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Microsoft targets front-line workers with the Teams walkie-talkie feature

Microsoft targets front-line workers with the Teams walkie-talkie feature

Microsoft has added new features for front-line employees using its Teams workflow collaboration application, including a new walkie-talkie feature.

With 200 million monthly active users on Office 365, Microsoft has expanded its focus to workers in the hospitality, manufacturing and retail industries. Many of these employees have been neglected by IT in the past, the company argued, even if they are the first point of contact with customers or products.

Microsoft and others like Google and Facebook, with their corporate social network Workplace, see a profitable – and relatively untapped – market in front-line workers. Microsoft notes that there are now about two billion people worldwide in task- or service-oriented roles.

A number of updates arrived last week for Teams, the Microsoft Office 365 collaboration application. These include the walkie-talkie feature, which is built into the Teams mobile app and allows users to start a conversation with a colleague at the touch of a button or send an audio message just like on an analog device.

Unlike traditional walkie-talkies, there is no risk of interference or listening by strangers, Microsoft said in a statement. Because it is based on Wi-Fi or mobile data, the function can also be used in different geographical locations. The feature, available in preview «in the first half of this year», is designed to reduce the number of devices that workers carry and to reduce IT costs.

Push-to-Talk (PTT) will be integrated into the Samsung Galaxy XCover Pro, a rugged smartphone for business use and unveiled on Sunday at the end of CES. XCover Pro has two programmable buttons that users can press to activate the team voice option.

«Microsoft and Samsung have a deep history of bringing together the best hardware and software to help meet the challenges of our customers,» Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said in a statement. «The strong combination of Microsoft Teams and the new Galaxy XCover Pro builds on this partnership and will provide front-line workers everywhere with the technology they need to be more collaborative, productive and secure.»

The push-to-talk option should help Microsoft, as it targets front-line workers with its products, said Raúl Castañón-Martínez, a senior analyst at 451 Research.

«Usually, these workers have not been within reach of IT and business communications, but they are becoming increasingly relevant to digital transformation initiatives,» he said. «Adding PTT to teams is particularly relevant, as in many cases front-line workers can benefit from a ‘face-to-face, hands-free’ approach to mobile communications.»

Other features announced by Microsoft include integration with Microsoft Tasks in teams; integration with third-party labor management platforms from Kronos and JDA; and identity and management features, such as SMS authentication using unique codes sent to a smartphone; delegated user management; and disconnecting the shared device.

This is not the first time Microsoft has offered Teams features to front-line workers. A year ago, the company added location sharing, the ability to record and share audio messages, and an image annotation camera module. It has also incorporated features aimed at front-line workers from separate services, including the StaffHub change management tool and the Kaizala WhatsApp communications application.