You’ll see recent and upcoming updates to Teams for frontline workers and admins. Timely communication and access to information on the ground makes for faster decision making and leads to increased job satisfaction. We’re building distinct frontline experiences crafted for Teams to bring the whole workforce together to communicate and collaborate on one unified platform. Microsoft Team’s Vice President, Kristina Behr, joins Jeremy Chapman to share updates for using Teams on the frontline.
00:46 — Core frontline worker capabilities in Teams
03:17 — Improvements on Teams mobile app (Viva Connections)
04:45 — Walkie Talkie updates
05:50 — Admin experience: Mobile device management updates
07:09 — New onboarding wizard
10:15 — How prepopulated policy package works
11:52 — Integrate Teams with custom apps
13:02 — What’s next for Teams for frontline workers?
13:51 — Wrap up
Check out our show on Viva Connections at https://aka.ms/VCmechanics
Find more on Teams for frontline workers at https://aka.ms/frontline-workforce
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- Up next, we’re joined by Microsoft Teams Vice President, Kristina Behr, to look at recent and upcoming updates to Teams for frontline workers. From new mobile app experiences with Microsoft Viva Connections and updates to the Teams Walkie Talkie experience for frontline workers to connect and collaborate on the go, to simplified provisioning and device management experiences for admin supporting frontline staff, new APIs and connectors to integrate Teams with your existing workforce management solutions, and more. So, Kristina, it’s great to have you on the show.
- Thanks for having me on.
- So on Mechanics, we’ve followed how we’re enabling this segment of the workforce specifically for several years now. And as we’ve all seen in the last 18 months or so have really placed frontline workers in the spotlight, from nurses and doctors to essential workers across every major industry. So, how does this then play into the types of capabilities that we’re bringing to Microsoft Teams?
- So, first, I am glad that this segment of the workforce is getting more and more recognized. There are around two billion frontline workers globally today, and until recently, their needs haven’t always been prioritized in the industries that they serve or even by the tech industry. So, our primary focus is to drive equal access to technology for frontline workers everywhere. In this case, it’s via the same Microsoft Teams in use by the rest of their organization, all the way from the top floor to the shop floor. And we’re building distinct frontline experiences crafted for Teams to bring the whole workforce together and communicate and collaborate on one unified platform.
- So, how are you determining then what kind of goes into the experience for frontline workers?
- Yeah, right, we’re not building features just because we can. We are building experiences that you, our customers, tell us are needed. Every new innovation originates from a point of empathy. My team regularly shadows organizations with frontline workers to develop digital tools to make their lives easier. We’re talking about a highly mobile segment of the workforce. As you can see here with the example of UK retailer, Marks and Spencer, whose frontline personnel work in shifts and use Teams, not only to see and manage them, but to quickly see and communicate with others while working on the go. Teams also helps to replace less efficient paper-based practices, with tasks and daily goals digitally assigned by managers to frontline staff so that they can focus on their efforts and quickly log completion status. Then, beyond the instant chat and calling that you expect from Teams, we also support traditional walkie talkie-style communication. Like you can see here with US-based Suffolk Construction Company, who now have a better way to quickly find and communicate with colleagues over a secure and private channel without signal interference. In fact, the beauty of all of the communication modalities supported by Teams is that they are accessible by design on the single device you are carrying. And of course, timely communication and access to information on the ground not only makes for faster decision-making, but we can see that it leads to increased job satisfaction.
- And these are great examples and a good summary of some of the core frontline worker capabilities that Microsoft Teams provides. Of course, there are even more if we look at other industries such as healthcare, where we enable HIPAA-compliant communication that leverages the Microsoft 365 Security and Compliance backbone. That said, as you mentioned, something that all frontline workers across all industries share in common is their higher level of mobility. So, can you share then what we’ve done to improve their experience on the Teams mobile app?
- Sure, so here, we’ve done a ton of work for shared and employee-owned devices running the Teams app. And this is the first update that speaks to the work that we’re doing to make frontline workers feel more connected to their organization through easy access to company communications, which can greatly help with morale and retention. Microsoft Viva Connections, which comes as part of your Microsoft 365 subscription, gives you a curated, company-branded experience and is integrated with the Teams mobile app. As a frontline worker, I can access a company-branded destination from my phone. I can see my upcoming shifts, tasks that have been assigned to me, company news highlighted right here on the top of my feed, and other important resources curated all in one place. And switching views here. As an admin, the information presented to workers for the role in the company can be personalized to a specific job focus and location. So, for example, you can target communications to the staff in a specific store branch.
- And in many respects, this is a more direct form of engagement versus reading company updates on the notice board in a break room. In fact, we did a dedicated show with lead engineer, Adam Harmetz on Viva Connections that you can check out at aka.ms/VCmechanics. Now, what I also like is that we’ve made all these new experiences super easy to find.
- They are. In fact, if we look at the other updates, you can see that I have Walkie Talkie pinned. It’s a great way to have an open voice channel for real-time communication, and we’ve just extended its capabilities and the platforms we’re on. Here, for example, you can see I’m using an iPhone and Walkie Talkie is now generally available in iOS. And since I’ve tapped on it, it’s asking which channel to contact. I’ll pause here, because it gets better as we’re now building interoperability between the Teams Walkie Talkie capability and dedicated walkie talkie devices that you may be using like Zebra, the leading device manufacturer for frontline worker devices.
- Great, so why don’t we try this out? So, I’ve actually got a Zebra device right here.
- And so, I’ll Walkie Talkie you on the device and you can get an idea of how it works. And you can see, this is pretty seamless. I could reach and contact you using a shared frontline device.
- Awesome, and that’s really going to help unify organizations around a common platform while leveraging existing investments. So, why don’t we switch gears to look at updates to the mobile device management experience for our admins who are watching, since they play one of the most critical roles in ensuring equal access to technology for frontline workers. Last time, we looked at shared Android device management, but what’s new there?
- There are a number of recent device management updates. Earlier this year, we delivered a solution using Microsoft Endpoint Manager to manage shared Android and iOS devices. So, frontline workers can use a device from a pool of shared devices, sign in for a personalized experience during their shift, and return the device to the pool when their shift is finished. What’s great about this is that it now applies to devices running Android Open Source Project, or AOSP. This means that Microsoft Teams can integrate with tailor-made devices like RealWear heads up and hands-free displays used for manufacturing and maintenance. Here you can see engineers from Honeywell using RealWear displays remote field servicing, and they’re able to share and communicate what they’re seeing through a live camera to their colleagues using Teams and get additional expert guidance on tasks, which has been critical in keeping up with work orders during the pandemic.
- It’s really great to see how we’re extending mobile management to really any modern Android device to support a broader set of use cases. Now, the other good news for admins is just how easy it is to onboard frontline workers onto the Teams platform with a custom experience.
- And this is an area we’re investing a ton of time on. We are introducing a wizard to streamline the process of provisioning frontline workers as part of a team, with new role-based controls if you are a manager or a frontline staff. Here, for example, I have a custom frontline worker experience that IT has set up for me with a consolidated view of my pinned channels and recent tasks. These channels are thematic to help with scoped conversations around a given topic. And you can see here, one for curbside pickup and another for learning. My tray has been configured specifically for my needs. So, for example, I don’t use a calendar because I’m not setting up a meeting, but I do see Shifts, Tasks, and Walkie Talkie. And then when I tap into a channel, I’m brought into the Teams conversation experience and there are already a lot of posts. And this is a persistent thread. So even as a new person on the team, I can quickly get context on trending conversations. And now, in the tabs above, I have a custom app set up for me too. So under More there’s a tab called Learning Planner. And I’ll open it and I can see the assigned training and related tasks. And this experience has been built from a template in a fraction of the time it used to take. In fact, Jeremy, as a former IT admin yourself, why don’t you walk us through the new experience?
- Sounds good, but first, to level set, normally when you set up a group of frontline workers with a team, team owner, custom channels and tabs, and all the required licensing per user, you’d be jumping in between the Microsoft 365 and Teams admin centers in really different areas within each of those. Now, the onboarding wizard really helps streamline the steps and you can find it in the Microsoft 365 admin center under Setup. And then from there, once you get started, you’ll be guided through the entire experience. So, first you’ll need to give the team a name. Now, we’re going to go ahead and add an owner, Megan, in this case, and this is typically going to be a frontline manager. Then by default, a private team would be created, but you can also set the team public, for example, which is useful if you’ve got maybe a morale team where you want people to freely self-enroll. Next, here’s where it gets really powerful. You can use team prebuilt templates or create your own. Now, if you’re new to templates, they include the right predefined channels and apps. Then, next in team members, here, you can either add individuals or groups to the team. I’m going to go ahead and a few people, I’ll add one more here, and then I’ll add a group. And one thing to note here is that the owner and worker roles or groups need to have been added to your Microsoft 365 tenant before going through this process. And from here, I can assign the details for frontline managers and workers.
- And let me stop you here, Jeremy, because this is the part that you couldn’t easily do before. Today if you add frontline workers to your tenant, the default Teams policy will kick in. And depending on how it was set up for the whole organization, it may be more optimized for your office workers versus your frontline staff. This changes with the new wizard in that you can more easily determine the policy package that each frontline role gets.
- And that’s really a great point. You know, the benefit that we’re providing here is that we’ll pre-populate a frontline worker or frontline manager role to receive the right policy package in the wizard. So, let me show you how this works. So, here I can see that I have a tab for individuals that I assigned, including the team owner and one for the group. Now, in the Role column, you’ll see it’s already assigned default roles, which, in turn, is assigning the policy package, as you mentioned. So, Megan here will get the frontline manager package and then everyone else will get the frontline worker package. Now, let me show you an example of how these two different packages differ by roles. On the left, what you’re seeing is the messaging policy for frontline managers, and on the right, you’re the messaging policy for frontline workers. And you’ll see that for frontline workers, we switch off a few things by default, but this is entirely customizable for your organization. Now, going back to the wizard, you’re going to see that it automatically pre-populates the Location and also the License type columns. And you can make changes here based on available licenses. In fact, because Megan is a manager, I’m going to change her license from F1 to F3, so she gets a few more capabilities. Next, I can send a status email to others, perhaps the IT team, or a shared mailbox to track team creation. And this will then let them know that this team has been created along with its details and that’s it. Now, I just need to confirm, and it will create the team with the memberships and roles in place. And from there, each member will receive a welcome experience to onboard them. So, if you have experience then in setting up frontline workers in Teams before, you’re going to notice quite a few different time savers, especially for policy package assignment. Of course, another area that’s improving with the latest round of updates is how we help you integrate Teams with your custom apps and your solutions.
- Yes, thanks. We’ve continued our efforts to partner with some of the most popular solution providers to connect their experiences with Microsoft Teams. This is both at the programmatic level for developers, where we’ve published a set of APIs. And we also have an increasing number of connectors available for admins to easily create secure connections with their existing workforce management systems, like Blue Yonder or Reflexis. And here, you can see we have a Reflexis shift schedule open. Anything here is automatically synced and replicated in the Teams calendar. And we’ve recently built APIs to connect your apps with approvals in Teams. In fact, here’s a mobile power app where I can submit an inventory request. I’ll choose the product I want and the number of units, and now I’ll sign and submit a request for approval. And if I flip over to the manager view, you’ll see that the request is the top of my list pending my approval. So, I’ll go ahead and approve it.
- Awesome, so both your people and your apps can come together with a unified experience in Teams. So, what are you and the team focused on next?
- We’ll continue to focus on improving frontline worker productivity tools and supporting essential worker experiences like the virtual visits that we do in healthcare, which we are bringing to other industries. In fact, from an industry perspective, we’re creating more specialized collaborative workflows. For example, machine maintenance and manufacturing or loan management and financial services, where multiple people work together. And for our IT admins, we’re expanding our partnerships with workforce management providers to build more connectors. And like the provisioning experience we just saw, we’re building more tools to help get started, create pilots and speed up deployment, as well as ongoing management of frontline worker experiences at scale.
- And these are going to be really great updates for using Teams on the frontline. We covered a lot today. So, where should people go to get started with some of these capabilities?
- We’ve published everything you need to know with Teams for frontline workers in one place at aka.ms/frontline-workforce.
- Thanks so much for joining us today, Kristina. Of course, keep checking back on Microsoft Mechanics for the latest updates, subscribe if you haven’t already, and thank you so much for watching.
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