Teams Gets new Admin Controls for Backgrounds, UI and AI improvements Plus Auto-Enablement

Microsoft Ships Controls for Background Effects

During the last week, Microsoft quietly rolled out its promised controls for Teams Background effects. Launched hastily in May in response to the popularity of Zoom’s similar features, Microsoft removed the ability to add new backgrounds via the UI – but allowed users to navigate through the filesystem to add additional images manually.

The second iteration of background effects provides a new Add New button to upload images from the Teams client:

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Figure 1: The new Background Effects “Add new” option (image credit: Steve Goodman)

At this stage though, users might still need to navigate to the %APPDATA%\Microsoft\teams\Backgrounds\Uploads folder on their PC occasionally, as although there’s an add button, there’s no remove button as yet.

To support organizations looking to limit the use of background effects, Microsoft has rolled out administrative controls you can use to restrict the functionality for all or some users.

These are built-in to the *-CsMeetingPolicy set of cmdlets contained within Skype for Business Online PowerShell and add a new parameter VideoFilters. This has options to allow everything, blur and default backgrounds, just blur, or disable the functionality entirely.

Disabling custom backgrounds not only removes the Add New button but also prevents the client from using any existing backgrounds. Only allowing Background Blur removes all default backgrounds as well:

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Figure 2: Restricting Background Effects to only Background Blur (image credit: Steve Goodman)

The policy change is relatively simple. To create a Blur Only policy and apply it to a user, use PowerShell similar to the example below:

New-CsTeamsMeetingPolicy -Identity RestrictedPolicy -VideoFilters BlurOnly
Grant-CsTeamsMeetingPolicy -Identity <user id> -PolicyName RestrictedPolicy

You can read more about the options for the new parameters here.

Teams could become available to more users than you expect

If you have set up Azure AD Connect and use AD FS for federation, and synchronized only a subset of users, perhaps intentionally for a pilot before you roll out, then this new feature might surprise you.

Microsoft is releasing new Azure Active Directory functionality designed to auto-create Azure AD identities for users you haven’t synchronized from Active Directory but could potentially sign-in against AD FS. This is an extension of existing email-verified sign-up functionality and thankfully can be disabled if needed.

It’s unclear what’s driving this new feature, as most organizations that haven’t synchronized all their accounts do so for good reasons and would be surprised and concerned about this.

You can read more about this feature on the Azure AD what’s new page and learn how to disable this if needed.

Teams channels get a new information pane

At the beginning of next month, Teams will update the way channel information is shown. Similar to the way that Yammer promotes the most relevant content, Teams will show the most recent contributors to a channel, giving you a good overview of who is most active within a Team and Channel, along with easily accessible information about the channel description and all members. The clutter of system messages also moves to the information pane as well.

You will see how this looks inside the Teams client itself in this example. The information pane is accessed using the i icon and opens an information pane in-channel:

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Figure 3: Illustrative view of the new information pane based on the Message Center announcement (image credit: Microsoft)

Teams with regular leavers and joiners will have less noise

If you are a member of a large Team with regular additions and removals, then you might find that the general channel becomes mostly noise through these regular messages. In some cases it can be more than just clutter when leavers show before their departure has been communicated to colleagues.

From experience using larger Teams, sometimes this can extend to one or two pages of updates a day that you need to scroll past to see useful content:

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Figure 4: Teams system notification clutter in the Teams channel UI (image credit: Steve Goodman)

These types of messages will no longer be posted to the channel (or we suspect the new information pane), though members will be found in the settings for each Team as normal, and the corresponding audit information will still be logged.

Microsoft states that this is rolling out from the beginning of July, so expect to find this in your client sometime mid-July onwards.

Teams gets suggested reply functionality in mobile chats this July

This is a feature most people who use LinkedIn will recognize. Teams will get built-in AI functionality to suggest a variety of replies to chats based on the message received. No longer will you need to think up a witty answer to your colleague’s quips when you are out and about.

Users will see the suggested replied in the conversation thread and be presented with several options. Selecting one of the options will send the reply:

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Figure 5: Suggested Replies in action (image credit: Microsoft)

This will roll out to both the Android and iOS clients in early July. Both administrators and users can control whether the functionality is enabled. In the mobile client, within Settings>Messaging users can switch off Smart Reply Suggestions.

Admin controls aren’t yet documented, however, investigation shows it will be governed by the *-CsTeamsMessagingPolicy cmdlets using a new AllowSmartReply parameter that will be set to True in your tenant today. Therefore, if you need to disable this functionality until it’s been tested in your organization, you can change this on a per-policy basis using the Set-CsTeamsMessagingPolicy cmdlet as shown below:

Set-CsTeamsMessagingPolicy -Identity Global -AllowSmartReply $False

Microsoft changes stance on Teams meeting limit increases

Finally, the increase in Teams Meeting limits, which we reported was being raised from 250 to 350 participants, isn’t happening. Apparently, in response to customer feedback, this will only be raised to 300 instead.

The timescales for this update has also changed. Originally, we could expect this to complete roll-out within the next week, before the middle of June. This has now been pushed back to the end of June.

Some good news is that the original caveat stating that the limit will most likely be downgraded back to 250 in September is no longer present – so potentially this was the customer feedback taken into account and the new limit of 300 is one that will be feasible to keep for longer. We’ll keep an eye on this and update if the situation changes.