By Matt Weston, founder and managing director of Vantage 365
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, nearly two billion frontline workers across the world have played a vital role in supporting our communities and economies, all while battling various health risks, supply chain problems, and labour shortages.
With almost 90% of organisations believing that their success depends on empowering frontline staff, according to a recent report from Harvard Business Review Analytic Services, it is clear how important these workers are. However, the same research also found 86% of organisations agree that their frontline workers need better technology and more insight to allow them to make the best possible decisions.
While Microsoft 365 has already achieved much in enabling workforces to embrace collaboration and streamline processes, as well as improve wellbeing and personal development, it is clear that the software needs to go further in order to better equip frontline workers for the challenges that the pandemic continues to present to them.
That is why Microsoft has rolled out a raft of new updates to 365, aimed specifically at giving frontline staff the tools they need to excel and thrive in their roles.
Easier remote access to resources
Technologies within Microsoft 365, like Teams’ Viva Connections function, have played an instrumental role in bridging cultural and communication gaps that have arisen between leadership and frontline workforce in light of the coronavirus crisis.
To strengthen the level of support in filling these gaps, Microsoft has now introduced new integrations in the Viva Connections app.
These integrations will afford workers considerably easier access to crucial company resources and actions, such as payroll and HR, from a single location.
In addition to this, training has been made more accessible with updates to the Viva Learning app, helping to streamline workflows for assigning learning, while an extensive, new library of educational content will assist workers in upskilling and training, all in the flow of work.
With members of staff often working from multiple locations, supporting employees in their personal development has been a particular challenge for employers. The introduction of these features, therefore, will surely make remote training a far easier and more organised process, and give workers instant access to the resources they need to carry out their duties most effectively.
Making content more accessible
Many workers with disabilities have been acutely affected by the pandemic and working separately from their usual places of work.
With over half of disabled workers – 53% – having worked from home during the crisis, a large number needed new reasonable adjustments to be made to their working environment. According to figures from the TUC, 46% of disabled workers who worked remotely requested reasonable adjustments, but failed to get all or some of them made so that they could work more effectively.
In recognition of this, Microsoft has acted to make accessibility a focal point across its 365 apps, enabling all employees to more easily collaborate and contribute.
This includes simplifying accessible authoring through the addition of a new option to run Accessibility Checker in the background while using Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, thereby flagging any accessibility issues, and enabling workers to correct them in their flow of work.
Further to this, the ability for users to provide alternative text [alt text] – which makes image-heavy, digital documents more accessible for screen reader users – for images that they share in Microsoft Teams Chat on Windows.
Excel also now provides screen reader users with automatic alt text for charts and PivotCharts, which is generated on-demand from the point that the screen reader reaches the object to ensure that it is based on the most recent data.
These steps acknowledge the various accessibility challenges that many workers have experienced during the pandemic, and help to remove the barriers that some employees face when working remotely.
New features to boost productivity
Microsoft has also added the ability to see the order of raised hands to Teams and brought core Microsoft Visio capabilities to the 365 suite.
The raised hands feature in Teams allows meeting participants to tell presenters that they would like to speak or have a question without the need to interrupt. With the new order function installed, Teams can now display the chronological order of raised hands, enabling presenters to know the order of who to call on first to speak so that no participant is missed.
In a time when organisations have become so reliant on video conferencing technologies to stay connected with colleagues, this addition will help make meetings more efficient and productive, and ensure that all participants can have their views, ideas and questions heard.
With more businesses shifting to hybrid working, processes often need to be transformed, with diagrams presenting a strong method of illustrating how work will need to be done. To make diagramming more accessible, core Visio capabilities have been brought to Microsoft 365, allowing users to create, edit, share, and co-author diagrams with team members across their organisation. This entails greater access to popular diagram templates and shapes, making it easier to visualise key business processes.
All employees deserve to thrive, and remote working should not be seen as an obstacle to working most effectively. In fact, for many organisations, remote working has been hugely successful, and as such it has become a common part of normal business operations that is likely to stay for good.
With companies moving in greater numbers towards implementing a permanent hybrid working strategy, services like Microsoft 365 will only grow in importance, so it is essential that the technology is made fit for purpose for the demands and challenges of working remotely.
These recent updates are just the first steps that Microsoft is making towards helping frontline workers feel more connected and empowered in their roles, and play a hugely integral part in enabling a greater number of organisations to embrace digital transformation.