The Together mode (hereinafter referred to as Together mode) is a new option in Microsoft Teams, Microsoft’s main teamwork and team connection app. You’ve probably seen it by now; everyone is united in a virtual space as if it were a theatre rather than being separated into boxes.
On some level, The Together mode is a simple approach to make meetings feel better during the pandemic, but there is also a deeper level that touches on the latest scientific insights on cognition, social perception, and communication.
Together mode has a unique look, but it also has a unique feel. People tend to be more relaxed, more attentive to each other, more playful and yet more focused on shared goals. The design offers unique advantages: less fatigue from frequent video conferencing, better contact with others, and more effective meetings.
Check out how to get the most out of Together mode in this blog.
When do you use it:
The original design has been optimized to help people during the pandemic. For now, The Together mode is ideal when each person is in a different location in front of a webcam. We explore how the design can evolve to support conference rooms and other situations.
The Together mode is particularly suitable for calls in which several people will speak; we find that it is easier and more comfortable for people to find moments to engage in conversation.
- The Together mode helps when you have to go to a lot of video meetings. Most users report less fatigue during meetings.
- The Together mode is useful when a group struggles to remain attentive, for example in education.
- The Together mode supports presenters who need to ‘read the space’ or get energy from participants.
When not to use it:
If you need to show physical content in your environment, such as a physical whiteboard, then Together mode isn’t the best choice right now, because it takes you to the shared space alone, not your environment.
The first version of Together mode is not optimized to share the screen with PowerPoint presentations. If a PowerPoint presentation is the most important event and takes up the entire time of a meeting, Together mode may not be helpful.
Works best when users aren’t walking around or the camera or screen otherwise moves during the session. It looks weird, like jumping on your chair.
The Together mode is more engaging than a typical video chat and therefore distracts more from potentially unsafe tasks such as driving. You might think, why would you even encourage people not to video chat while driving? I wish I could say I never see people trying to do it! Please don’t.
The first release of Together mode supports up to 49 people at a time optimally. Together mode may still be the best choice for a meeting with more than 49 attendees, but that depends on many details about how the meeting is held. Best practices for large meetings in Together mode are still emerging.
A small introduction to the science behind the Together mode:
People in Together mode know where others are in a shared virtual space. That means your brain can track what other people naturally signal or emolog, depending on social/spatial perception; people can intuitively signal each other non-verbally. In a grid, from their point of view, you don’t know where other people are on the screen compared to you, so natural looks and other subtle clues are impossible.
Together mode creates a shared space in which people are not separated by barriers. Being in an overlapping space can lead to crazy behavior, such as when people are “high five”, but there is also a significant benefit. People pay more attention to each other and can get a better sense of a shared interest in the situation and a shared journey. Constructive behavior indicates a degree of dedication that is not detected when crazy behavior is not even possible.
Together mode creates a useful illusion that the eye contact problem has been reduced. (Eye contact is a classic problem in videoconferencing; people seem to be looking the wrong way.) The illusion is based on the unique geometry; everyone looks through a large virtual mirror at the whole group. The geometry feels natural, but it turns out that the human brain is not good at tracking where someone else looks into it. Once direct eye contact errors are difficult to detect, people intuitively position themselves to look as if they are responding to each other in the right way.
Practical tips for using the Together mode:
It may seem strange to see yourself in the group first, but that allows for a better understanding of interpersonal signals. Don’t turn off your camera! For example, as a teacher you may be sitting with your students at first, but you will probably find that you understand the students better and that they pay more attention to you when everyone can see the attention signals among everyone present.
While the initial release works best when everyone has the camera turned on, we’re working to support only voice-activated participants at an equal level and all types of skills.
But what if you’re shy and prefer to leave the camera out? I’m often shy, too. I’m asking you to keep an open mind and experiment at any pace. In our early research, we see that people leave the camera on more often in Together mode than in traditional grid designs, and they report that the experience was enjoyable. One thing to keep in mind is that when people are more able to be expressive with each other, the appearance matters less in proportion. If people pay more attention to what you say and report non-verbally, they pay less attention to how you look.
When a group tries Together mode for the first time, or even if someone sees a photo of it for the first time, the first reactions are often light-hearted. Would playfulness get in the way of people understanding that design has important advantages? After all, teams are for productivity. It’s not Xbox.
After watching and analyzing many sessions, I came to a new opinion. Playfulness is not a waste of time, even for adults. It is not a bug in human nature, but rather a sophisticated process that is made in a deep evolutionary time and transcends species. It’s how we learn to interact with new people, how we build trust and comfort, and how we explore our environment (consider the Together mode as a new part of our environment.) I stopped trying to get new groups to work. . Instead, I wait for them to get first, playful responses from their systems, and then meetings go on wonderfully. It’s actually not that simple; I still chastise them sometimes during the playful phase because it’s nice to see people rebelling against my admonitions.
What about the physical setup: the monitors, cameras, and so on?
The Together mode works fine if you don’t know where the camera, screens and windows are placed, but here are some tips to get the most out of it.
The feature shows how you present to others and how you interact with them. For example, people can see your head subtly turning to respond to it. If you put Together mode in a small side window on a large monitor, people will often see you looking that way, which may be out of place; that means they won’t get in the way of the right direction indicators. Therefore, The Together mode works best when the window it’s in is placed right in front of you and takes up the full or most of your screen.
The Together mode works great on large monitors. I like to use it on a Surface Studio. Some people have built up impressive setups with multiple monitors to work from home. If you’re one of those people, place the Together Mode window on the same screen where the camera is centered and try to place boring content on your other screens during your meeting. If you look a lot at the side on another monitor, it may be a bit different. If you want to follow email or text chat during a session, try placing the Together mode window at the top of the screen, centered under the camera, with other windows underneath. Then people see you looking down instead of the side, which works better.
Together mode works best on a screen at least the size of a tablet; it’s not optimized for phones at the moment, although they can work if you keep them upright and you don’t move during the meeting. If you’re using a phone, try to grab the phone and position yourself so that other people can see you looking straight ahead into the camera during the meeting. Again: much better when the phone is stationary.
Best if the camera is centered, which applies to almost all built-in cameras on laptops and PCs. Together mode looks bigger on tablets when the tablet is positioned horizontally, but then the camera is often on the side, depending on the design of the tablet, so you may want to place your tablet vertically. Then the view is smaller, but you are not often seen to the side,
The first release of Together mode doesn’t have a reserved seating feature, so when you leave the meeting, you might come back to another seat, leaving other people who thought they knew where to find you become disoriented. This may not sound important, but the process of spatial/social perception is not entirely conscious, so the disruption can be shocking. Try to stay in the conversation all the time instead of diving in and out. The design of the Together mode will evolve – as well as these tips – as new usage scenarios are supported.
Because people intuitively adjust themselves to make them look like they fit well into the virtual space, you might notice that you can use The Together mode to trick yourself into a better posture. Tilt the camera – or the camera + screen, if they are the same device – up a bit. Then you might notice that you’re lifting your frame up to look good in Together mode.
We learn a lot from customers about how to make meetings more engaging and effective; We have a lot more ideas. We’d like you to try out the first release of Together Mode and let us know what you think you’re thinking to help us shape what comes next. We’re in this together.
I know I speak for the many people at Microsoft who have contributed to The Together mode when I say that we hope you will find more well-being and productivity when you use the new Teams, and maybe even have a little fun in difficult times.
This article originally appeared on Microsoft Tech Community.