Microsoft announced today that it is making new consumer features available in its flagship productivity tool, Microsoft Teams. The software giant has been promising to do so since early last year, with many assuming that Teams could one day replace Skype, even with consumers. But to date, all we’ve seen are some minor updates to the Teams mobile clients.
“From online calls that will make you feel like you’re in the same place as your loved ones to group chats that will make coordinating plans with your loved ones a breeze, these personal features in Teams are designed to bring you closer to the people you care about so that you can call, chat, plan, and organize things big and small – together in one place,” Microsoft corporate vice president Liat Ben-Zur says. “As millions of employees around the world know, Microsoft Teams is already a leading solution for work communications and collaboration. But much of our lives are spent collaborating with people outside of work. In fact, listening to our customers, we have learned that families are craving tools to help them better connect, plan, coordinate, and share together online.”
Here’s what’s new in Teams.
Video calls. Together mode, which Microsoft describes as a “key feature of Teams,” now works with calls to family and friends, and it comes with new virtual environments such as a family lounge, coffee shop, and a summer resort. Personal calls also support live emoji reactions and GIFs, video call links so anyone can join, and space for up to 300 people on a call.
Chats. The Teams Chat experience now supports adding people via their email or phone number. And people who don’t have or want to use Teams can participate in Chats over SMS messaging on their smartphones. In chats, you can create shared to-do lists and assign tasks to anyone, convert chat messages into tasks, and, soon, create polls. Each chat also gets a dashboard view that organizes its shared content, including photos, files, web links, shared tasks, and upcoming group events.
Life management. With the addition of consumer features in Teams, users can now manage their whole life in Teams instead of maintaining multiple apps and services. But it also keeps personal and work-related information separate so that you can maintain the proper work/life balance, Microsoft says: All files, contacts, chats, and other information for each account is kept separate, and you can switch between these accounts by selecting the profile icon at the top of the app.
These new consumer features are available in Teams on desktop, mobile, and web starting today, for free, globally. To get started, just click the profile icon and add a personal account.
That said, there are some restrictions (because of course there are). Chatting via SMS is available in “limited countries” but will be made available to other geographic locations on a rolling basis, Microsoft says. Location sharing must be enabled and active for these features to work. And calls have some time restrictions. One-on-one calls are good for 24 hours for free, but group calls support up to 100 participants for up to 60 minutes for free normally. But Microsoft says it is waiving the call limits for now because of the pandemic and is temporarily supporting calls with up to 300 participants for 24 hours.
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