One of the features in Office apps that has come to the fore in recent years is the concept of @mentions – something that started in the early days of Twitter. The use of the @ before someone’s name lets you quickly tag them to a piece of content, and in some cases gives them a proactive notification that you’re trying to reach them.
Exactly how the notification occurs differs slightly depending on the medium – in Yammer, for example, starting to type someone’s name after an @ sign will give you a picker to choose which person you might want to tag; pressing TAB will accept the name at the top of the list, and cc: that person to the specific post you’re making, so they’ll be notified in Yammer and possibly by email too. If you know someone’s alias then you can quickly type @aliasTAB to tag and accept them. You can also use mentions in comments within Office documents.
The same behaviour is commonly available in Teams as well, though it may be more limited as to who you can mention – in the chat for a meeting or in a Teams channel, you’ll typically only be able to @mention the people who are taking part or who are already members of the team. Like other uses of the @mention idiom, tagging someone will insert their full Display Name, as defined in the Microsoft 365 environment (or the address book if you like) – which can make mentioning people in a chat feel a little directorial or formal, especially if the format of their display name is something like FamilyName, GivenName (DEPARTMENT).
In most uses of the mention, you can edit the full name of the person, though it’s not quite consistent how to do it – in Teams, for example, merely pressing backspace (after the display name has been resolved) will remove the last word … so if you want to tag a colleague and their display name is Jane Doh, then a quick tap will reduce that to simply Jane. If they were Doh, Jane (IT) then it’s a little more complex to lose the formality – holding CTRL+SHIFT while pressing the left arrow will select a word at a time, so you could ditch the last part of the name then simply CTRL+Left arrow would skip the middle part, then CTRL+SHIFT+Left arrow/Delete will remove the first part again.
Lesser platforms might allow a user to set a nickname that is used in place of their display name; that’s not (yet) an option in Teams etc, though in Outlook when you mention someone, you could insert a nickname in-between other names then remove the original ones, leaving only the short name you’ve added, but still hot-linked to their contact card etc. It’s a bit clumsy but might be preferable to calling them by their more formal name.
You can’t sort by that special field, but you can filter the inbox to only show you the mails where you are being called out. Handy when people have a habit of assigning you tasks in an email, assuming that you’ll read it…
Just click the sort/filter option found to the top right of your Inbox or other folder, and choose Mentioned Mail to show only messages where you are mentioned.
In the same week that Salesforce announced its intent to splurge a load of cash on buying Slack, Microsoft’s Teams team put out a lengthy blog post outlining a load of new and updated features that are shortly coming to the Teams user experience. Some have been talked about before and are now already available or will roll out soon (you can always prod Teams to check for updates by clicking on your profile icon in the top right and choosing Check for updates – any available updates should be downloaded and installed in the background).
One new feature is a supposedly AI-powered (isn’t everything that’s vaguely smart these days?) noise suppression feature – useful if you’re on Teams calls and have to share your environment with noisy people/animals etc. Configure your own noise suppression settings within the Devices options, by clicking on Settings under your profile at the top right.
There are numerous new calling features coming, which will help in managing real (PSTN) phone calls and VoIP calls, as well as a load of new partner devices that can be plugged into your PC to give you a phone on your desk, if you like that sort of thing.
There are also some useful updates to bring other applications into Teams meetings, like allowing you to set up Polls in advance (using Microsoft Forms, configured within the Teams app with an easy-to-use wizard), and using Power Apps and other elements of the Power Platform, it’s never been easier to roll your own apps for including in Teams.
There’s a $45K prize fund available for the best apps that are built and submitted by February 2021, so if you have ideas, better get cracking…
There are other more accessible and arguably easier ways for the modern PC user to capture the screen, though. You could start a Teams meeting with yourself (a handy way to check how you look and sound on video) by going to the Calendar node in Microsoft Teams and click Meet now. Once you’re in the meeting with only yourself, you can share your desktop or an app in the usual way, and record the “meeting” for later enjoyment.
Depending on how your Teams/M365 environment is set up, your recording may be stored on OneDrive or SharePoint (as opposed to being automatically uploaded to Microsoft Stream – a new change that was announced at Ignite), but one way or another you can download the MP4 recording to a file, and share it more widely.
A simpler method might be to just go to the Stream portal – if you’re a subscriber to Microsoft 365 – and create a screen recording from there.
If you’re not looking for anything too fancy, though, a quick & easy way to grab a recording of an application – not the whole screen, only the current app window – is to use the Xbox Game Bar that’s probably included in your Windows 10 install.
Although the Game Bar is designed to be used for recording snippets of gameplay, it’s also a really neat way of capturing the video and audio of pretty much any other application; with a bit of practice, you could record your own instructions on how to carry out some task in an application, while showing just that app window, and it’ll be available to share in a few moments.
Simply open the app you want to record, then press WindowsKey+G to bring up the overlay GameBar UI.
Click the floating toolbar along the top to show or hide various docked windows which will appear on the left side; if you want to record a commentary over the top of your screen capture, then click the settings cog at the far right of the toolbar and set the option to record system audio as well.
When you’re ready, press the round record button in the Capture dialog (or press WindowsKey+ALT+R), also making sure your mic isn’t muted if you want to record your voice. Once you’re live, you’ll see another floating toolbar that lets you mute your mic and stop the recording, and when complete, it’ll show a confirmation that the recording is done – click on that notification to go straight to the folder where the recordings are held.
Just open the Editor and create a new project, add the huge video capture file, drag it to the Timeline then hit Finish video to save an encoded version at a lower quality – for rough screen caps, Medium (1280×720) is probably good enough, and drops from 130+ MB/minute to more like 5MB/min.
Updates flow to Microsoft 365 on a regular basis – there’s a published list of all the minor and major changes that are launched and on their way. As well as improving the current user experience and adding new features, occasionally whole new offerings are added – such as Microsoft Lists, which first made an appearance in July.
Lists gives an easy way of creating, sharing and managing lists of custom information within a team – tracking issues, recording assets, anything in fact, that might have used a shared spreadsheet to do it in a low-tech way. Lists was announced to provide a modern-looking, consistent way of managing lists through a variety of front-ends – including mobile apps, to come later this year.
You should be able to see Lists from the menu on Office 365 web apps – start at www.office.com and sign in with a business Office/Microsoft 365 login and the new icon will give you access to Lists – get started here.
Just like sharing forms or doing task management, there are often numerous ways to do the same thing – and in days of yore, that would have meant several competing and incompatible technologies, encouraged to fight it out with each other to try to ensure that the best one wins. Nowadays, with a more collegiate mindset, consistent ways of doing things show up in different user experiences – like To-Do and Outlook, StickyNotes and more. Expect deeper integration across other apps in due course
The new Lists experience is essentially just a great UI built on top of a mature back-end; SharePoint Lists, which have evolved over the last 10+ years, allowing the definition of custom columns and rules to validate data entry.
One new frontier is to integrate the new Lists UI into Teams; if you have ability to administer a Team, you will see an “add a tab” function alongside the Posts / Files etc tabs that are typically presented.
Adding a List tab will then walk you through a process to either choose an existing List (by entering the URL of the SharePoint site that hosts it) or by creating one by importing a spreadsheet, starting from a number of templates or by defining it from scratch
Have a play with Lists and think about how your team could use them in place of spreadsheets.
Microsofties: There’s an internal story about how Lists came about, and looking forward to where it’s likely to go in the future.
Check out Paul Thurrott’s excellent introduction to Lists. And there’s even a Lists Look Book.
Streaming technology has risen with the availability of high-speed, low-latency internet access, allowing users to play on-demand – rather than watch or listen at the time a broadcaster decides – and is wiping out the need to record live TV to watch later, maybe even obsoleting the concept of broadcast TV.
Perhaps the next vanguard is the gaming industry – as Microsoft and Sony get ready to launch next-generation consoles, buying a disc-based game to install and play will soon feel as old-hat as going to Blockbuster to rent a VHS for the night. Streaming games on-demand as part of a subscription service may be norm, rather than buying and owning a title outright. The console isn’t the only destination, though – streaming to mobiles is on the way.
Back in the workplace, streaming takes a different form, from virtualizing and delivering applications on-demand to running whole desktops somewhere else and displaying the output on a remote screen, not unlike the old mainframe/terminal model. And of course, there’s streaming of other types of media besides applications.
Many users will first encounter Microsoft Stream, the secure enterprise video service, if they’re using Teams and see a meeting has been recorded – usually, when the organizer hits the button, a link to the recorded video will be dropped into the chat window of the meeting.
If you miss that, or weren’t at the meeting in the first place but want to catch up, try going to microsoftstream.com and search, either by the name of the meeting, or by looking under People for the name of the organizer where you’ll see all of their content. If you’re recording a load of meetings yourself (like a training series, or a monthly team call) then it might be worth creating a channel and adding those recordings to make it easier for people to see related content.
Unfortunately, you won’t get paid millions of dollars and given tons of free stuff but you might get some sort of corporate kudos and recognition.
Stream is ultimately replacing the earlier Office 365 Video service, though isn’t yet fully feature compatible: see a comparison of the two, here.
It’s not just for storing recordings of meetings in the hope that people who couldn’t be bothered to turn up the first time will somehow tune in to watch the re-run; you can create new content and upload that for your colleagues to view, too.
You could use the Record a Slide Show feature in PowerPoint, to make an (editable) recording of you giving a presentation and publishing it, or if you’re just looking to do something quick and easy (up to 15 minutes in duration), you can even kick off a screen-recording (with audio and video) from the Stream site directly.
When you publish your video to Stream, it’s worth making sure you’re making it visible – depending on how you’re set up, it may be limited. Go into My Content and look for the coloured icon showing the permissions. Click on the pencil icon to the left, to edit the video properties, including setting the permissions or adding it to a channel. For more about managing permissions on Stream, see here.
One thing to note, is that if you have remote participants in a Teams meeting – customers, partners etc – then they won’t be able to see the recording you make; the Stream service is limited to your own organization, as defined by the Azure Active Directory that’s used to authenticate you. If you need to be able to share the video with others (making sure you’re not breaking any rules, obvs), then you may be able to download just an MP4 video file – none of the other metadata, captions, transcriptions etc that you get with Stream, it’ll just be the main video – and at least make that available separately.
Maybe record it to a VHS tape and post it to them?
Yet more updates have arrived for users of Teams; Jared Spataro did a good session at Inspire in July, outlining some changes that are already available for some and talked about new capabilities that are on the way. There’s a cool background noise suppression capability to remove the clamour that’s happening behind someone, and a load of transcription / captioning technology that works alongside meeting recording, to highlight who said what.
Jared also announced Team Room services (more on rooms.microsoft.com), providing a management and monitoring service for physical rooms that are equipped with Teams kit, as well as the performance of the meeting space. The intent is to make the meeting experience better when we have a mix of in-person and remote people, as the world transitions to some kind of normality.
While we’re still in a predominantly-remote working cycle, Together Mode introduces an intriguing way of displaying videos from a group of people – rather than the “Gallery Mode” of video boxes arranged in a grid, Together mode uses the same technology which can apply a custom background to cut out the user’s video of their person, and place that in a lecture / theatre type setting.
It takes some getting used to, especially if the meeting is one where there’s a predominant speaker – like a teacher – who appears in one of the chairs in the room rather than separate from it. Also, you might have some people who sit relatively close to their camera and will appear huge, while others look like they’d be sitting with feet dangling in the air.
To learn more about how to use Together Mode, and for some info on what is planned for the future, see here.
We’ve all been there. Either as the source of background distraction on a Teams call, or one of the participants perhaps wondering how best to handle it. Sometimes it’s better to intervene if you can see who’s doing the heavy breathing or who’s sitting in a noisy environment, rather than making a fuss about it.
If you show the participant list during a team call, you’ll see who is muted, and depending on your own role in the meeting, you can mute others who might be unwittingly generating noise (identifiable by the “halo” surrounding their profile picture or initials, which flickers as they talk or as their mic picks up other sounds). The Organiser or any Presenter in the meeting can mute anyone else.
Muting a participant displays a notification in their Teams client to the effect that they have been shushed and can unmute themselves, and if they’re dialled in, they’ll be told by an announcer that they’ve been muted and told how to unmute themselves.
The person who’s been quietened doesn’t know who did the deed (one feature request is to log who’s doing it, as there have been reports of miscreants randomly muting and booting out participants from virtual classrooms during lockdown). If you’ve already muted a participant (or even all participants), it’s not possible to unmute anyone – only they can control that process, since an organiser unmuting someone could put them in an awkward position (#poorJennifer again?).
There are requests to allow finer control of muting in some circs, though – preventing people from unmuting unless given permission, for example – in a large meeting, it could be better to police Q&A by asking people to “raise their hand”, and only allow them to unmute when the presenter virtually gives them the mic.
If you’re going to do a load of noisy typing whilst on a call, one trick to memorise is to flick the focus from OneNote/Outlook/whatever to Teams by quickly tapping ALT+TAB, then tap CTRL+SHIFT+M to mute and unmute yourself – this is probably a lot quicker than trying to click the microphone icon within the Teams app.
There have been plenty of ToW missives over the last few months on the subject of remote working, video conferencing and the like. Businesses who have Microsoft 365 – the new umbrella name that includes Office 365 – already have access to Teams, though personal users and non-subscribers could still set up a free version.
Other chat, video and collaboration tools have clearly been finding many new users during the COVID-19 lockdown…
Slack, which established itself as a texty business collaboration tool (especially in the technology industry), has been overtaken somewhat by the rush to video calling and meeting. Slack’s partner AWS, who also have a video/audio/chat service called Chime, announced plans to integrate under the covers. Meanwhile, Slack thinks it’s finally time to ditch email and their CEO also has an interesting take on how remote working will evolve – will this be the end of the real estate bubble in the Bay Area, for example?
Salesforce has launched a new offering called Anywhere, which aims to take back collaboration and comms tasks from Slack or Teams. And in the “you can tell any story you like by using the right set of numbers” file, Teams has been reported as outgrowing the media’s darling, Zoom, as the feature battles between the two have intensified. Skype and Google’s
Teams will soon have the ability to show up to 49 people at once (having rolled out a 3×3 grid of video windows recently)…
… and has also released an updated free offer, aimed at friends and family communications.
Initially available in the mobile apps, the focus is on providing free collaborative functionality for groups you can set up, as well as being able to schedule video calls and meetings.
If you don’t already have the Teams mobile app on your phone, then go to iOS App Store or Google Play to install it. If you’re already using Teams through your work account, you can add a personal account by going to the settings icon in the top left, and at the very bottom of the list is “Add Account”.
This will guide you through the process of associating with an existing Microsoft Account, including signing up for free Teams service if you haven’t already.
At the moment, the service is in Preview, and it does involve switching between profiles when you need to, but offers a load more than just WhatsApp-style text chat and the odd call.
As well as file sharing, there’s even a “Safe” feature on its way, which will let you share WiFi Passwords or other more sensitive information that requires 2-factor authentication.
So, for once in the last 3+ months, now’s a good time to spread something to the rest of your family and your wider circle of friends…
Video conferencing has been used in tech circles for years, though it was foretold many years earlier. 1989’s Back to the Future II showed one vision of how the future might look, and it wasn’t the only wry prediction.
Now that you’ve frouffed-up your home office backdrop and maybe thought about how you look on video calls, even going for a custom background image, maybe it’s time to mix things up and jazz up your video feed itself.
One approach could be to play with Snap Camera, a PC or Mac software solution from SnapChat that takes the feed from your regular camera and applies some effects to it, before presenting that modified stream as a virtual hardware camera to any app that wants it.
If you install Snap Camera, you can then use a catalog of “lenses” to add attributes to your video, or to alter the lighting or background, even if your chosen video conferencing app doesn’t give the option of doing so natively.
Roots or dodgy haircut starting to show in the lockdown? Perhaps try a nice tint?
Want to practice online before going out to the shops? Maybe choose a groovy mask?
Whatever your choice, if you install Snap Camera and choose (or even create) a suitable lens, then the software will run in the background and if you choose the “camera” from your video conferencing app, then the software will augment the feed from your real camera and present that image to your chosen software.
So for Teams, if you want to prank your colleagues, you can set up the lens of choice using that software, then when you go to join a meeting, click the “PC, Mic and Speakers” settings cog, to get the Device Settings pane, and choose the Snap Camera as your source.
Just remember to switch back to the regular camera before you have an important customer meeting, OK?