Microsoft has announced some enhancements to its Teams product today. The company outlined the changes in a blog post highlighting the exponential growth of its remote collaboration service that competes with Slack and Zoom. The growth comes as the world remains under lockdown over the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak.
Custom backgrounds as marketing — Among the changes the most notable is that users can now take advantage of custom backgrounds in their video calls. Instead of showing your messy bedroom or apartment behind you, Microsoft's created a custom background of its own of an open, airy office space (seen below on the right) that you can use to fool your coworkers into thinking you have your life together.
The custom background feature is wildly popular in Zoom, with some backgrounds achieving fame on social media. Brands have even been getting in on the action by creating their own backgrounds for fans to use. Microsoft says Teams still does not support uploading custom backgrounds yet, however, so you'll have to use one of their presets. Which, frankly, is disappointing. But we suspect it's only a matter of time before the option turns up.
Teams video calls also have a new "raise hand" feature. Instead of physically raising your hand and interrupting others to ask your question, users can now click a hand-raise icon to indicate to the host they have something to say. There's also a new "end meeting" button so the host can force everyone out of the call when they've decided it's completed.
Teams is killing it, unsurprisingly — Even if Teams doesn't have quite the name recognition of Slack or Zoom, the numbers prove it doesn't really matter. Microsoft, after all, has hundreds of millions of Office 365 customers to whom it can push the service at no extra cost. And amid a slew of security concerns surrounding Zoom, Microsoft offers a familiar brand that IT departments the world over have come to trust.
Microsoft says that total video calls made with Teams grew more than 1,000 percent in March. The service also hit a record 2.7 billion meeting minutes in one day, which the company says reflects a 200 percent increase from the 900 million minutes seen on March 16th.
Big growth, big problems — As its service has grown in popularity, Zoom has found itself under the spotlight and facing intense scrutiny from regulators, users and rivals. Huge security flaws have immerged, resulting in the likes of Google and the Taiwanese government banning the service. Consequently, Zoom has said it's hitting pause on feature updates for the next 90 days while it identifies and fixes security flaws. Zoom's also brought on Facebook's former chief security officer, Alex Stamos, to advise on its cybersecurity measures going forward.