(Credit: Microsoft)

Workplace chat and collaboration tools have taken off in a big way in recent years, streamlining the process of getting potentially complex tasks completed across different time zones and workgroups. However, these tools have largely been optimized for white-collar work, leaving retail and other front-line workers to fend for themselves with stopgaps that use might be a violation of employer policies.

Today, the Microsoft Teams group announced new features for its competitor to Slack (download for iOS or Android), including location sharing, secure audio messages, enterprise shift scheduling integration and a "Praise" tool that lets a manager extend gratitude and encouragement with a set of stickers.

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Of course, if you're a front-line worker at retail, you usually have little control over what collaboration and coordination tools your company uses, but these additions may at least put Microsoft Teams on your employer's radar. Microsoft made the platform free to use in summer 2018, whereas it used to require an Office 365 subscription, so that's one less hurdle to jump over, and one of the most important ones.

And just like Slack can be set up to give you access to the channels that are specific to your job, this update to Microsoft Teams will let an administrator toggle different functions within the app to customize the experience to your role.

As Microsoft executive Emma Williams says in the announcement, "While some might need access to private chats, calendars, and calls, others may only need access to teams and channels." An administrator can customize Teams for each worker, or they can use a "Firstline Worker configuration policy template."

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As a front-line worker, you'll also be able to "pin" your most used tasks to the app's navigation bar, like bookmarks. The bar is accessible by dragging up from the bottom of the screen, and it can have multiple sections if you have a lot of different tasks to juggle.

As for managing shifts, that's not new to the Teams app. The new part is an software layer known as an API (application programming interface) that lets Shifts communicate with your company's internal workforce management tools for tracking things like time clocks, attendance, benefits and payroll. This "Graphs" API will enter a public preview phase this spring, so it will be a while before you see it pop up in an actual workplace.

Takeaways

  • Microsoft Teams, the company's competitor to Slack, is adding features specifically for retail and other front-line workers, including location sharing and secure audio messages.
  • Microsoft made Teams free to use last summer, whereas it used to require a subscription to Office 365.

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Tom McNamara is a Senior Editor for CNET's Download.com. He mainly covers Windows, mobile and desktop security, games, Google, streaming services, and social media. Tom was also an editor at Maximum PC and IGN, and his work has appeared on CNET, PC Gamer, MSN.com, and Salon.com. He's also unreasonably proud that he's kept the same phone for more than two years.