Microsoft is making a new push for workers who don't normally use its software — like vineyard workers

Key Points
  • Microsoft 365 for first-line workers includes Office 365, Windows 10, security and mobility tools and a new scheduling app.
  • Microsoft is also highlighting upcoming third-party Windows 10 S commercial devices starting at $275.
Satya Nadella, chief executive officer of Microsoft Corp
Mark Kauzlarich | Bloomberg | Getty

Microsoft on Monday introduced a software bundle for so-called front-line workers like cashiers, truck drivers and factory employees.

The announcement at Microsoft's Ignite conference in Orlando, Florida, could help the company boost its usage and revenue numbers for some of its most important products at a time when it's dealing with competition from Google's Chrome OS and productivity apps like Google Docs.

Called Microsoft 365 F1, the new offering includes StaffHub, a recently launched app for managing shifts so that employees don't need to call in or stop by the main office to check a weekly schedule printed on a piece of paper.

It also comes with the Office 365, Windows 10 and Microsoft's Enterprise Mobility and Security suite, which companies use to manage and secure devices. Those products have been sold in other bundles in the past.

But while Microsoft 365 F1 might seem like just the latest attempt to put a new package around existing software, Kirk Koenigsbauer, corporate vice president for Microsoft's Office 365 client applications, suggested it's more than the sum of its parts.

"Internally we're totally changing the way we work to really revolve around this idea of Microsoft 365 — the Windows, the Office and the Enterprise Mobility and Security teams are planning together, and we're laying out cadences in terms of when we plan to ship together," Koenigsbauer said. For one thing, he said, the group decided to integrate the administrative portals for Enterprise Mobility and Security and Office 365.

To make StaffHub more appealing, Microsoft will also be enhancing the app in a few ways. Employees will be able to clock in and clock out from within the app, as well as view tasks that managers have assigned to them.

The push for front-line workers also extends to hardware. Microsoft says Acer, HP, Fujitsu and Lenovo will be coming out with devices that would be well suited for front-line workers. They'll start at $275, making them considerably more affordable than Microsoft's own $999 Surface Laptop, and they'll be running Windows 10 S, the edition that meant to be more secure because it can run apps downloaded only from the Windows Store.

In some cases, though, it might not make sense to equip every last front-line worker at a company with a new HP laptop running Windows 10.

That's the case at Jackson Family Wines, whose wineries includes Kendall-Jackson. The company recently issued iPhones to its vineyard workers, who are using Office 365 services.

"Their focus is to prune grapes, spray them, take care of them throughout the year and make sure they're producing the plentiful berries that they need for the wine and not working on a Windows 10 machine, if you will," said Doug Brown, Jackson Family Wines' director of IT operations.

Managers and associates at the tasting rooms also need to coordinate and be informed of corporate announcements — and that communication happens in StaffHub. "They're less interested in getting email," Brown said.

Microsoft is also doubling down on the education market with a version of Microsoft 365 for education customers that comes with the Microsoft-owned game Minecraft, in addition to StaffHub.