Microsoft Teams provides more features to assist stressed frontline workers

Microsoft Cloud for Retail, and the new features in Microsoft Teams are designed to reach the 80% of workers who are often left behind by technology.

Technology can benefit frontline workers in retail, manufacturing and healthcare.

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The topic of remote and hybrid work has been much discussed. However, 80% of global workforce are frontline workers in manufacturing, retail, and healthcare. Microsoft’s Work Trend Index recently released its latest report. “The pandemic accelerated the technological transformation for information workers – those folks who went home and use things like video conferencing, but our research shows that we’re now at a very similar inflection point for these frontline worker roles,” says Microsoft corporate vice president of modern work, Jared Spataro.

“Frontline includes people like nurses and doctors – they’re definitely on the frontlines of providing the service. It also includes people who work on the manufacturing floor and are not directly involved with customers, but are there to produce the goods. People in retail and restaurants also need to be present.

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Thanks to features designed for frontline workers – from shift management and time tracking tools to mobile video chat that blurs the background so healthcare workers don’t have to worry about confidential patient information showing up if they take a call from the ward – Microsoft Teams usage has grown fourfold since March 2020 (Figure AAccording to Microsoft’s Work Trend Index, it is up by 5%. Healthcare, financial services, and communications have seen the largest increases, but there are also significant increases in automotive, retail and manufacturing, as well as energy and travel.

Figure A

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Microsoft Teams is being used in many industries.

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Spataro says that Teams has become a communication hub for people in these types roles. The latest Microsoft Work Trend Index report focuses on frontline workers, who are key to success and “traditionally underserved” by technology.

Frontline workers feel stressed like everyone else and undervalued.Figure B). “They want more support for physical exhaustion and mental health – they feel that much more could be done to help supply chain issues and to help with labour shortages that are making the job especially difficult right now,” Spataro explains. There is no light at the end: They believe work will be as stressful or more stressful in 2022.

Although shared stress may have improved co-worker bonds, they do not believe that the company leadership places enough emphasis on building a supportive environment or communicating with them effectively.

Figure B

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Frontline workers are most stressed by poor communication, poor management and workplace culture.

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Managers at the frontline, who are supposed to communicate that culture and communication, feel even more stressed.

According to Microsoft’s Work Trend Index, 60% of frontline workers feel that communication and culture are lacking. 32% claim their voices are not being heard. 63% of frontline workers, and 69% frontline managers, feel that messages from leaders don’t reach them.

Spataro says, “Think about department head, store managers on shop floor, advisors: They’re incredibly important in this moment of stress because they’re glue between corporate employees and those who interact most with customers.” They encourage buy-in, they increase morale, and they make sure that the business strategy that is developed at the top is implemented on the ground.

Technology and training are welcomed by frontline workers.

The Great Reshuffle has been discussed primarily by professionals, but it is actually for all workers. Frontline workers, low-wage and service workers are more likely than others to be moving jobs.They will begin to think about how work fits into the rest of their lives. According to the Microsoft Work Trend Index Report, the top five reasons to consider switching jobs are more money, better life balance, no pay rises, better benefits, more flexibility and more income.

This presents an opportunity for companies to improve their work environment and culture to attract and retain talent. Technology such as Microsoft Teams, Microsoft Viva, and the new Microsoft Cloud for Retail are now available. Spataro stated that technology isn’t the only solution. “Technology can be key to relieving stress, streamlining frontline business processes and improving culture and communication to really make things better all around.”

It is common to assume that frontline workers fear technology. However, Microsoft’s Work Trend Index survey shows that they are open to technology that can help them. As long as they receive the support and training that they require, it is not a problem.Figure C). “Technology is ranked third on the list of things frontline workers say will reduce stress – behind pay and vacations but ahead of mental health and well-being benefits.”

Figure C

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Technology improvements are only possible if there is a raise in pay and more vacation days. This is what frontline workers expect from their work.

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63% frontline workers are excited by the opportunities offered by technology, but 33% of the 8 industries covered in the Microsoft Work Trend Index Survey said that they don’t have enough technology to do their jobs effectively.Figure D). For people who are not in management positions, the percentage is even higher (41%).

Figure D

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Frontline workers are looking for technology that will aid in their work but also want support and training.

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Their concern is that automation will lessen their work and they will have to adapt faster to new technology. In fact, 55% said they had to learn new tech in the past without any formal training. Viva Learning may be an option to assist staff, but integrating Microsoft Teams into the vertical applications and rugged gadgets they already own can facilitate adoption. These are the same integrations Microsoft Teams is known for in the office but can also be used for frontline-specific tools.

The Teams Walkie Talkie app works now with the Push To Talk buttons on rugged Zebra handhelds frontline workers use to scan barcodes, check inventory or look up prices for customers in a store.Figure E). It is also available for iOS devices, and not only Android.

Figure E

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Integration with common retail devices by Zebra uses Teams Walkie Talkie to Push To Talk and connects shift managers.

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Microsoft Teams also includes the Reflexis retail shift scheduling software. This allows workers to see their shifts and allows managers to approve or delegate shift changes. Shift work has been a hallmark of frontline workers. However, many employees are seasonal or flex workers and not full-time employees. As such, they are less likely to have a deep understanding of systems and processes.

This may explain why frontline employees are enthusiastically and proactively adopting technology for tasks such as managing shifts. Team scheduling is the most important task that frontline staff are seeking technology to assist with.

Emma Williams, corporate vice President for modern work engineering at Microsoft, stated that many of their customers are virally searching our technology and applications. “At one the biggest retailers in the world it was the workers at the frontline and shift workers that found Microsoft 365Shifts. [They’re saying]Oh wow! This thing is incredible, I can use Microsoft Shifts together with my co-workers in the retail store. They are great advocates.”

Microsoft tech: How Microsoft tech can assist with virtual appointments, communication and task management

Frontline workers believe technology can help them manage appointments. This includes onboarding new colleagues, automating repetitive tasks, and providing task updates. Microsoft Teams and Microsoft Bookings already allow virtual appointments to be made; now you can keep track of everything (using the overview feature).Figure F). Williams says, “We are bringing together frontline workers and supervisors in one place so they can see a complete view of their appointments with real time updates on wait times, queueing and staffing delays. This will really streamline the experience.”

Figure F

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Frontline managers and workers can track virtual appointments using the Bookings feature.

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Williams calls Viva Connections a mobile portal for intranets. It’s one of the Microsoft tools that can help businesses improve communication and build culture. Integration with services like Workday and EspressiveBring payroll and HR resources to Viva. You can also get a notification when your break ends so that you can return to the app.Figure G). Williams said, “You have your shift schedule and your tasks already on your mobile device. However, you could also access company portal to access your payroll and access it all from one place.”

Figure G

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Information from Workday can be viewed by frontline workers in their Viva Connections dashboard.

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Microsoft Cloud for Retail offers AI tools for forecasting demand and IoT Integration to track the state the supply chain.Figure HIt can show stock information and order status on a mobile device. Additionally, it can help organizations arrange curbside pickups for online orders. These features can reduce stress for frontline workers when dealing with unhappy customers. 

Figure H

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Microsoft Cloud for Retail also includes Dynamics 365 apps for monitoring the supply chain.

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Microsoft’s retail cloud service uses AI to provide insights and productivity to frontline workers. Intelligent shift management assigns tags to retail employees that match their shift group name and schedule to make it easier to pass information to them. It also intelligently routes for the Walkie Talkie channels within Teams to determine which channel they should join in order to get their colleagues updated on the most popular channel and what staff members are currently working on.

It is difficult to lose a device that has all these tools. Microsoft Endpoint Manager allows admins to use the GPS-powered map or trigger an audio notification loudly enough to locate the device on a noisy production line or shop floor.

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