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Microsoft tweaks Teams and Viva to help bridge gap between frontline workers and their managers, among other things

Want a pay rise and paid leave? Can't help you there. Need better workplace tech? Walk this way...

As the 1 February general availability of its Cloud for Retail nears, Microsoft today tweaked its Teams and Viva platforms and published a report highlighting the challenges it believes frontline workers face.

Microsoft's definition of a frontline worker is, according to Jared Spataro (the company's CVP for Modern Work), "folks who were not able to go home and did all their work in person" – an admittedly broad definition covering everyone from those staffing production lines and keeping power grids running to healthcare workers and staffers waiting on tables.

Company CEO Satya Nadella had previously highlighted the 2 billion or so workers that fit the definition as a segment that would benefit from Microsoft's tech, even before the pandemic hit.

The report, from a survey of 9,600 employees and managers over eight industries across five continents comes as Microsoft, unsurprisingly, launches some new features in its Teams platforms aimed at bridging the gap between manager and worker and building workplace culture.

It found that while 76 per cent of workers felt bonded to their peers (notable thanks to the pandemic-induced stresses), over 60 per cent reckoned that communication from the top wasn't great, and that their company could do more. Worse, 51 per cent in non-management positions on the frontline didn't feel particularly valued.

It's not great, particularly as workers ponder a change in employment (the survey noted that a record 4.5 million Americans quit their jobs in November) and stresses continue to mount. How to reduce the stress? 64 per cent reckoned a pay increase would help. Half thought paid time off needed to be taken and hovering at third was better technology tools.

Sure, everyone's stressed out. So what better time than now to inflict new Teams technology on people?

That said, Microsoft noted an average 400 per cent jump in monthly Teams usage between March 2020 and November 2021, with Healthcare and Financial Services leading the way at 560 per cent and 550 per cent respectively. Some employees, however, are struggling with the new technology – older workers (aged 41 and up) sometimes had problems adapting, according to the survey, while the younger employees (40 and under) found tech in the workplace some distance behind what they were used to.

While Microsoft can't do much about frontline worker pay and holidays, it is keen to trumpet its employee experience platform, Viva, as a way of linking frontline workers with company culture and making the accessing of resources, such as HR, easier. It is also enhancing the integration of Teams to Zebra Reflexis to connect the workforce management platform with Teams' Shifts application.

It's all very, very, er, exciting stuff and, as Emma Williams, a Microsoft corporate vice president, noted: "Empowering frontline workers remains essential for digital transformation."

However, while all the learning and empowerment tech in the world is all well and good, it is hard to escape the top two ways of reducing stress, according to the survey: pay frontline workers more and give them paid leave. ®

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