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Microsoft turns its focus toward frontline workers with Teams tweaks

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Over the past two years, the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated a technological transformation for a lot of office-based staff, forcing them to alter work habits and depend on videoconferencing and collaboration software program to get their jobs finished.

Now it is time to give attention to frontline staff, 41% of whom don’t have entry to the know-how they want, in accordance with Microsoft’s newest Work Trend Index Special Report on Frontline Workers. Primarily based on a international survey of 9,600 frontline staff in eight international locations throughout eight industries who cannot work remotely, the analysis is designed to assist enterprise leaders navigate the altering office.

Jared Spataro, company vice chairman for contemporary work at Microsoft, stated in a briefing final week that the corporate has typically centered on “info staff,” however desires to increase that focus to frontline staff; they characterize greater than 80% of the worldwide workforce, or round 2 billion individuals worldwide.

“At Microsoft, our mission is far broader than simply info staff; we actually are centered on empowering each individual in each group throughout the planet to realize extra,” Spataro stated.

That is essential, stated Angela Ashenden, principal analyst for office transformation at CCS Perception, as a result of  know-how has been a serious plus for frontline staff throughout the pandemic.

“What the pandemic did was expose the significance of this massive body of workers to their companies,” Ashenden stated. “They have been usually the one factor that stored companies going, and infrequently bore the brunt of the pandemic from a enterprise standpoint, whether or not by way of not with the ability to work remotely, or being uncovered to the virus extra by way of their job.”

Frontline staff embrace these on the entrance strains in retail, manufacturing, hospitality, and healthcare.

The Microsoft survey highlighted plenty of challenges — with the necessity to steadiness worker well-being with enterprise progress an enormous challenge; 51% of these surveyed stated these in non-management positions on the frontline don’t really feel valued, whereas 58% imagine work-related stress will keep the identical or worsen in 2022.

Corporations depending on frontline staff are usually not resistant to the Great Resignation, which has seen a file variety of workers give up jobs looking for higher alternatives. Very similar to their office-based friends, frontline staff cite higher pay, work-life steadiness, advantages, and adaptability as high causes for contemplating a job change. Information from LinkedIn discovered that of the eight industries Microsoft surveyed, seven have now exceeded pre-pandemic hiring ranges.

Regardless of the challenges going through frontline staff, a lot of these surveyed stay optimistic that know-how can enhance their day-to-day expertise on the job. When requested what may assist cut back employee stress, know-how ranked behind pay and PTO and forward of wellbeing advantages. Moreover, 63% stated they’re excited concerning the job alternatives know-how has created.

“There’s unprecedented stress and [Microsoft] believes that you possibly can truly do higher by prioritizing [frontline] workers,” Spataro stated. “In different phrases, we might say {that a} sturdy frontline means a greater backside line. We expect that aligning the enterprise with the wants of workers is definitely going to provide not solely happier, higher workers, however actually higher enterprise outcomes.”

Together with total optimism, many respondents cited technology-related issues: 46% stated they concern job loss if they do not adapt to new tech, and 55% stated they needed to be taught to make use of new applied sciences at work with out being given formal coaching.

Ashenden stated {that a} main challenge is that tech innovation over the previous 20 years has largely centered on desk-based workers, particularly in the case of productiveness and collaboration. In consequence, frontline staff’ instruments haven’t developed and are sometimes out-dated.

“Some companies get round this by cobbling collectively applied sciences themselves or making an attempt to adapt applied sciences designed for desk-based staff,” she stated, “however it’s solely now that we’re seeing centered funding by main tech gamers like Microsoft to supply tailor-made, off-the-shelf options which might be particularly designed for this body of workers.

“The elevated consciousness and understanding that the pandemic caused has strengthened the urge for food for companies to put money into these options.”

Productiveness and the position of Microsoft Groups

Whereas conducting the survey, Microsoft checked out productiveness patterns and the way Microsoft Groups is more and more getting used as a communication hub. Telemetry knowledge reveals that between March 2020 and November 2021, the month-to-month use of Microsoft Groups on the frontline grew 400%.

Though platforms like Groups weren’t essentially developed with frontline staff in thoughts, many non-desk-based workers use instruments historically seen within the workplace. For instance, distant help purposes enable staff to supply assist to prospects and companions with out truly being in individual, and digital assembly know-how lets  gross sales individuals keep related with prospects — even accelerating gross sales cycles by permitting them to do extra buyer calls every day.

As for employee issues about coaching, Ashenden stated that is not an issue only for frontline staff. “There’s usually an assumption that the instruments are intuitive sufficient that individuals will work out for themselves how one can use them, or that they may be taught from their friends,” she stated. “In observe, which means that the group will battle to get the total worth from the know-how by way of an absence of course of and consistency.

“It additionally dangers workers getting pissed off and, subsequently, adoption is restricted. That is when you find yourself with workers in search of different, ‘higher’ alternate options, which they think about higher meet their wants extra successfully, and software fragmentation worsens.”

With that in thoughts, Microsoft this week announced updates to its Viva and Microsoft Teams platforms focused at frontline roles.

The Microsoft Groups Walkie Talkie app will now be obtainable on Zebra, Crosscall and, HMD International’s Nokia gadgets, permitting staff to have a high-tech, push-to-talk walkie talkies, whatever the machine they’re utilizing.

Microsoft additionally added digital appointments in Groups, offering real-time updates on wait occasions, missed appointments, and staffing delays.

The Viva Connections app in Microsoft Groups now has integrations with strategic companions like Workday and Expressive, permitting simpler entry to essential assets and placing payroll and HR assets in a single location.​ And  updates to the Viva Studying app allow frontline workers to find, share, and observe studying content material inside  Groups for extra constant coaching throughout the office.

Ashenden stated it is essential that Microsoft sees frontline staff as a strategic group in its product growth technique, not only a one-off alternative.

“We have seen that with the trickle of latest options for this viewers during the last couple of years, not simply in Groups but in addition in Dynamics 365 purposes, and the funding within the Work Index analysis to grasp frontline employee sentiment…,” she stated.

“It is nice to see the Viva product crew now addressing this group, as effectively,” Ashenden stated. “Microsoft’s method with all these instruments is to allow companies to implement one resolution for each sort of employee — info employee or frontline — constructing in tailor-made experiences and options to assist the totally different teams. This helps keep away from the technical divide between frontline staff and knowledge staff, particularly in the case of connecting, speaking and information sharing throughout the group.”

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