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Microsoft and Partners Team Up To Strengthen Tech Tools for Frontline Workers

A bevy of product improvements and updates are coming for frontline workers, Microsoft announced this week

Products getting support for frontline worker scenarios include Microsoft Endpoint Manager (MEM), Microsoft Teams, plus the Viva Connections and Viva Learning applications. Microsoft also highlighted partner support from companies such as SAP, Workday, Zebra Technologies Corp. and more.

Frontline Workers and Technology
A newly published "Special Report," from Microsoft's "Work Trend Index" report series, focused on frontline worker concerns. A summary, with links to the full report, can be found in this announcement.

The report included responses to questions about corporate culture, training (or lack thereof), stress, the effects of technology on jobs and the effects of technologies on continued employment prospects.

While 63 percent of frontline workers indicated that they were excited by the job opportunities afforded by technology, 46 percent also said that they worry about losing their jobs if they don't adapt to a new technology.

This problematic mixture of views perhaps has an upside, according to an assessment by Jared Spataro, corporate vice president for modern work at Microsoft. In an accompanying announcement, Spataro suggested that (presumably still-employed) frontline workers are gradually embracing automation and AI as being helpful:

For decades, technology has been positioned as something to fear, rather than embrace, on the frontlines. From automation to AI, many workers worried it might make their jobs obsolete. The idea that technology can assist or enhance human ingenuity is an idea that's starting to take hold. Sixty-three percent of frontline workers are excited about the opportunities created by technology, and it ranked third in a list of factors that could help reduce work-related stress.

The data for Microsoft's frontline worker Special Report was gathered by the company Edelman Data x Intelligence. It polled "9,600 full-time or part-time employed frontline workers across eight (8) industries and eight (8) markets, between October 28 and November 19, 2021."

Microsoft Endpoint Manager Perks
Some coming MEM enhancements will help with frontline worker scenarios, including expanded Shared Device Mode support for apps and audio alerts for lost Android Enterprise devices.

Microsoft is adding support in Microsoft Intune (a management capability included in MEM) for managing so-called "third-party" applications that aren't optimized for sharing among workers when they are using Android Enterprise-based devices. This so-called "Shared Device Mode" support for "nonoptimized apps" reached "general availability" (commercial release) on Wednesday, but just for the Microsoft Teams app and the Managed Home Screen on Android.

It's not clear when Shared Device Mode support would arrive for other Android Enterprise-based applications. "We are actively working to optimize Microsoft 365 apps with Shared device mode, but do not currently have public timelines to share," Microsoft explained in this December post on the topic. The Shared Device Mode functionality is based on Azure Active Directory use.

Frontline workers can sometimes lose their Android Enterprise-based mobile devices, or the devices can get stolen. MEM already has the ability to show a map for such lost devices if those devices have GPS capabilities. Now, Microsoft is planning to add the ability for IT pros to turn on an audio alert on Android Enterprise devices to help find them. This audio alert feature is expected to reach "general availability" (commercial release) sometime "this quarter."

Microsoft also plans to ease matters for IT pros using MEM and the Azure Virtual Desktop virtual desktop infrastructure service for frontline workers. Azure Virtual Desktop will have "single- and multi-session support for Azure Active Directory (Azure AD) joined devices" at the GA stage "later in 2022" (support is currently at the preview stage).

The coming Azure AD-joined device support will add the flexibility to use "device-only policies" with the Azure Virtual Desktop service. It will enable "greater flexibility for the frontline worker that needs to have more than one session of Azure Virtual Desktop on the go," Microsoft explained.

Sometime this quarter, it'll be possible for IT pros to "customize the user configuration on Azure Virtual Desktop multi-session, which will help in customizing policy, certificates, VPN, and other specifics," Microsoft added.

Teams Perks
Microsoft is bringing the Teams Walkie Talkie application to Zebra mobile computers, as listed in this announcement. These devices are getting dedicated push-to-talk buttons. The Walkie Talkie app also has a digital push-to-talk button, which is "now available on all iOS mobile devices in addition to Android."

Additionally, Zebra Reflexis Workforce Management solutions will be getting a connector for Microsoft Teams sometime this month. The connector will enable coordination with the Microsoft Shifts application in Teams for scheduling worker shifts, Microsoft suggested.

The Microsoft Bookings app is getting a "scheduled queuing in virtual visits" capability sometime this month. It will show "a comprehensive view of virtual appointments in one location," including wait times and staffing delays. The "virtual appointment" term possibly means "scheduled appointment," but Microsoft didn't explain it.

A Power Apps Approvals app is adding the ability for frontline workers to "manage and request approvals in their line of business." It'll be possible to specify "mandatory comments and group approvals," too. These capabilities will reach the GA stage sometime this month, but will be available to users in February.

Viva Perks
Microsoft Viva Learning is getting the ability to integrate with learning management systems, which can be partner solutions. The learning management systems integrations will occur sometime this month. Examples of learning management system providers mentioned by Microsoft included "SAP SuccessFactors, Cornerstone OnDemand and Saba Cloud."

There are also "learning provider" partners that collaborate with Microsoft on Viva Learning integration. New learning partners EdCast and OpenSesame were described as coming on board in February to provide content, joining existing partners Coursera and Go1.

Viva Connections for worker collaborations is getting new partner support with Espressive and Workday solutions getting integrated in February. Microsoft Teams users will be able to stay in Teams and use those applications. The Workday integration, for instance, will have an "intelligent clock in and clock out experience" for frontline workers. The Espressive integration will help "automate the resolution of employee questions, issues and requests."

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