Microsoft has added several features to Teams aimed at expanding use of the collaboration application among front-line workers. This includes a Viva Connections mobile app, updates to approvals, and improvements to virtual medical visit management.
While much of the focus around Teams during the pandemic has centered on knowledge workers and the ongoing boom in video meetings, use of the app by front-line workers has increased significantly too, up 150% over the past year, Microsoft said.
Microsoft is one of a number of productivity and collaboration software providers targeting workers in front-line roles, such as those in the retail, manufacturing, and healthcare sectors. These “deskless” jobs have tended to be subject to less investment in digital tools from businesses, though spending has grown in recent years. Facebook’s Workplace and Google’s Workspace both have dedicated pricing and features for front-line workers, for example, as does Microsoft 365.
From the end user perspective, demand for collaboration tools among front-line workers will continue to rise, according to a recent survey from 451 Research titled “Voice of the Enterprise Workforce Productivity & Collaboration: Work Execution Goals & Challenges Q2 2021.”
“We believe that demand for collaboration tools for front-line workers is likely to increase; survey results show that 6 of 10 front-line workers expect that the amount of time that they spend collaborating with their colleagues will likely increase significantly or slightly, more than twice as many as non-front-line workers,” said Raúl Castañón, senior analyst at 451 Research, a division of S&P Global Market Intelligence.
The 451 Research survey also showed that 6 out of 10 survey respondents use their smartphones for business purposes several times a day, compared to 4 out of 10 for non-front-line workers.
Virtual healthcare visits in Teams
With the Teams updates announced on Tuesday, Microsoft is attempting to address the diverse needs of front-line workers in several ways.
Among these is a focus on front-line healthcare workers, in particular around virtual visits that have proliferated during the pandemic due to social distancing measures.
There are several enhancements to the virtual visit experience, both for patients and administrative staff. A scheduled queuing feature — in private preview — provides an overview of visit information, with real-time updates on wait times, staffing delays, and missed appointments. From here, appointment reminders can be sent to patients via SMS and email, helping reduce the risk of patients not turning up.
A virtual visit waiting room, also in private preview, will allow healthcare providers to add their logo and personalized messages.
Available now, patients can attend a virtual visit via their browser, rather than requiring that they install the Teams app on their device. Patients can also schedule and access virtual visits from Cerner’s electronic health record (EHR) system portal or a link from an SMS message, while providers can launch a visit from Cerner’s PowerChart, thanks to the Teams EHR connector. The EHR connector is now available for Epic’s EHR system too.
Approvals, Viva Connections, and onboarding wizard
The other Teams updates have a more general focus for front-line worker uses across multiple sectors. Among these is the upcoming general availability of Microsoft’s Viva Connections. The brandable Teams-based intranet tool — part of the wider Viva employee experience ecosystem introduced by Microsoft earlier this year — will be available as a mobile app from next month, Microsoft said. This will provide access to several Microsoft applications such as Shifts, Approvals, and Tasks without switching screens, with information presented on adaptive cards.
An update to the Approvals capability in Teams sees Docusign added as a partner, available from next month, allowing approval requests to be created and sent in Teams. The Approvals app will also be integrated with Microsoft Word, available now.
“Microsoft is aware of the influx of workers, especially front-line workers, who are connected to each other, but perhaps not through IT-provided platforms,” said Wayne Kurtzman, research director at IDC. When provided with digital collaboration and productivity tools, “these workers create a massive number of data points that some companies are ready to utilize to drive customer and employee experience — and others will be,” he said.
Teams has long been at the forefront of Microsoft’s efforts to woo front-line workers. Since 2018, the app has incorporated time clock and scheduling features for shift workers and their managers, mobile enhancements such as location sharing, a “walkie-talkie” feature, Yammer Communities for training and knowledge sharing in Teams, and a task management tool for distributed teams.
“Microsoft is also focusing on expanding their new Viva product to better quantify worker engagement and experiences,” said Kurtzman.