Over the last ten years, audio conferencing has become the norm for the majority of workers across all industries. With remote and flexible working being key for a lot of workers, and businesses trying to drive down costs through less travel, it’s no wonder that conferencing has become so popular. Many organisations are also trying to cut down on the amount of time that employees spend sitting in meeting rooms, and so many are now opting to dial in from desks, using headsets, in order to continue working.
Due to not being able to visibly see what the other participants, audio conference calls are plagued with a number of different issues which detract from the effectiveness of the meeting. A survey completed which assessed the habits of people who regularly took part in Conference calls identified the following:
- 60% of workers admitted to doing some other kind of other work during a conference call
- Around 20% are doing some sort of online shopping
- Over 50% were eating something
- 27% admitted to having fallen asleep once during a meeting
- Just under 10% admitted to working out during a call
- Just under 50% owned up to going to the toilet
- Whilst 6% are actually on two calls at the same time
Now, I admit that I’m personally guilty of all of those, except for the last one, as my multitasking skills aren’t up to listening to and processing two conversations at once. But this really highlights that fact that while you’re on a conference call, you have a shroud of secrecy which means that participants can get away with doing things which they wouldn’t do in a normal meeting.
Bring on the Video Call
So what is the best way of getting through all of the distractions? Should we stop people dialling in and return to pulling everyone back into a meeting room? Hopefully, you’ll agree with me that the answer here is no, and that we can start to utilise video technology to be able to engage with each other face to face without being physically in the same room.
Whilst video technology still won’t replace a physical meeting for being able to build those personal relationships, it is the next best thing. Being able to see someone, ready facial expressions and body language will help you throughout your meeting. You can tell immediately if the person you’re talking to has switched off just by watching their face. Are they looking at the camera (and you?) or are they concentrating on something else?
Whilst video conferencing technology isn’t anything particularly new, Skype for Business did this quite well, there are a number of features which Microsoft Teams has really pushed forward to make the video conferencing experience quite unique.
If you are using the chat functionality within Teams to draw one or several people together, you can initiate a video call directly with the participants by selecting the Video Call button in the top right corner:
Selecting this will simultaneously call all chat participants and will initiate the call with your video input turned on. Note, that this only activates your camera, it does not mean that all other participants will join with their camera switched on.
When engaging with a Team, you can initiate a Meet Now from the Team chat. This will call all members of the Team and, like Chat, will start the call with your video turned on.
The main difference when creating a Meet Now session is that you have the ability to give it a title and to also fully schedule the meeting.
Teams Meetings are meeting which are scheduled, either through Teams or by using the Outlook Teams Add-in. Just like Skype meetings, invitations are sent out containing a link to join the session, and also any dial in information if you have an Audio Conferencing add on in O365. Rather than focus on how to set up a meeting, let’s look at what the key features are when I am up and running a video conference.
When you are using your camera, there are times where you may not wish others to see what is around you. This could be for a number of reasons:
- You’re working somewhere that doesn’t portray a professional image e.g. in a coffee shop,
- You have something behind you which could be considered sensitive such as a white board with data on it
- You could have really dodgy wallpaper (like my old boss!)
What ever the reason, being able to apply a shroud of privacy whilst keeping you, the primary subject, still in focus is a huge winner. I have found this to be an extremely key piece of functionality when talking about Teams adoption, as there are times where everyone wants to hide their background.
This can be achieved once you’re in the call by selecting the ellipsis to show more actions and then selecting “Blur background”. This can be un-done in exactly the same way, by clicking he ellipsis and select “Un-blur background”.
Teams allows you to record meetings once they are up and running, and this is useful for a number of reasons, such as being able to review the meeting once it has finished, and also sharing the meeting with attendees who were unable to attend.
Recording can be started and stopped from the more actions ellipsis and will only record the meeting from the point of activation until it is stopped.
With data protection laws carrying extremely heavy fines for non-compliance, Microsoft Teams will remind you that you need to inform everyone on the call that they are being recorded. Likewise, a message is displayed to all attendees to ensure that everyone understands that the recording is taking place. Whilst there are no agreements to tick or sign, it is assumed that by remaining in and taking part in the call, you consent to be recorded.
Once the recording has been completed, it will be automatically uploaded to Microsoft Stream and secured only to the attendees of the meeting. This can then be shared with additional people if required.
One of the key things which come from Microsoft Stream is the ability to auto transcribe the meeting, meaning that you can search for specific items of conversation within the video as well as being able to see who had said something. Note that this is only available with Office 365 E3 and E5.
As well as being able to see and hear each other, we can also share content through Microsoft Teams. It doesn’t matter whether we’re sharing our desktop, a specific application or sharing a presentation. In the centre of the icons at the bottom of your call is the Sharing Center icon, which when clicked will display a blade at the bottom of the screen. This will contain a number of ways to share content, and it is simply then a case of selecting which one you wish to display.
If I selected a specific Window, then that is all the other participants will see, therefore no other desktop activity will be visible. This is especially useful if you’ve not closed down Outlook or any instant messengers that could potentially pop up during share.
I’ve actually seen in the past where the person presenting was sent a message which had less than professional comments in it. As the pop up appeared in the bottom right corner, it showed the first few lines of the message, which the others dialled in then saw. Needless to say the relationship with the other parties on the call needed some work to recover!
One of the things which I like most of all is the ability to share my desktop. This is especially useful for when I’m doing demos as I’m not just working in one window, I can be shifting between many. The participants on the call will then see whatever I put onto the shared screen e.g. everything on Screen 2 if I have multiple screens. The key thing to remember here is to ensure that your content is always on the right screen, it’s easy to forget to drag something across to the active screen when you’re in the full flow of your demo.
One of the really cool things that you can do when sharing is to allow someone else to take control. This can either be done by you granting permission to a user, or by someone else requesting control. If someone requests control, you still have to accept or reject the request, they don’t just get control over your desktop!
When a desktop share takes place, you will then get two mouse pointers active on the screen, both with the identifying avatar so that you can see where each user is pointing. At any point, the person who owns the screen being shared can remove the remote access by hovering at the top of the screen until the sharing box appears.
Using the power of Microsoft Graph, Teams is also aware of the presentations that you have stored or have access to and allows you to share the presentation with your users. Traditionally this would have been done by firing up the presentation on your desktop and then sharing that, however, the issue is that if you have audio in your presentation then the other participants won’t hear that as system sounds are not broadcast. If you share your entire presentation, then this allows all multimedia to be experienced. Unless explicitly stopped, the participants on the call can move through the presentation manually, skipping forward and backwards through the slides, which sometimes means they’re not looking at the same content that you may be speaking about.
This can be disabled, by selecting the Options cog during the call, and then changing the toggle for Meeting Settings. By default, private viewing is on by default, so change that to off for you as the presenter to maintain control.
White boarding is something relatively new which is rolling out to Microsoft Teams. Previously it was possible to install inVision to Teams and then use that as your white boarding technology during meetings. Whilst this is a really good tool, you are required to sign up to inVision, even on a free basis to be able to fully utilise its features.
In May 2019, Microsoft began rolling out Microsoft Whiteboard, their own whiteboarding technology that sites right inside Teams and allows you to draw and collaborate together in order to share ideas.
This is another option which can be seen from the Sharing Center, and when selected will fire up the whiteboard for all participants within the meeting. Everyone then can use their fingers, mice and pens to draw, doodle, scribble and work in the same space to get ideas down. This is one of the new features which I’m most excited about!
Before this is available though, it needs to be switched on through the O365 Admin Centre as it’s still officially in preview. Unlike many of the Teams features, this particular piece of functionality is not enabled through the Teams Admin Centre, it actually sites under Services and Add-ins, under the Settings header. Once this has been enabled, users wishing to use it will need to sign out and back in again, and then they will be able to use it.
Live events are one of the newer features within Microsoft Teams that has become the full replacement from its predecessor, Skype Broadcast meetings. They are effectively ways of being able to host a webinar from within Teams.
The creation of Live events can only take place within Teams itself, unlike a standard Teams meeting which can be created from Outlook. To create a Live Event, navigate to your calendar within the Teams application and select Schedule Meeting. This will open the default dialogue box, which is for a standard meeting, however next to the window header, there is a drop down, which when clicked will allow you to change the meeting type from meeting to live event.
Once that has been clicked you will see some minor changes on this screen, primarily related to who you are going to invite. At this point you should understand that you are not inviting the “viewers”, you are attending those who are going to help you with your live event.
I strongly recommend that you don’t try to run a live event on your own as there are multiple moving parts which are difficult to manage whilst presenting at the same time. I suggest working with at least 3 people:
- A producer to stage and queue the content
- A presenter
- A third person to monitor the stream as it goes out and to also monitor the Q&A window
These people are referred to as your event team, and these are the people that you should invite. For these people, they will join what appears to be a meeting, allowing you to chat and communicate with each other without the viewers seeing.
When you click next, you are presented with some options about how you want the live event to be accessed:
- People and Groups – determines the client access list for the live event so that only specific users can join
- Org-wide – allows all users who can authenticate against your Azure AD to join the event
- Public – allows anonymous access and is best used for hosting an externally available event
You also have the ability to choose whether you use Teams to host the event, or whether you are going to use external equipment and encoders to record and stream the content. This is especially useful if you have a production crew and studio quality equipment available to you. Your equipment and media mixers will need to support streaming to a Real Time Messaging Protocol service.
By default, Teams is selected, which will therefore implement Azure Media Services and an Azure Content Delivery Network to stream your content to your viewers. There are a few options to check here before you click finish:
- Recording Available to Attendees – allows for your users to download the streamed content after the evet has finished
- Attendee Engagement Report – allows the event team to download a CSV containing user actions which have been logged during the event e.g. when users joined the session or when they left
- Q&A – allows user participation through the act of asking questions and being answered by the event team
Once you have selected the options you want to allow you can save it and schedule it. At no point have we actually invited any viewers to the session, and so we need to do this by getting the view URL from the invitation and then sending that out in as another meeting request, an email or a message.
The Production Studio
When you join the session, you will notice that there are two displays for you to use. The one on the left is where you stage the content without putting it live. This allows you to select the correct camera feed or the correct presentation, as well as changing the layout of the screen. There are two layouts available to you, either full screen video or presentation, or split screen which gives you 80% presentation and 20% video.
When you first start the presentation there is nothing being displayed in the right window, which is showing the live view. Therefore, any users which start to watch won’t see anything until the point that you send your first piece of content live and click start.
As a producer, your work now really starts as while the first piece of content is being displayed you will need to be teeing up the second piece, and preparing to send that live. The cycle then continues throughout the session. For this reason, I recommend practicing the transitions so that you’re not changing the active content at the wrong time.
After the Live Event
Once the live event is over, you will have the ability to review the content from the session. You will immediately be able to download the Q&A Report as well as the Attendee Engagement report. Both of these are downloaded as CSVs so that you can then perform further analysis on them.
After a short period of time, you can also download the video file and share that as you wish. It won’t automatically be placed into Microsoft Stream, so you’ll need to do this manually. Once it’s in Stream, you can them select your language and you can have the auto caption file created.
So those are our options for really taking advantage of video within Microsoft Teams. For me this has changed the way that I conduct my remote meetings, but also has changed the way that I behave. I make a point of turning on my video so that everyone can see me, which makes me more conscious about engaging with everyone else on the call.
Whilst I can’t force all participants to turn their cameras on as well, I know there are some tin-foil hat wearers that keep a piece of tape over their camera so that big brother can’t seem them, I truly believe that people should. Having the visual representation of the others allows me to have at least part of that personal engagement that I would otherwise lack completely by only hearing a voice.
I recommend that everyone tries out the sharing functionality within the meetings so that you meetings are them completely immersive, using the different tools available to you to collaborate in as many different ways as possible.
Some suggestions though for when you are engaging on a video call:
Make sure you room is well lit – your camera will adjust as much as possible but try to help it out. Also unless you’re a super villain, sitting in the shadows won’t do much for your engagement with others on the call
- Be aware of your surroundings – this isn’t just the inanimate objects around you, but also be aware of who or what else is around you. I can guarantee that whenever it’s my turn to talk on a video conference one of my labradors with either appear next to me or will start barking
- Look at the camera, not yourself – easier said than done because it’s so tempting to look at yourself on the display, but this naturally makes you look down
- Remember to wear appropriate clothing – people can see you, so wearing obscene or inappropriate clothing can cast the wrong impression or ultimately cause offence
- Remember to exit the meeting before doing anything else – the meeting will continue until the host or last person leaves the room, so remember that even though you might have said goodbye, until you hang up you can still be seen and heard.
About the Author
Matt Weston is an O365 and SharePoint Consultant from the Black Country, an area in the Midlands of the United Kingdom. Matt has worked with SharePoint since 2007 but has experience of all versions back to SharePoint 2003.
Since the cultural shift to cloud technology, Matt has specialised in a large number of areas in Office 365, with a huge passion for SharePoint Online, Teams, PowerApps and especially Flow.
Microsoft through and through, Matt has worked throughout the years to gain a number of Microsoft certifications including becoming a Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert in Productivity, and more recently becoming a Microsoft Certified Trainer.
Keen to share expertise and experience within the community, Matt leads the Office 365 & SharePoint User Group (West Midlands), the Black Country PowerApps & Flow User Group, and is also an active member of the Microsoft Tech Community Forums and Flow Community, as well as being a keen supporter of Collab365.
He can be found on Twitter as @MattWeston365.