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Frontline workers say better tech tools can reduce pandemic stress but fear they won’t adapt fast enough, Microsoft survey finds

January 12, 2022, 6:12 PM UTC
Updated January 12, 2022, 6:15 PM UTC

Nurses, waiters, factory employees and other frontline workers are struggling mightily in the pandemic and want better technology to help them cope. Yet they fear they may lose their jobs if they can’t master the new tools fast enough, according to a survey from Microsoft Corp. 

Microsoft, which is selling software to help customers manage frontline workers, reported that 51% of these employees don’t feel valued, and 56% said corporate leaders aren’t prioritizing workplace culture. Among people who manage frontline workers, such as retail store managers and nursing supervisors, that view of company culture was even worse, as almost 7 of 10 said culture isn’t a focus of their bosses. A majority of both groups also report communication breakdowns with their corporate parent and senior managers back at headquarters.

Technology is the No. 3 item workers said can help reduce their stress and become more effective, after better wages and paid time off. Microsoft found that frontline workers want technology that automates tasks, provides remote assistance and helps communicate with colleagues. About one-third of employees and managers said they don’t have the right tools to work effectively. Even when those types of tools are provided, 55% said they hadn’t received formal training on how to use them and 46% fear it may cost their jobs if they don’t adapt quickly to the new technology. 

The conclusions come from Microsoft’s latest Work Trend Index report. While earlier efforts looked at office workers who have largely been able to do their jobs from home in the pandemic, the report released Wednesday surveyed 9,600 employees and managers in eight countries who work in stores, hospitals, restaurants and factories.

“Frontline workers are the face of your business,” Kristina Behr, Microsoft’s vice president of product management for frontline workers and industry, said in a statement. “Making sure that they are empowered and equipped with the optimal tools is vitally important for success. If it’s frustrating for you to use the tools, your whole job is frustrating.”

In some countries, worker attitudes about when it’s likely to get better are downright grim. Eighty-four percent of those surveyed in Japan said stress at work will stay the same or get worse in the coming year. In the U.K. that number was 69%, compared with 68% in Germany and 63% in the U.S. On a positive note, however, the survey found that almost 70% of frontline employees feel more bonded with their coworkers than before the pandemic. 

“There is a gap between how workers and their managers perceive their experience and the corporate or center organization—it’s not like the center doesn’t understand there’s real stress,” said Jared Spataro, Microsoft vice president for modern work. That result contrasts with the earlier report about office workers, which found management was clueless that employees were unhappy and looking to quit. 

With frontline workers, “I don’t think there’s a yawning gap in intention here, but what we’re pointing out, is in a time of unique stress you have to lean in even more,” Spataro said in an interview. 

Microsoft is increasingly marketing its Teams chat and conference software to this group of workers and adding new walkie-talkie and shift scheduling features tailored to them. Teams usage by frontline workers rose 400% from March 2020 to November 2021. The largest increases were in health care, financial services and media and communications, the company said.

The walkie-talkie app is generally available today and will work with Apple iOS devices and barcode scanners from Zebra Technologies used by  many retailers. The company is also updating its Viva Connections workplace app for Teams, which lets corporate leaders communicate with employees.

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