadmap portal.
To help users make sense of all the different features being released, as well as the ones upcoming for 2021, let's examine the four key capabilities likely to draw attention from IT and end users in the next 12 months.
1. Security enhancements and improvements. File sharing is being made easier. Many Teams users had to go to SharePoint to share and manage security of their files. By supporting this functionality directly from the Teams client, users will no longer have to switch back and forth between Teams and SharePoint to manage file permissions.
The information barriers feature enables administrators to control how end users contact and communicate with others within Teams. This is extremely important for organizations that deal with sensitive data or for those that need to block interactions with external users. Information barriers is available today but will see wider adoption in 2021 as more administrators get familiar with its capabilities.
2. End user productivity features. A number of Microsoft Teams enhancements are likely to prove helpful to Teams users. One handy feature is inline translation for messages, which will let users communicate with others who may speak a different language.
Another helpful upgrade is support for offline message queues. This addresses messages that were created, but not transmitted, because internet connectivity was lost or interrupted. Message queue saves messages for up to 24 hours until connectivity is restored.
Microsoft also began rolling out multi-window chat earlier this year with feature development continuing in 2021. This feature lets users conduct chats in multiple windows -- and with multiple colleagues -- at the same time.
3. Reporting and analytics. Productivity Score, introduced during the 2020 Microsoft Ignite conference, monitors user behavior through a number of metrics, among them how much time is spent on meetings with others, the volume of emails exchanged and the overall time spent using the platform. The feature fueled privacy concerns from some users who feared their employers would use it to quantify their performance with indicators that may not truly reflect employee effectiveness and productivity. Others said Productivity Score would give them valuable insights about their overall behavior and provide benchmarking information they could use to compare their performance against peers within their own company.
4. Devices as a service. Microsoft saw a number of partners introducing new Teams-compatible devices in 2020, among them Poly, Lenovo and Yealink. The devices ranged from headsets and full-room systems to handsets and even smart TVs. For some organizations, it may be too difficult to invest in all the new hardware required to support a Teams deployment. That led Microsoft to introduce a devices-as-a-service option for Teams. Under this program, companies can pay a monthly fee for the equipment needed for Teams and avoid upfront costs.
Microsoft has shown no sign to slow down the pace of Microsoft Teams enhancements. Before these upgrades are deployed, however, IT administrators must carefully evaluate them to ensure they conform to internal policies governing end-user adoption, governance and security.