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Microsoft Teams Changes Aimed at Firstline Workers

Microsoft this week announced some planned enhancements to its Teams collaboration service that are aimed at supporting "firstline" workers.

Teams is a "collaboration workspace" application with chat, online meetings and file sharing capabilities that comes with various Office 365 business plans. For organizations wanting to support firstline workers specifically, Microsoft offers Teams as part of its Office 365 F1 and E1 plans.

On Wednesday, Microsoft announced a few new Teams improvements to support firstline worker scenarios. The improvements are either available today or are coming this quarter.

Teams Improvements
One area of improvement concerns the mobile Teams client. IT pros can now customize the "mobile Teams experience" for firstline workers. They can determine if the mobile client permits location sharing, "smart camera" use, and the ability to "record and share audio messages," for instance. Those customizable capabilities are "available starting today," Microsoft's announcement indicated.

Moreover, IT pros can now control the availability of Teams capabilities for these workers via a "newly available Firstline Worker configuration policy template," which permits a form of role-based access control over Teams. Alternatively, IT pros can set custom policies for the organization's Teams users. It wasn't clear from Microsoft's announcement if the new template needed to be downloaded or whether it will just be available in an Office 365 management portal.

Microsoft also promised that it is devising new APIs that will let organizations integrate Teams with workplace management systems they may have installed. One of those APIs, called "Graph API for Shifts," will be available as a preview sometime this quarter.

Shifts is a Teams feature that is replacing the Microsoft StaffHub scheduling service for temporary workers. Microsoft plans to end StaffHub on Oct. 1, 2019, according to this support article.

Shifts previously was just available as part of the Teams developer preview releases back in November, according to a Microsoft Tech Community post. However, Microsoft additionally announced on Wednesday that Shifts in Teams has now reached "general availability" status, meaning that it's ready for use in production environments. Shifts will be "rolling out this month" to various Office 365 subscribers, the announcement added.

And while shift workers likely won't be getting cost-of-living wage increases anytime this year or the next, that limitation doesn't mean that employers can't send them a little cheap encouragement now and then. In that respect, Microsoft will be including a new "Praise tool" that managers can use to send "badges" to workers.

The badges are round graphical icons that illustrate thankful concepts. For instance, the "Awesome" badge shows a unicorn image, while the "Kind Heart" badge shows two hands shaking in a heart form. The new Praise tool will be coming to Teams sometime "this quarter," Microsoft indicated.

What's a Firstline Worker?
Microsoft defines a firstline worker as someone who serves as the "first point of contact between a company and the outside world." They are "often the first to engage customers" and to represent the company's brand, according to a Microsoft FAQ document for partners (Word .DOC download). They may also be shift workers or temporary workers.

Microsoft offers firstline worker support in two Microsoft 365 plans. The Microsoft 365 F1 licensing plan (formerly named the "K1" or "Kiosk" plan) is priced at $4 per user per month and was the first plan Microsoft published that was oriented toward firstline or "deskless" workers, according to a blog post by Interlink Cloud Advisors, a Microsoft partner.

There's also an E1 plan priced at $8 per user per month that bulks up the mailbox storage of the F1 plan and adds online meeting enhancements, plus SharePoint access.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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