The new out-of-the-box virtual Microsoft Teams Breakout Rooms became available in December 2020! This blog post is the definite guide how to use Microsoft Teams Virtual Breakout Rooms.
Blog post updated 19.3.2021
Some quick facts about Breakout Rooms
- You need to be in the meeting to be able to create Breakout Rooms: 1-50 of them.
- Participants need to be online and in the meeting as well
- You can assign attendees automatically to rooms or you can assign them manually
- It is possible rename rooms and start/close them manually. You can also add new rooms later or delete some of them.
- Organizer can send messages (announcements) to rooms
- REQUIREMENT; You have to use Teams Desktop Client to create Breakout Rooms at this point. Support for other Teams clients is coming later. You can attend breakout rooms using Teams web client. You can join a Breakout Room on Teams Mobile (Android) and iPhone/iOS should also support Breakout Rooms fully as attendee.
- REQUIREMENT: You need to be using new meeting experience (ie: pop out meetings) to be able to create Breakout Rooms
- REQUIREMENT: Make sure you have the latest Teams update (Check for updates in the Teams Desktop Client)
- You can create Breakout Rooms for scheduled or channel meetings. If you have old meetings you don’t have to recreate them to get support for Breakout Rooms.
- You can create Breakout Rooms in Private Channel Meet Now meetings. You may get an error first, but try again and you can proceed normally (my experience while testing)
- The meeting organizer is the sole person who creates and manages rooms . Later (2021 I presume) more people can be added to manage Breakout Rooms.
- Every Breakout Room is a full Teams meeting with recording, sharing content, chat, Whiteboard and Together mode (for example).
- Everyone joining the Breakout Room will be presenter even if they are an attendee in the main meeting. Meeting policies can change this behavior so that, for example, that only people in the same organization are presenters and everyone else is attendee on default. In a sense: joining a Breakout Room meeting is just like joining any other meeting – using those meeting options that are governed by policies. (updated 12.1.2021 – Thank you Magnus for the point!)
What is coming soon for Breakout Rooms
Breakout Rooms is getting new features! Scheduled to roll out already for March 2021 are
- Timer: Organizers can now set a timer for Breakout rooms from the Breakout Room settings. After timer has expired, rooms will automatically close and participants will come back to the main meeting.
- Keep room configuration and assignments: Room assignment retention provides the ability to persist room configuration and assignment over multiple sessions.
- Move people across rooms and main meeting when in Breakout Rooms: With participant reassignment capability, organizer will now be able to move joined participants across rooms and main meeting also when rooms are opened.
The roadmap item for “Breakout Rooms Timer and Room assignment retention” can be found here.
Creating Breakout Rooms
When you are in the meeting as organizer, using Teams Desktop client with the latest version and new meeting experience you can see the icon to where you can start creating Breakout Rooms.
You can then define how many rooms (1-50) you need and how you want to assign participants. The default is Automatically. In this point you can see that we are alone in the meeting and thus no-one will be assigned to rooms. It will be the easiest to do Breakout Rooms when everyone (or most of people) are joined in to the meeting.
After a moment I can see two Breakout Rooms and people who have been assigned to those rooms (yes – I have multiple identities from different demo tenants there!)
If I click a room I can then choose … menu and edit it
- Open room open that particular room only
- Rename is useful to make any sense about the rooms 🙂
- Join and Close room options are available when room is opened/started
- Delete room removes the room.
In this point you can still make changes to names and people who would be in which rooms.
If you click on Breakout Rooms … menu you can choose from a few options
- Make an announcement is only available when rooms are running. It sends messages to all breakout rooms into chat
- Rooms settings
- Recreate rooms discards all current rooms and let’s you start again. Breakout Rooms are part of the meeting they were created on – if you revisit the meeting later the old rooms are there. Recreate rooms lets you start from the scratch.
Room settings contain two options
The default settings work very well for most needs. However you want users to take action (ie: confirm the switching of meeting manually) when moving to breakout rooms remove the checkbox from the first one. There is 10 second period when users move to rooms once room is started.
And the other option is self explanatory: allowing users to rejoin main meeting early. When the switch is off (default) it will prevent participants returning to the main meeting: they don’t get to see Return-button while in the Breakout Room.
Update 21.1.2021: It seems that web client is honoring this setting and switch works from the beginning.
It is possible to set the main meeting lobby settings (meeting options: who can bypass the lobby to Only me) after creating the rooms so it will prevent participants coming back to the main meeting – they end up in the lobby instead. Participants can rejoin back to the Breakout Room directly if there has been any chatting: it is visible in their chat and thus rejoin the room.
Assign attendees to different rooms
In case, more often than not, someone joins in late you can see them in “Assign Participants” -section
When you click on Assign participants you can select one or more attendees there and then choose Assign to move them to specific room
Just click on the room name you want to assign them to
When you click on a room name you can see who is assigned there. Use checkbox to select people to move to other rooms.
Again, you can choose the room name where to move them – but you can also choose Unassigned to remove them from all rooms.
When you are happy with room assignments you can start rooms.
Starting and running Breakout Rooms
You can choose to open rooms one by one manually. But I recommend starting all rooms at once by hitting Start rooms and see how they are beginning to open
Update 7.1.2021: NOTE if room doesn’t have any participants the room can not be opened.
As the organizer you have an option to join any room you like
You can also send announcements to rooms
The announcement message appears in the meeting chat
The organizer is the only person (so far, at Microsoft Ignite 2020 it was hinted that this will change) who can move freely between rooms. Organizer does it by selecting the room and choosing Join room.
What happens next is:
- Main meeting is put on hold for the organizer
- The organizer joins the Breakout Room (named Purple Squadron in this case)
- When she is done in the Breakout Room she just Leaves the meeting normally and the main meeting resumes when Resume is pressed
The Organizer can also Add rooms if there is a need – like new people join the meeting or when there is a need to regroup with some attendees. The maximum number of 50 rooms gives plenty of room to play with these rooms in ad hoc needs.
The freshly added room is just like any other room: but it is closed even when other rooms are open.
This allows the Organizer to add people to the new room and then Open it.
Attendee experience in the Breakout Room
When the rooms are started you get a notification and you are then moved to breakout rooms automatically (on default).
Update 7.1.2021 You are a presenter on default, even when the main meeting has different settings for presenters (ie: you can be only a attendee in the main meeting but once you get to the Breakout Room you are always defaulted to presenter).
Note: you need to have the main meeting open in order to join the Breakout Room automatically.
The Breakout Room is the fully fledged meeting – I can record it, use the chat, raise hand, use hard mute, share screen or content and even use Together mode or Large Gallery views. I can also choose to Return back to the main meeting.
“Let people go back to the main meeting” doesn’t seem to have any effect: attendees can Return back to the main meeting and go back to the Breakout Room with Join room as they wish.
Update 21.1.2021: This switch is originally off. It will prevent participants from returning to the main meeting: they don’t get to see Return-button while in the Breakout Room.
However users of Teams web client will still be able to see and use Return-button.
If “Automatically move people into opened rooms” is not checked every attendee must confirm their joining to the Breakout Room and again when the room is closed to join the Main Meeting.
Closing Breakout Rooms
When the organizer hits Close rooms, the rooms are starting to close instantly. There is no “are you sure” -dialogue so be careful not to hit this button too early!
Attendees in Breakout Rooms get a message
And they end up in the main meeting.
You can close and open/restart rooms multiple times. You don’t have to recreate or reassign people to Breakout Rooms every time. This makes it easy to create them once (assuming most of attendees stay in same rooms) and have short small group discussions / innovations and bringing them back to the main meeting for a short recap and then going back to small groups (Breakout Rooms). This is one of super great points in Teams Breakout Rooms I think – they are very easy to manage and use for trainings and workshops.
Breakout Room resources
You can access Breakout room chat later almost just like any other chat in Teams meetings. This is of course one reason why naming of Breakout Rooms is important. The big difference is that you can not join Breakout Room directly from the chat unless the Breakout Room is open. This gives a good control to the Organizer: they can be sure that once the room is closed attendees won’t be able to rejoin it.
The good side is that the meeting chat remains there so discussions done in there can be reflected and processed later.
If you are all working in the same organization you can also use Breakout Rooms chat with files (yes, the files are in uploader’s OneDrive for Business!) to edit documents and then share findings later. If you have people from multiple organizations (ie: different Office 365 tenants) participating you need to use links to files as with any Teams Meeting today.
What about Mobile Teams?
I tested on Android phone that Breakout Rooms worked the way the should when attending. You are moved to the Breakout Room automatically and when rooms close you are moved automatically back to the main meeting. You can not create Breakout Rooms on Android yet – but it is in the roadmap for March 2021 currently.
I updated this post on this topic. When I first tested Breakout Rooms on Android device it didn’t have the support. When I did the test again in 10th of Dec everything worked as they supposed to.
Breakout Rooms Administration
Teams Administrators ensure your organization users can do following:
- Allow scheduling private meeting = on
- Allow Meet now in private meeting = on
- Allow channel meeting scheduling = on
- Allow meet now in channels = on
As an admin, review and share the settings to ensure they are set correctly for your organization and your users. Otherwise your users may not be able to utilize Breakout Rooms.