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How Microsoft Teams is powering hybrid work and the frontline in manufacturing

We have learned over the past year that no business is impervious to everything. We also learned—or were reminded—how critical manufacturing ecosystems are to our daily lives. From essential commodities like toilet paper to life-saving personal protective equipment and ventilators, manufacturers really stepped up during the pandemic.

Now, manufacturers around the globe are straddling a bridge between yesterday, when most employees were physically present at work, and tomorrow, when hybrid work and the possibility of a safe return to the traditional factory floor will enable a path back to normalcy.

As Hannover Messe 2021 Digital Edition kicks off, it’s clear the manufacturing industry is accelerating its digital transformation—and the workforce and the workplace have changed forever.

Hybrid work is the new norm

To some extent, we can bank, shop, and even meet our doctors online, but a manufacturing frontline worker must continue to make what we need at the factory, and hence can’t stay at home. Manufacturers are increasingly talking about the ‘new normal’ of hybrid work and adapting new practices for ensuring safe and secure work in their factories.

When the pandemic hit, we saw customers accelerate their plans drastically, with two years of digital transformation occurring in just two months, and throughout the year we saw daily usage of Microsoft Teams double multiple times. Specifically, in the manufacturing industry, the daily active usage of Teams increased over 230 percent year-over-year. The need to digitally communicate and collaborate across an organization, while always important, is now essential.

Frontline workers have emerged as the heroes of the past year and business leaders are increasingly realizing the need to deploy tools that connect their entire organization, from corporate to the factory floor. Microsoft Teams is enabling new ways of working—from connecting the manufacturing workforce with Microsoft Cloud for Manufacturing and digitizing business processes, to streamlining onboarding and skilling the workforce.

The need for all workers to be connected to mission-critical information remains real. In many manufacturing scenarios, the expectation is that everyone should be able to call for remote support.

Teams is also empowering the frontline workforce with purpose-built solutions to enable them to succeed and be safe. Microsoft’s partnership with RealWear is key in making that happen by allowing heads-up and hands-free collaboration.

Three examples of RealWear headwear solutions that integrate with Microsoft Teams.

Typically, factories and frontline workers haven’t always been the first to see digital transformation investments, partially because both software and hardware need to come together to provide optimal experiences. Customers like Honeywell are conducting virtual inspections and factory acceptance tests using Microsoft Teams and RealWear with hands-free video calling. Remote experts can provide real-time guidance to the factory floor, leading to decreased machine downtime and cost savings plus ensuring worker safety in rugged environments.

Mars Petcare, for example, has been redefining how it’s upskilling its associates on the frontline to handle day-to-day preventative maintenance on their pet food manufacturing machinery and equipment. They’re using the RealWear hands-free wearable to connect to remote experts working from home today. Mars expects a hybrid model in the future with 80 percent of work travel being eliminated.

Coming soon, Microsoft Teams and RealWear will have voice commands to use the device flashlight and adjust zoom level for your outgoing video, making it easier for those on the plant floor to show what they see hands-free.

Extend and digitize manufacturing workflows

Microsoft Teams is unique in that once you connect your information and frontline workers on the same communications platform, you can digitize your workflows—bringing the tools and processes you already use right into the flow of work. Customers are using Teams and Power Platform to perform factory quality assurance, and Toyota has digitized their continuous improvement (Kaizen) process, accelerating it from months to days.

Approvals are a critical component of how manufacturing frontline workers get their job done. To streamline workflows, new templates in Teams provide a repeatable structure for common approvals, like requesting overtime. And integrations with key partners, like Adobe Sign and DocuSign, allow for an electronic signature approval natively within the Approvals app for contracts and permits on the factory floor that require formal attestation.

Just like how coffee to some is fundamental to starting the day, clocking-in to one’s shift is fundamental for factory workers. Now, with new Time Clock APIs, organizations can create rules such as how late someone can clock-in without requiring manager approval or requiring a health screening survey before clocking-in for the day.

Foster culture and learning in your team

Reskilling and upskilling the workforce through ongoing learning and development has become a top priority for manufacturers. Connect your corporate office to the factory floor, share important information with the right audience so that everyone is on the same page. New essential announcements in Yammer allows publishers to guarantee every frontline employee will see important community announcements, even if it’s outside of their preferred notification settings. Corporate teams can now also monitor, manage, and improve content they share with their frontline workforce, like new training or safety policies, with Yammer communities’ insights.

Additionally, Viva Learning provides easy access to training content for job-related learning to quickly onboard operators and constantly build their skills. Continue to learn more about the value coming in the Microsoft Viva roadmap here.

Learn more

For a deeper dive and a demo of Teams for manufacturing workflows, check out the Manufacturing day in the life with Microsoft Teams video.

Join us in a LinkedIn Ask-me-Anything conversation between Emma Williams, Corporate Vice President, Modern Workplace Transformation, and Andrew Chrostowski, CEO of RealWear, facilitated by Julie Sanford, General Manager of Global Industry Marketing. Tune in as they talk about what they’re hearing from manufacturing customers on the frontlines. 

To learn more about how to empower your frontline workforce to do more with Microsoft Teams, register for the upcoming webinar, check out this blog on virtual Kaizen Events, dig deeper into each product announcement in the tech community blog, and stay informed about Microsoft Cloud for Manufacturing to learn how you can help manufacture a more resilient and sustainable future.

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