Working from home? The person on the other end of your call shouldn’t have to know

The couch is the new conference room.
The couch is the new conference room.
Image: Reuters/Robert Galbraith
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When you work from home, you don’t have to wear pants. You do, however, have to act like a professional.

At its Ignite conference in Orlando, Microsoft announced a host of new tools today (Sep. 24) to help workers get stuff done when they’re not in the office. Given that more than 50% of the US workforce will do at least some work from home by 2020, remote work seems to be a strong horse for Microsoft to hitch its cart to.

The most relatable release of the day—at least for anyone who has had to take a video conference from the couch, or from a bedroom infiltrated by curious children—is a new feature that allows you to blur the background of a video chat.

Image: Microsoft

“Background blur” will be incorporated into Teams, Microsoft’s hub for workplace communications, and a competitor to the popular messaging app Slack.

“With Teams, we’re using AI to help people before, during, and after a meeting,” Ron Markezich, corporate vice president of Microsoft 365, tells Quartz At Work. “Teams delivers a new, more inclusive way of working that keeps people engaged with their teams, whether they’re in the same building or in different cities.”

Other video-conferencing software companies like Zoom have similar “virtual backgrounds” to standardize the environment of video calls, but given Microsoft’s recent investments in artificial intelligence that can accurately recognize a person’s face as it moves, its new tool should prove to be more flexible. (Zoom’s virtual background works more like a green screen, and works best in a room with a solid background and uniform lighting.)

Microsoft also added a feature to Teams that will allow users play back recorded meeting content at any time, with captions and a searchable, time-coded transcript.