Microsoft turns its focus toward frontline workers with Teams tweaks

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For many office employees, the COVID-19 epidemic has expedited their technological transition over the past two years, pushing them to adapt their work habits and depend on videoconferencing and collaboration software to get their tasks done.

Now is the moment to concentrate on frontline employees, who, according to Microsoft’s newest Work Trend Index Special Report on Frontline Workers, account for 41 percent of those who do not have access to the technology they need. The report, which is based on a worldwide survey of 9,600 frontline employees in eight countries across eight sectors who cannot work remotely, is intended to assist business executives in navigating the evolving workplace.

In a briefing last week, Jared Spataro, corporate vice president for modern work at Microsoft, stated that the company has traditionally focused on “information workers,” but that it wants to broaden its focus to include frontline workers, who account for more than 80 percent of the global workforce, or approximately 2 billion people worldwide.

In Spataro’s words, “At Microsoft, our purpose is far larger than simply information workers; we are focused on enabling every employee in every business throughout the globe to do more.”

The importance of this is underscored by Angela Ashenden, lead analyst for workplace change at CCS Insight. She notes that technology has been a significant asset for frontline employees throughout the epidemic.

“What the epidemic did was bring attention to the relevance of this enormous group of employees to their companies,” says the author, “Ashenden shared his thoughts. According to the CDC, “They were sometimes the only thing that kept enterprises running, and they suffered much of the weight of the pandemic from a business viewpoint, whether via the inability to work remotely or through increased exposure to the virus as a result of their profession.”

Employees on the front lines of retail, manufacturing, hospitality, and healthcare are referred to as “frontline employees.”

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Employee well-being and business growth are two of the most pressing issues identified by the Microsoft survey. According to the results, fifty-one percent of those polled said those in non-management positions on the frontline do not feel valued, and 58 percent believe work-related stress will remain the same or worsen in 2022.

Those businesses that rely on frontline personnel are not immune to the Great Resignation, which has seen a record number of people depart their positions to pursue new chances. Like their office-based counterparts, Frontline employees mention higher salary, work-life balance, benefits, and employment flexibility as the top reasons for seeking a career move in their field. According to data from LinkedIn, seven out of the eight sectors that Microsoft studied have now hired at levels higher than they were before the epidemic.

Despite the daily difficulties that frontline employees face, many of those who participated in the study expressed confidence that technological advancements would enhance their working environment. When asked what factors may assist minimize worker stress, technology came in third place, behind only salary and paid time off, but ahead of wellness benefits. Furthermore, 63 percent expressed excitement about the new work chances that have arisen due to technological advancements.

“There’s unprecedented stress, and [Microsoft] thinks that prioritizing [frontline] people would help you do better,” Spataro said. “Microsoft believes that prioritizing [frontline] personnel would help you do better.” “To put it another way, we would argue that a strong frontline leads to a stronger bottom line. We believe that connecting the company with the requirements of workers will result in not just happier and better employees, but also significantly improved business results.”

As well as expressing general optimism, many respondents expressed concerns about technology-related issues: 46 percent expressed concern about losing their jobs if they do not adapt to new technology, and 55 percent stated that they had to learn to use new technologies at work without receiving formal training.

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One significant problem, according to Ashenden, has been that technological innovation has concentrated chiefly on desk-based personnel during the last 20 years. This has been particularly true when it comes to productivity and cooperation. Consequently, the tools used by frontline employees have not progressed and are often out of date.

It’s only now that we see concentrated investment by major tech players like Microsoft to provide tailored, off-the-shelf solutions specifically designed for this group of workers, she explained. “Some businesses get around this by cobbling together technologies themselves or trying to adapt technologies designed for desk-based workers,” she explained.

Business enthusiasm for investing in these solutions has grown as a result of the enhanced knowledge and understanding brought about by the epidemic.”

Productivity and the role of Microsoft Teams

In the course of completing the poll, Microsoft looked at productivity trends and how Microsoft Teams is becoming more popular as a communication center. Between March 2020 and November 2021, telemetry data showed that the monthly usage of Microsoft Teams on the frontline increased by 400 percent.

Even though Teams were not necessarily designed with frontline staff in mind, many non-desk-based employees use technologies that are often found in the office. For example, remote assistance applications allow employees to support customers and partners without physically being present. Virtual meeting technology will enable salespeople to stay connected with customers while also speeding up sales cycles by making more customer calls per day.

Personnel worries about training, Ashenden said, are not exclusive to front-line workers and are an issue across the board. “There’s a common expectation that the technologies are intuitive enough that individuals will figure out how to use them for themselves or that they will learn from their peers,” she said. The absence of procedure and consistency, in reality, implies that the organization will have difficulty extracting the most value from the technology.

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The Microsoft Teams Walkie Talkie software will soon be accessible on Zebra devices, enabling employees to use high-tech, push-to-talk walkie-talkies, independent of their device, to communicate with one another.

Also new in Teams is the ability to schedule virtual appointments, which provides real-time information on wait times, missed appointments, and staffing delays.

Integrating with critical partners like Workday and Expressive, the Viva Connections app in Microsoft Teams now provides better access to essential resources. It consolidates payroll and human resources in one area.

In addition, changes to the Viva Learning app allow frontline workers to find, share, and monitor learning material inside Teams, resulting in more uniform training throughout the workplace overall.

It is critical, according to Ashenden, that Microsoft considers frontline employees as a key group in its product development strategy rather than as a one-time opportunity.

The drip of new capabilities for this audience over the past couple of years, not just in Teams but also in Dynamics 365 apps, as well as the investment in the Work Index research to assess frontline worker mood…,” she said.

“It’s fantastic to see the Viva product team reaching out to this audience as well,” Ashenden remarked. With all of these capabilities, Microsoft’s goal is to allow organizations to install a single solution for any worker — whether they are information workers or frontline employees — while also including customized experiences and features to assist the various groups. This helps to eliminate the technical barrier between frontline employees and information workers, which is particularly important when it comes to connecting, communicating, and exchanging knowledge throughout the whole business.

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