Equipping Firstline Workers with Microsoft Teams May Start a Smarter Conversation

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Equipping firstline workers with Microsoft Teams

As we continue down the road of merging–or perhaps entirely replacing–traditional Main Street retail with online shopping, a need arises to better link the public-facing side of an enterprise with its internal operations. The people that operate at the nexus of this link are the firstline workers of the digital world, and they have unique tech demands.

Such employees often work without desks and on shared devices, making them outliers as a company assembles its unified communications strategy across departments and office branches. And they are the target of Microsoft’s 2019 campaign to expand the use of its flagship Teams workplace collaboration platform. The tech giant wants to change the way you think about these staff members by offering a firstline worker Microsoft Teams package dedicated to their unique requirements.

Targeting a Two Billion-Strong Workforce

According to Microsoft’s own research, there are around two billion people worldwide employed as firstline workers. These roles include retail sales assistants, store managers, hospitality workers, field operatives, and customer support staff. Basically, they are the first line of contact between an enterprise and its customers, the public face of a brand.

Firstline workers commonly share limited digital resources.

Their tech demands are easily understood through the retail sales situation we mentioned above. The staff of a clothing store doesn’t sit behind desks or have a dedicated terminal of their own within a shopfront. Instead, a roster of employees–many on flexible work arrangements–commonly share limited digital resources.

Equipping these firstline workers with Microsoft Teams is supposed to make it easier for them to integrate with the broader enterprise behind them. To this end, Microsoft has created a dedicated firstline package, called F1, that strips down the Teams experience to suit a mobile, somewhat transient workforce. The package was first referred to by its current abbreviation, F1, during the Teams launch in 2017. This year, however, it is getting some special attention.

Firstline Workers and Microsoft Teams

Earlier in 2019, Microsoft unveiled three new F1 features. These are a dedicated mobile platform, increased integration of operational tasks into the app, and a Praise tool that acts as a social media connection between staff and management.

These features are part of a stripped-down version of Teams–it does still include a video calling feature–that is available at a reduced $4/user a month subscription. For that price, the enterprise gets to keep its customer services teams on the same video and communications page as the rest of the organization.

Microsoft’s new focus will promote thinking around the tech needs of customer service and field operators.

It is essentially an abbreviated version of Teams that focuses on the requirements of employees who don’t need to be part of workplace collaboration standards such as file sharing, whiteboarding, and project coordination.

While it is meant to be a flexible tool to better integrate the external and internal company worlds, the package in effect reduces the Teams offering–although there is an expanded version available at twice the subscription fee. The use of bring-your-own-device connectivity in the public workplace may lend itself to a streamlined service, but you could perform all the F1 functions and much more by equipping even a single in-store desktop with the full Teams experience–or a rival such as the collaboration and video apps offered by Google or Slack.

What’s most important about Microsoft’s new focus is that it will promote thinking around the tech needs of customer service and field operators.

Video as the Face of a Brand

Microsoft is in effect using F1 as an upsell opportunity to get larger enterprise subscribers to extend their use of Teams to sales and customer service staff that don’t fit the typical workplace collaboration market.

The need for better consideration of these important brand ambassadors is, however, real, and the growing number of workplace collaboration apps are best placed to meet these needs. Such apps combine the video conferencing and communications capacity of a dedicated service such as Skype or Zoom with the management and workflow functions of Office 365 or Google’s G Suite.

Microsoft may be the first to explicitly target field staff for a video calling and collaboration solution.

Importantly, firstline workers can use the software to take care of management tasks such as filing payslips, accessing rosters, and communicating with offsite management for performance reviews and human resource matters. You can see Microsoft’s F1 management vision for yourself in the video below:

These functions aren’t exclusive to the F1 offer, of course. Slack, for instance, can perform the same functions even if it has yet to formally recognize firstline workers. There are also DIY solutions, such as embedding video conferencing portals directly into existing company sites and digital assets.

Microsoft may be the first to explicitly target field staff for a video calling and collaboration solution, and it’s a thoughtful solution for an overlooked segment of workers–but it’s also far from the only one out there.

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