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January 12, 2022
The first update for the new Viva Connections app for Microsoft Teams will include enhanced communications capabilities for front-line workers. Microsoft on Wednesday revealed added features and integrations for Viva Connections, the “employee experience” option for Teams released last fall.
Microsoft started adding options to Teams for front-line workers, including the push-to-talk walkie-talkie feature, in 2020. Samsung was Microsoft’s first integration partner with the launch of its Galaxy XCover Pro rugged phone. Now Microsoft is adding integration partners Zebra, Workday and Expressive, and learning systems management providers Edcast and OpenSesame.
From the beginning of the pandemic through last November, Microsoft said that Teams usage among front-line workers surged 400%. The company estimates that 88% of organizations have front-line workers, totaling 2 billion people, which is 80% of the overall workforce.
Giving front-line workers modern technology is a significant opportunity, according to results of Microsoft’s 2022 Work Trends Index report. Microsoft published key findings from that report, tied to the Teams Viva Connections update. The report is based on a survey of 9,600 front-line workers and managers and data from LinkedIn.
Despite fears that technology put front-line workers out of jobs, 63% of respondents to the survey said they were optimistic about the job opportunities technology can create. But 58% of front-line workers reported that they anticipate that work-related stress will stay the same or become worse this year. Moreover, 4.5 million U.S. workers quit their jobs in November.
By the nature of their jobs in sectors such as retail, health care, first responders and manufacturing, among others, front-line workers don’t have the option of working remotely, Microsoft corporate VP for modern work Jared Spataro emphasized.
Microsoft’s Jared Spataro
“The past few years have been really challenging for everyone,” Spataro said. “But they’ve been especially challenging for these front-line workers who never really went home. These workers have weathered incredible challenges. We’re talking about health risks, labor shortages, supply chain issues and more. Despite their central nature though, these roles have traditionally been underserved by technology.”
Emma Williams, Microsoft’s corporate VP for modern work transformation, outlined the new Viva Connections updates. Enhancements coming this month include worker shift scheduling and GPS support that will trigger audio notifications to find misplaced devices.
This month’s update will also give workers, notably those who deliver health-care services, a complete view of virtual appointments. The virtual appointments application will provide real-time updates of wait times, staffing availability and missed appointments.
In February, Teams Viva Connections will let workers request and manage approvals via line-of-business apps with Microsoft’s Power Apps component framework (PCF). The new Approval App for Teams will provide a front-end to various business processes that require approvals.
The push-to-talk Walkie Talkie app for Teams is also now available on all iOS and Android devices, according to Williams.
Microsoft’s Emma WIlliams
“Our strategy so far in the front-line space has really been to meet front-line workers where they are on the devices that they have today with the software solutions that they and their supervisors use today,” Williams said.
Microsoft’s new partnership with Zebra Technologies brings the Teams Walkie Talkie app to a broad range of its mobile devices. Among them are Zebra’s TC-series rugged mobile computers, its lighter weight EC-series and MC-series with barcode scanners. Zebra will provide dedicated push-to-talk (PTT) Teams buttons on the devices, and in some cases peripherals such as electronic pens.
Zebra will also release this month its Reflexis Shifts connector for Teams. The connector integrates with Zebra’s Reflexis Workforce Scheduler (RSW), which allows front-line workers to view, assign and manage shift requests.
“It connects the front-line manager and the front-line employee together with real time sync for viewing shifts, assigning shifts, managing shifts, approving shift changes, which just makes it easier for everybody on the frontlines,” Williams said.
Integrating Workday and Expressive to Viva Connections aims to bridge a gap among management and front-line workers at many companies. Microsoft’s new Workforce Trend Index report found that 63% of frontline workers aren’t effectively connected to managers and leadership.
The integration of the popular Workday and Expressive HR applications will bring those communications into Teams. Microsoft will release support for Expressive next month with the Workday integration to Viva Connections scheduled for later this year.
When Microsoft released Viva Learning in November, it launched with integrations to various learning management systems (LMS). Among them are SAP SuccessFactors, Cornerstone OnDemand and Saba Cloud.
Access to those solutions is set to become generally available this month. Microsoft also has added to its list of learning content providers EdCast and OpenSesame, who will join existing partners GO1 and Coursera.
Microsoft officials believe there is significant demand for LMS integration with Viva Learning. According to the Workforce Trend Index, more than half of those surveyed for Microsoft’s report responded that their employers aren’t adequately training them how to do their jobs more effectively. Enhancements to the Microsoft Viva Learning module aims to address those issues.
Jeffrey Schwartz has covered the IT industry for nearly three decades, most recently as editor-in-chief of Redmond magazine and executive editor of Redmond Channel Partner. Prior to that, he held various editing and writing roles at CommunicationsWeek, InternetWeek and VARBusiness (now CRN) magazines, among other publications.
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