The hierarchy of visuals in the video conferencing universe is about to change: Microsoft Teams is debuting its long-awaited virtual avatar functionality.
With digital avatars, users can continue collaborating with their coworkers even without being directly on camera, making it a useful failsafe for bad hair days.
The feature was added to the Microsoft roadmap in March, and will be coming to all Windows and Mac desktop platforms around the globe in May 2023. Since the month is nearly up, the tool may already be available to users.
Virtual Avatars Are “Customizable” and Include Reactions
Microsoft rolls out plenty of updates, and this one was announced just like all the others: In a brief blurb on the company's public roadmap of new and updated features for Microsoft 360, a product family of software and collaboration services that includes Teams.
Here's how Microsoft explains the avatars:
“Avatars for Microsoft Teams gives you that much-needed camera break, while still allowing you to collaborate effectively. You can add a new layer of choice to your meetings and represent yourself the way you want with customizable avatars and reactions.”
In other words, it's a way to give users who want to avoid the camera for a host of different reasons the freedom to do so, while still signalling to their coworkers that they're remaining engaged in the conversation.
That said, it might not be the platform's most beloved update, as plenty of workers don't love the cartoon, corporatized look of most Emoji-esque virtual avatars. The avatar-dependant Metaverse still hasn't taken off like Meta had hoped it would.
The ability is coming to the Microsoft Teams desktop app across all Windows and Mac platforms.
Is Microsoft Teams the Best Video Conferencing Tool?
Remote work collaboration tools have grown quickly in importance since the onset of the Covid pandemic in 2020, and the business world is still adjusting to this day.
Remote work might dwindle as some companies push for a return to the office, but it doesn't seem set to ever fully vanish. A hybrid workforce that combines days in the physical office with days working from home seems like the new normal for many. And that means plenty of video meetings.
Microsoft Teams is a fine option for a video conferencing solution, though not our top pick. We've ranked all the top options over here, and found that RingCentral rose to the top, for its features, pricing, and ease of use.
Can the Right Video Conferencing Solution Improve Remote Work?
A recent survey found that almost half of employees would think about switching jobs if their currently existing remote work flexibility options were reduced. For many jobs, retaining employees by meeting their flexibility needs is the smart move.
Sure, a new virtual avatar likely won't be the key difference between a stale web conferencing call and an effective remote work session. But there's only one way to know for sure, and it's rolling out now across Microsoft Teams.