Microsoft Teams is set to increase the number of video conference participants that can appear on screen at once to 49, from the current maximum of nine.
The change will see Microsoft’s collaboration offering match rival service Zoom and surpass Google Meet, which only allows 16 attendees to feature on screen.
The new feature will not be available immediately, however, but will enter preview this month ahead of general release in the autumn.
Microsoft Teams update
The popularity of Microsoft Teams has skyrocketed in recent months in line with the shift to remote working and e-learning brought about the pandemic.
In a recent conversation with TechRadar Pro, Microsoft executive Nick Hedderman explained the service now sees 75 million daily active users. In April, meanwhile, Microsoft Teams supported 200 million meeting participants in a single day, accounting for roughly 4 billion meeting minutes.
The latest update is part of a wider drive to improve the platform from an education perspective and address a handful of shortcomings felt most acutely by teachers.
Beyond allowing teachers to interact with a greater number of virtual pupils at once, Teams for Education will also receive a hand raise facility and a Zoom-esque Breakout Rooms feature, which gives the call administrator the ability to split attendees into smaller groups.
In the coming months, Microsoft has also said it will introduce more granular controls for teachers, allowing them to manage precisely which participants can start, join and present in video meetings. New Attendance Reports and Class Insights will also afford teachers a better grasp of student engagement levels.
“We take ideas from engineering and product managers here within Microsoft, but also from our users as well,” said Hedderman. “We listen very carefully and adjust where we’re spending our time.”
However, while the merits of a greater number of attendees on screen are clear in an education context, Microsoft is hesitant to recommend businesses adopt the same approach.
“Prior to lockdown, the vast majority of Teams meetings would typically involve some form of [screen-] sharing, so seeing many people wasn’t so necessary. But [when lockdown was introduced] there was definitely this immediate knee-jerk reaction to want to see more faces.” Hedderman explained.
“But I continue to challenge our customers on whether they are focused on the wrong thing. Are you running a great meeting? Are you maximizing technology to get the most out of that meeting?”
“Perhaps it’s about being less worried about seeing faces and more about making sure content is available and being collaborated in the right way.”