Microsoft Promises Custom Background Images for Teams
Microsoft has signaled that custom background are coming for Teams, with the latest update coming on March 25 when the product group replied to the user voice request to say that Microsoft hopes “to release within a quarter.” Some more detail is provided in Microsoft 365 roadmap item 62890, which promises that the feature will be delivered sometime in April 2020.
Recent news releases from Microsoft have demonstrated the feature (here’s an example), and Microsoft employees like Jeffrey Snover have shown some flair in the images they choose (Figure 1). I’ve seen many use the flight deck of the Starship Enterprise, Millennium Falcon, and other places.
Yet despite Microsoft making background blur available in September 2018, it seems to be taking forever to ship custom backgrounds. But as nature abhors a vacuum, while they wait for Microsoft to ship the update (and for the update to reach their Office 365 tenant), Teams users seek alternatives to jazz up their visual appearance in meetings. You might have some fun, but the experience highlights some issues too.
Snap Camera Popular Choice
Snap camera is software designed to apply filters to video input before using the result with an application like Snapchat. After the software is installed, you can use Snap camera to generate an image from the PC (you need to close any other app like Skype consumer or Teams to release the PC’s camera). A wide variety of filters are available ranging from the mildly amusing to the absolutely puerile. In short, there’s something there for everyone.
When you’re happy with your creation, you can use it as your video feed into a Teams meeting by selecting Snap camera as the camera (Figure 2).
All hell then breaks loose as the other participants slowly (or not) realize what’s happening (Figure 3).
I’ve seen quite a few of these images turn up over the last few days, including when meeting with people from Fortune 100 companies. Even the largest corporation needs some levity when times are tough.
The Problem with Custom Images
The use of custom images poses several problems for Office 365 administrators. It’s hard to control what people do, especially when they work from home (possibly bored) and download and install software on their workstations. The first issue is therefore to decide whether applications like Snap camera are allowed on corporate PCs and if not, how to block them.
If allowed, some user education is needed. You don’t want business meetings dissolving into a competition for who can create the most outrageous image nor do you want the first twenty minutes of meetings taken up with discussions about the latest filter. Any image used should be appropriate and avoid any potential for offense from multiple angles.
Remember, many Teams meetings are recorded and played back from Stream, so it’s not just a case of a joke shared in a meeting staying within the participants. Apart from potential harm to individuals through harassment or other offense, organizations open themselves up to being sued if they can’t prove that they didn’t facilitate poor behavior.
Compliance tools available in Office 365 don’t check Stream recordings or a Teams video stream, so there’s no way for offensive images to be picked up in real time or after a recording is captured in Stream.
User Education is Key
The lack of compliance tools makes user education a necessity. Make sure that people know that they are personally responsible for anything they project or share in a Teams meeting. Give guidelines as to what’s acceptable and what’s not (no personal nudity, political statements, harassment, and so on).
Need for Management Might be Delaying Microsoft
Tools like Snap camera start by making everyone smile but can rapidly lead to unanticipated and unwanted situations. The need to control how people use features like custom backgrounds might be delaying Microsoft shipping it in Teams. At the very least, Teams needs to give Office 365 tenants the ability to disable custom background images tenant-wide and perhaps (through policy) at the user level.
Administration of large enterprise Office 365 tenants is our area of interest, so that’s why topics like this draw our attention. Read more about our views on many other issues related to Office 365 in the Office 365 for IT Pros eBook.