Empowering 2 billion global frontline workers

Three photos of people working in retail businesses

The past two years have been challenging for everyone, especially frontline workers tasked with keeping the proverbial lights on throughout the pandemic. From healthcare to hospitality, the manufacturing floor to the retail sales floor, these workers have weathered health risks, labor shortages, supply chain issues and more.

So, it’s not surprising to hear they’re ready for change. They want help prioritizing culture and well-being and, despite their essential roles, feel underserved by technology and training. Those are some of the key findings from our latest Work Trend Index report, which focuses on the experiences of the global frontline workforce. Just as the pandemic was a catalyst for spurring rapid digital transformation for information workers, our report suggests we’re at a similar inflection point on the front line.

“The frontline workforce, which represents nearly 2 billion people worldwide, is the backbone of communities and economies around the world. In fact, 88% of organizations employ people in frontline roles,” said Emma Williams, corporate vice president of Modern Work Transformations at Microsoft. “When frontline workers say something’s not working, we can’t afford to ignore them.”

The data spotlights the challenge nearly every business is facing today: how to balance employee well-being and growth with business results. Aligning these factors is a tremendous opportunity for business leaders – one that over the long term will drive positive outcomes for employees, customers and the bottom line. At the center is a prioritization of culture and an investment in technology that enables frontline workers to thrive.

“This research reveals a common fundamental need for a sharpened focus on sharing information, building skills and creating a healthy culture,” said Alysa Taylor, corporate vice president of Industry, Apps and Data Marketing at Microsoft. “We believe industry-specific technology tailored for the unique needs of frontline workers can help foster a more innovative, productive and engaged workforce.”

Let’s dive into the details.

Prioritizing culture and communication

Microsoft Chairman and CEO Satya Nadella has said organizational culture is formed by the connection of employees to each other, their manager and company mission. Our findings show the employee-to-employee connections are strong, with 76% feeling “very bonded” to their peers. But it’s the other two binding ties that have frayed. Most frontline employees feel workplace culture isn’t a priority across their leadership teams.

Culture simply isn’t possible without communication, which is uniquely difficult for frontline workers, who are often dispersed and have limited access to technology. Ensuring a reliable flow of communication is difficult, and employees are feeling the effects. Sixty-three percent of workers say messages from leadership don’t make it to them, and one-third feel their voice isn’t being heard when communicating workplace issues.

We believe managers, paired with the right tools, play a key role in building and strengthening an organization’s culture. So, we’re dialing up resources and technology to support this vital group of people:

  • We’re updating the Viva Connections app in Microsoft Teams. Viva Connections can play a role in bridging the culture and communication gap, allowing leaders to share messages, updates, recognition and kudos – a consistent sense of culture that’s appropriate for the entire workforce. It also enables frontline workers to share feedback with leadership, creating a critical two-way information flow.
  • We’re also announcing new integrations for Viva Connections with strategic partners like Workday and Espressive that make accessing important resources easier and put actions like payroll and HR resources in one location – connecting the frontline to corporate teams.
  • To make on-the-job frontline communication easier, we’re deepening our strategic partnership with Zebra Technologies, a world leader in software and hardware for frontline workers. Today, we’re announcing the general availability of the Walkie Talkie app in Microsoft Teams, with a dedicated push-to-talk button on a wide range of Zebra mobile devices, as well as general availability on any iOS mobile device.
  • We’re enhancing Teams’ integration with Zebra Reflexis™, which connects the Reflexis Workforce Management solutions with the Shifts applications in Teams. This new integration streamlines shift scheduling and time off requests in Teams, making it easy for managers.

Optimism for technology

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.

We’re excited to announce solutions and updates across Microsoft technology that remove friction and streamline daily tasks for frontline workers:

  • Virtual appointments in Microsoft Teams with scheduled queuing provides real-time updates on wait times, missed appointments and staffing delays to offer valuable insights to employees and a more transparent experience for customers.
  • New support for shared devices means an IT-triggered audio alert for misplaced devices.
  • Microsoft Cloud for Retail, generally available Feb. 1, provides a comprehensive, tailored set of capabilities for retailers of any type. It empowers retail frontline workers with the insights, resources and data they need to deliver a better customer experience. This solution is part of a broader set of industry-specific cloud offerings that provide customized solutions for manufacturing, healthcare, finance and more.

Bridging the tech equity and training gap

While the promise of technology is significant, getting there requires both access and training. Given one-third of frontline workers feel they don’t have the right technology to do their jobs effectively, the opportunity here is a big one. And once the right tools are in the right hands, training becomes the next piece of the puzzle. Fifty-five percent of frontline workers have been given tools without any training, leaving them to adapt and self-train on their own.

Our Viva Learning app makes it easy for employees to discover, share and track the latest learning content from Microsoft Teams – so a company’s entire workforce can stay up to date on required and recommended training.

New updates will make it easier to assign learning from partner solutions like SAP SuccessFactors, Cornerstone OnDemand and Saba Cloud. New partnerships with learning providers like EdCast and OpenSesame connect workers to an extensive content library that can help them upskill and train, all in the flow of work.

To learn more about these new products and updates, please visit Emma Williams’ latest blog post.

The data shows we’re at an inflection point. Business leaders have an opportunity to adopt a new way of thinking and doing business – one that prioritizes frontline workers. Not just because it’s the right thing to do (though it is), but because it’s the only way succeed into the future. We’re committed to supporting organizations as they work to achieve better outcomes for everyone.

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