Flexible work has replaced hybrid work in our lexicon here at Microsoft. Rather than a simple equation of X days in office + Y days working remotely = 1 hybrid week, we have now adopted a model that is fluid and flexible, and customized for each individual’s and team’s productivity. Most meetings, however, meet the traditional definition of hybrid work, with a mix of attendees in person and remote.
The opportunity to improve hybrid meeting experiences so that they better meet the needs of our flexible workforce started as a collaboration between the Microsoft Teams product group and Microsoft’s internal IT organization. Through prototypes, experimentation, and a focus on real-world hybrid experiences, Signature Microsoft Teams Rooms emerged as an innovative new way to design hybrid-optimized spaces.
“It’s been quite the journey over the last few years. We’re very much in a hybrid world,” says Keshav Puttaswamy, a partner director of product management with Microsoft Digital Employee Experience (MDEE), an internal IT organization. “We place a lot of importance on flexibility. We want to make sure our employees are able to do their best work wherever they are.”
“Signature Microsoft Teams Rooms are a powerful tool for us to fully embrace this hybrid experience,” Puttaswamy says.
Finding the best of both worlds
A more inclusive experience for everyone in a hybrid meeting was one of the primary motivating factors behind the evolution of Signature Teams Rooms.
“We’re all used to seeing a room with a rectangular table in the middle and a screen on one end,” Puttaswamy says. “What we’re seeing with hybrid is different needs emerging for employees, and traditional rooms aren’t necessarily the best experience for all meeting types.”
Where a traditional space can create connection between people in the room, remote attendees may not be able to track the subtle nuance that comes with being able to see everyone’s faces and body language. And likewise, people in the room may find it easier to focus attention on people sitting around the table, to the exclusion of remote attendees on the display. A hybrid space should be able serve both worlds.
“When I think about Signature Microsoft Teams Rooms, I just think about trying to build the workplace that our employees really want to be in,” says Matt Hempey, a principal group product manager who supports engagement and collaboration in MDEE. “We know much of our work gets done in meetings, so why shouldn’t we rethink this space where we spend so much our time?”
Built with a concise arrangement of displays, cameras, audio devices, and specialized tables, Signature Microsoft Teams Rooms makes a better hybrid meeting experience for all attendees, no matter where they join a meeting from.
Furniture is arranged so that all attendees, whether in-person or remote, face each other. Designed for hybrid meetings, the Front Row display option available in Teams Rooms presents remote attendees front-and-center and at eye-level with in-room participants.
Displays with a 21:9 aspect ratio mean there’s enough space on the screen to project content, remote attendees, and chat space — it’s what we refer to as “the meeting within the meeting”. This enables in-person attendees to follow along with the chat, without having to divert their attention to their PC screens.
“[In a meeting room, there are] body language cues when you want to speak. You’ll lean into the table and everybody around you knows that you want to say something,” says Greg Baribault, Head of Product for Microsoft Teams Rooms. “If you look at the layout of a Signature Teams Room, the physical space itself is designed to facilitate that sort of intuition for the remote participant.”
Those participating virtually benefit from the room’s AI-powered intelligent cameras. Instead of a single camera feed of a large room filled with small, unidentifiable faces, some AI cameras can identify participants in the room and present them to remote attendees as individuals in the meeting. In the room, in-person participants who have also joined the meeting via their companion device don’t see themselves on the room display, which can be disconcerting. The experience for each person is somewhat personalized, designed for how they’re joining the meeting.
“Some of these features are being driven from the platform, Microsoft Teams,” says Sam Albert, a principal product manager responsible for conference room experiences at MDEE. “Features like spatial audio with Front Row make it feel like the remote participants are in the room with you, and audio is coming from where people are speaking.” This same technology can light up names of speakers and identify individuals in transcripts.
Upgrading everyone’s experience
Deploying Signature Teams Rooms as part of your meeting rooms mix in new construction makes sense. “From a new construction perspective, building a Signature Teams Room is no more expensive and no more complicated than building any meeting room,” Hempey says.
For existing real estate, a change of furniture or a refresh to some room components may be enough to improve the hybrid experience. “We’re very thoughtful around what we can do with the existing rooms, so we look at more creative ways to bring the benefits of Signature Microsoft Teams Rooms to everyone,” Puttaswamy says. “Even equipping an existing room with a new table shaped more like a guitar pick or gumdrop enables meeting room attendees to face remote attendees without changing out lighting and other heavy construction costs.”
Guidelines around the principles to design meeting room spaces – both traditional rooms and Signature rooms – are available to everyone.
“We want to make it as easy as possible for our customers to build these experiences on their own campuses,” Albert says. “All of the technology that we’re putting in our conferences rooms today use Microsoft Teams-certified devices. They’ve been rigorously tested and we work closely with all our hardware partners, so we can take different components and also have some flexibility.”
The workplace continues to evolve, with flexible work now encompassing a wide range of employee experiences. Whether it’s a Signature Teams Room or a traditional Teams Room, Microsoft is focused on delivering on the promise of what a workplace can be for its employees. This includes building out the toolbox to improve hybrid meeting experiences, and enabling the connections that help business succeed.