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Retail store manager working with a customer, showing merchandise and providing customer service on-the-go using a tablet to locate inventory and place orders.

From empowering frontline workers to accessibility improvements—here’s what’s new in Microsoft 365

Technology has the power to unlock collaboration, streamline processes, and if used the right way, improve wellbeing and growth for critical parts of the global workforce. From technology that helps frontline workers communicate, learn, and serve customers to improvements that make content more accessible across Microsoft 365, we’re innovating to help organizations achieve better outcomes for everyone.

Before we jump into the latest product news, I’d like to highlight the new flexible work resources we’ve made available for you. Our redesigned hybrid work page demonstrates how Microsoft solutions can help you build flexibility across your organization and enable your employees to thrive in this new world of work. Please check out the new resources and let us know what you think.

Now, let’s dive into the news.

Empowering frontline workers

For the last two years, the nearly two billion global frontline workers have played a critical role in supporting our communities and economies, all while weathering health risks, supply chain issues, and labor shortages.

Nearly 90 percent of all organizations employ frontline workers. This means nearly every organization across every industry has faced the same challenge: balancing the needs of this critical workforce while also achieving business results.

Our latest research shows there is a tremendous opportunity for business leaders to drive positive outcomes for employees, customers, and the bottom line by prioritizing culture and communication while investing in technology that enables frontline workers to thrive.1 This month, we announced several new capabilities aimed at addressing the pain points being felt on the frontline, and to help with wellbeing, growth, productivity, and engagement.

Technology like Microsoft Viva Connections in Microsoft Teams can play a critical role in bridging cultural and communication gaps between leadership and the frontline workforce. This month, we added new integrations in the Viva Connections app with strategic partners Workday and Espressive, enabling workers to easily access important company resources and actions, like payroll and HR resources, in one location.

One tablet showing Viva Learning home screen and two mobile devices showing a mobile version of “Assigned to you” and a click down into the learning assigned for more details.

Setting employees up for success requires providing the right resources and training. To help make training more accessible, we have updated the Viva Learning app to streamline the workflow for assigning learning from partner solutions like SAP SuccessFactors, Cornerstone OnDemand, and Saba Cloud. And 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.  

Two tablets showing Viva Learning with a focus on the content providers Ed Cast and Open Sesame.

To help make communication on the frontlines easier, we’re deepening our strategic partnership with Zebra Technologies, a world leader in software and hardware for frontline workers. Earlier this month, we announced 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.

Zebra walkie talkie functionality, with the built-in P T T button for use with Microsoft Teams

To help remove friction from managing appointments, we’ve updated the Bookings app in Microsoft Teams to a comprehensive view of virtual appointments in one location, including real-time updates on wait times, queueing, missed appointments, and staffing delays to create a first-class experience for customers and patients.

One tablet showing virtual visits scheduled queuing which allows a worker to see all virtual appointments and rich details like wait times and access to send S M S reminders in one location. Also one mobile device showing a Teams meeting being used for a virtual consultation with a retail store.

To help provide workers with the flexibility to own their schedule, we’ve enhanced Teams’ integration with  Reflexis Workforce Scheduler (RWS)to create a seamless, real-time sync for viewing, assigning, and managing shift requests right within Teams.

One tablet screen from Zebra Reflexis Workforce Management system and one mobile device of Shifts in Teams on a Zebra device showing the same shift swapping information on both.

Earlier this month, my colleague Steve Dispensa wrote about how we’re helping provide workers on the frontline with protected devices that make their lives and daily jobs easier. Read the blog, Using technology to reduce the load on frontline workers, for more information.

Create content that everyone can use

Making content accessible enables employees to more easily collaborate and contribute, which is why we’re simplifying accessible authoring and bringing it into the flow of work across Microsoft 365 Apps.

Keeping accessibility front and center throughout the creating and editing process helps make remediating accessibility issues more manageable. We are currently rolling out a new option to run Accessibility Checker in the background while you work within Word, Excel, and PowerPoint for Windows. This will help flag accessibility issues for you to correct right in your flow of work.

Microsoft Word editing window showing a document with low text contrast in one section. A zoomed-in piece of the screen shows the “Accessibility: Investigate” indicator.

Alternative text (alt text) makes image-heavy, digital documents accessible to screen reader users. Recently, we rolled out the ability for users to provide alt text for images they share in Microsoft Teams Chat on Windows, with macOS coming soon. And Excel now provides screen reader users with automatic alt text for charts and PivotCharts, generated on-demand at the point the screen reader reaches the object to ensure that it’s based on the most recent data.

Teams chat window showing the dialog box for adding alt text to an image. The prompt says “How would you describe this image to someone who is blind or low vision?”

Creating content is a highly collaborative process, and in a hybrid world, that often means communicating asynchronously with each other. We’ve introduced several updates to Microsoft Teams to help enable flexibility in when and how you collaborate. Now, you can catch up or refresh yourself on what happened in unscheduled meetings or channel meetings with Live Transcript. For those who prefer to listen to the full recording, you can now adjust the variable playback speed (0.5 to 2 times) for Teams meeting recordings in Stream and view indexed recordings based on slide transitions to make it easier to listen at your own pace and quickly navigate to relevant content.

Remaining participants as well as the view from the camera in the Teams Room.

Increasing productivity with new features in your favorite apps

This month, we’re adding the ability to see the order of raised hands to Teams as well as bringing core Microsoft Visio capabilities to the Microsoft 365 suite.

The raised hands feature in Microsoft Teams enables meeting participants to inform presenters they want to speak or have a question without interruption. Now, Teams can show the chronological order of raised hands, helping presenters know the order of who to call on first to speak so that no participant is missed.

Teams meeting window showing the order of raised hands in the meetings participants box.

With the shift to hybrid work, business processes often need to be transformed and diagrams are a great way to illustrate how work gets done. To help make diagramming more accessible, we’re bringing core Visio capabilities to Microsoft 365, enabling you to create, edit, share, and coauthor diagrams with team members across your organization. With access to popular diagram templates and shapes, you can easily visualize any business process. The Visio web app in Microsoft 365 is now available to all users with a Microsoft 365 commercial subscription.

Microsoft Visio homepage in the Microsoft 365 web portal.

Also new this month

We launched a new Microsoft Edge training for business users. Register to learn how the fast and secure Microsoft Edge browser can help simplify your workday with intelligent search and innovative Microsoft experiences.

Looking to the future

Whether it’s helping frontline workers feel connected and empowered or making content more accessible for everyone, we’re committed to enabling every employee to thrive. We’ve got a lot more in store for 2022. Stay tuned.

1The Work Trend Index, WorkLab, Microsoft. January 12, 2022.

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