Breakout Rooms in Teams Meetings Help People to Work Smarter

Coming to Teams Commercial, Education, and GCC Tenants in Q4 2020

Many customers support the “introduce breakout room functionality” request on Teams User Voice. The feature is listed as “Virtual breakout rooms” in Microsoft 365 roadmap item 65332. According to the roadmap item, breakout rooms are due for general availability in October 2020. The date was confirmed by James Skay of Microsoft in the Master Virtual Breakout rooms in Teams meetings session at the recent virtual Ignite session, who said that breakout rooms would come to Teams education, commercial, and GCC Office 365 tenants in early Q4 (October).

Update: MC224343 says that the roll-out will now start in early December and complete in mid-December.

Managing breakout rooms depends on the pop-out meeting and chat experience, so the desktop client must be used by meeting organizers. Participants can use the desktop, browser, or mobile client.

Split Large Meetings into Sub-Meetings

Originally announced for as part of a package of new Teams features for education on July 30, Teams breakout rooms allow a Teams meeting to be split into several subordinate meetings (the breakout rooms) linked to the main meeting. The feature is designed to support scenarios like brainstorming sessions, online classes, and corporate events which often start by assembling all the participants to set the goals before dividing into smaller groups to work specific issues, and then come back together to report findings and make decisions.

To use breakout rooms, the Teams meeting policy assigned to meeting organizers must allow the following features:

  • Schedule private meeting
  • Meet now in channels.
  • Channel meeting scheduling.
  • Meet now in private meetings.

Figure 1 shows how to enable the first three settings in a Teams meeting policy. The last setting is in the Participants and Guests section of the policy.

General settings in a Teams meeting policy
Figure 1: General settings in a Teams meeting policy

How Teams Breakout Rooms Work

A Teams meeting starts as normal and the meeting organizer (creator) chooses the breakout rooms option in the meeting control bar to create the number of breakout rooms needed (Figure 2). Additional breakout rooms can be added or removed later, up to the maximum of 50 rooms.

Creating Breakout rooms for a Teams meeting
Figure 2: Creating Breakout rooms for a Teams meeting

To make their purpose clear, breakout rooms can be renamed. For example, a group working on a corporate merger might have breakout rooms for Finance, HR, and Legal. Microsoft says that in the future you’ll be able to predefine breakout rooms including room assignments before a meeting starts.

The meeting organizer assigns meeting participants to the different rooms (Figure 3) . This can be done manually or automatically (participants are evenly divided at random among the available rooms). Users can be moved between breakout rooms. After assigning users to rooms, the organizer uses the Start rooms command to allow the participants assigned to each room to begin work. It’s possible to open rooms individually if you don’t want them all to begin at the same time. A setting controls whether people are moved automatically into their assigned rooms (the default) or receive a prompt to join. Those assigned to a breakout room cannot add other people – this can only be done by the meeting organizer.

Assigning people to Teams breakout rooms
Figure 3: Assigning people to Teams breakout rooms

Participants meet in the breakout rooms and use normal meeting functionality such as chat, app sharing, turn on together mode, and collaborate with a whiteboard. To encourage people to participate, everyone in a breakout room is assigned the presenter role.

The meeting organizer can visit the breakout rooms to help keep everything on track. When they join a breakout room, the organizer can work with the other participants. The meeting organizer can also make announcements to all breakout rooms. For instance, they might send a note to remind people that the breakout rooms will close in five minutes and that someone should be nominated to present findings. Announcements are posted to the meeting chat in each open breakout room (Figure 4). If participants in a room need to contact the meeting organizer, they can send an @mention message in chat.

An organizer's message is posted to a breakout room chat
Figure 4: An organizer’s message is posted to a breakout room chat

Wrapping Up a Meeting

To bring the meeting back together again, the organizer closes the breakout rooms. After a short delay, the participants from the breakout rooms rejoin the main meeting. If necessary, the organizer can reopen a breakout room to allow people to restart discussions. Attendees cannot close breakout rooms. After wrapping everything up with the complete set of participants, the organizer ends the meeting.

Separate meeting chats and notes are kept for each room and for the main meeting. Separate recordings and transcripts can be captured for each breakout. Access to the information shared or generated in a breakout room is limited to the participants in that room. For instance, if a file is shared in the Finance breakout room, the permissions on the file uploaded to the sharer’s OneDrive account are restricted to the people in the breakout room at that time. In the future, Microsoft says that it will be possible to share information more easily from a breakout room with the main meeting.

Expanding People Who Can Manage Breakout Rooms

It’s not always the case that those who schedule meetings are the people who run the meetings, and it’s also possible that a meeting creator might not be available when the meeting happens. To avoid the obvious issue that the meeting organizer is the only person initially allowed to manage breakout rooms, Microsoft says that it will be possible to assign multiple organizers in the future

It’s stuff like this which makes us update the Office 365 for IT Pros eBook on a continual basis. We’ll keep an eye on Teams breakout rooms and report our experience of using these useful rooms in Chapter 11.

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