Right now, thousands of companies that were previously dubious about remote working, believing it would negatively impact their productivity, are now discovering a whole new world of futuristic possibilities. With a new focus on working from home, exciting software developments like Zoom and Microsoft Teams have rapidly become the crutch that the nation relies upon to keep on talking.
While working from home is no longer enforced, and there are safe imaginative technology solutions available to those who need to return to their offices, many corporations, including some of England’s largest banks, have announced that their office spaces will never return to how they were before.
This sounds frightening right? Because really, how do we function without being together in a giant office block? But the world of remote working provides amazing opportunities… One of which Microsoft has already grasped.
Enter “Together Mode”
Together Mode is one of the latest features of Microsoft Teams where everyone is united in a virtual meeting space such as a theatre or a board room, instead of appearing in separate boxes.
This may seem an unnecessary feature to many, but it is all part of the enhanced video-conference User Experiences that are now emerging. Initially designed to help make meetings feel more normal and friendly amid a pandemic, there are deeper implications for this kind of technology which consider our cognition, social perception, and communication – mixing technological innovation with our most innate and subconscious human behaviours.
This virtual set-up, which feels slightly awkward upon first glance, gives users a unique feeling. According to Microsoft, in these kinds of virtual meetings, people feel “more relaxed, more attentive to one another, more playful, and yet more focused on shared goals.” This is because, with a variety of interesting settings, each meeting can look and feel completely different – no more video meeting fatigue and staring at boring squares on a screen (how we’ve longed for this day!).
Why would you use it?
For now, this futuristic technology, that seems an almost star-trek inspired nod towards teleportation or the hologram, functions best when every person is in front of a webcam in a different location – ideal for remote working during the pandemic. But Microsoft is currently exploring ways to continue embracing and adapting the design to support conference rooms and other situations.
Together Mode is perfect for those who find themselves in multiple video meetings a day because the change in setting can help to keep your cognitive focus. It’s also great for webinars or educational settings, where it’s helpful for the speaker to be able to read the room and feel-out their audience. Plus, when you’re in a call where multiple people need to speak, using the innovative Together Mode makes it more comfortable for people to find moments to enter the conversation – allowing for a greater flow of ideas and improved conversation.
Microsoft’s enhanced video-chat experience currently supports up to 49 people at a time in it’s larger lecture theatre, but more details are still emerging – and we’re on the edge of our seat to see how this paves the way for the future of virtual conferencing and online lectures.
But, how does it work?
The science behind Together Mode and shared virtual meeting spaces is completely fascinating. When people are in the same virtual space, each member of the call knows where the others are – no more squares jumping around as people enter or exit the meeting. According to Microsoft, this means that your brain can keep track of what other people are signalling or emoting more naturally, relying on social and spatial perception. Non-verbal cues become easier to read because everyone now knows where the other members of the call are situated relative to themselves. This means you can glance towards the person in the seat next to you, and they will know you’re looking at them – allowing you to communicate as if you were in the room together.
Another beautiful aspect of this technology is that it brings people together. You’re no longer in your own square, separated by boundaries. Instead, you become part of a shared situation or journey within your meeting’s virtual community. This makes meetings a lot more fun and encourages jokey behaviour like a virtual ‘high five’. Microsoft argues this playfulness is scientifically proven to help us build trust and comfort, improving participants’ productivity and willingness to share.
By now we all know what it’s like to be on a virtual meeting where there is one shy person who is on mute with their camera turned off (and perhaps you are that person?), but now, with Together Mode, eye contact is possible – which has been proven to encourage members to keep their cameras on. This illusion of eye contact is based on an unbelievably clever geometry where everyone is looking at the whole group through a big virtual mirror. Magically, through the power of technology, this complicated algorithm feels completely natural and comfortable to everyone participating.
What’s incredible is Together Mode completely appeals to our subconscious spatial and social perception – and all through mathematics and tech innovation.
Here to help
The first release of Together Mode is an extremely exciting way to take advantage of our current situation, and we’re intrigued to watch this develop. In the meantime, get in touch with us to find out how we can imagineer a technology solution for your everyday business problems.