• Carolina MIlanesi

Microsoft Bets Big On Employee Experience And Launches Viva


A lot has changed about how we work due to the pandemic. Whether we are working from home or at an essential business, technology has been supporting us at a time when how we interact with our coworkers and customers has drastically changed. Most of our interactions have moved online, which ironically brought us close to people who were far while pulling us away from the closest people. In a recorded video, Microsoft's CEO Satya Nadella could not have said it better: "We are participating in the largest at scale remote work experiment the world has seen. And it has had a dramatic impact on the employee experience."

As businesses are starting to look at getting people back into the office, it is essential not to fall back to how things used to be. Employees are asking for flexible work to remain a reality and businesses would be foolish in dismissing such demands and expect no consequences. Yet, empowering employees to thrive when working remotely, even for a few days a week, might be challenging without making an effort. Culture, sense of belonging, team engagement cannot be taken for granted. They are also not inherent in the office environment. Physical presence might help us feel connected with our coworkers, but it does not necessarily make us feel connected with the business.

Microsoft believes it can help organizations deliver on four aspects of the employee experience: connecting, content, learning and well-being. Reiterating a thought shared during the most recent Microsoft earnings call, Nadella explained that anything people work on does not start and end within a meeting, nor do their interactions. Collaboration is only part of what makes our work successful. Information either within the company or externally, a growth mindset empowered by constant learnings and each employee's well-being all contribute to that success. This is what the Microsoft Viva platform, centered around Microsoft Teams and fueled by Microsoft 365, is setting out to enable. Jared Sparato, Corporate VP, Microsoft 365, reminds us that employee experience is a big business, with organizations spending 300 billion a year. So, it is no surprise that Microsoft wants a slice of it!

For now, there are four areas the platform is focusing on:

Microsoft Viva Connections: a destination where leaders and employees can come together with company town halls and access official information such as company news policies and more recreational information such as clubs. It is the digital way to create an inclusive organization. This is critical as some people return to the office and others remain remote. Being a remote worker does not change your level of commitment to the company's success nor lowers your enthusiasm for being part of a team. However, it is often easy to forget about those who are not in the office and facilitating touchpoints and exchanges will undoubtedly help avoid that.

Microsoft Viva Topics uses artificial intelligence (AI) to connect people with knowledge and expertise in the tools they use every day and people looking for experts or information. The goal is to speed up content discovery and lower the risk of wasting time and effort replicating work that already exists. Technology has helped create a wealth of data as never seen before and ironically, we now turn to technology to sieve through it and effectively make sense of it. Wasting time looking for relevant information impacts productivity and increases stress, impacting employee well-being. Viva Topics builds on the Microsoft 365 apps and content an organization already uses every day and the connections you have with people across your organization. Over time Viva Connections will also integrate more than 130 data sources, including Salesforce, ServiceNow, MediaWiki, file shares, and Microsoft Azure services.

Microsoft Viva Insights: a pool of data about how people work as well as how they feel that empowers managers with real-time information, at an aggregate level, on how much pressure team members are under. It also provides each employee with insights into their own data shared exclusively with them. The fear of burnout has been very real during the pandemic, but it is not new, especially in the US, where many companies create a highly competitive work culture. In December, Spring Health, a behavioral health benefits provider, found that an online study of 1,136 employed U.S. adults conducted in the same month found that 76% of respondents experienced worker burnout. Of these, 57% say their concerns about COVID-19 have contributed to their experiencing burnout, while 33% say worries about political issues have contributed to burnout. Admitting to being tired or overwhelmed is never easy, especially for employees of underrepresented groups, because of concerns about how managers could perceive it. Providing this critical information to managers might help avoid getting to this point or, at the very list might encourage a safe conversation.

Microsoft Viva Learning: a repository of courses and learnings assets from LinkedIn Learning, Microsoft Learn and third parties such as Coursera and Skillsoft so that learning becomes part of a regular day-to-day. With data from a recent LinkedIn report showing that 94% of employees would stay at a company longer if it invested in their learning and development, organizations really need to take personal employee growth seriously both to retain talent and because the business directly benefits from the acquired skills.

Microsoft says the connections between employee learning, engagement, and business performance are clear and I tend to agree. Employees who have opportunities to learn and grow are 3.6 times more likely to report being happy than those who do not have such options. Highly engaged organizations report five times higher market capitalization per employee, 21 percent greater profitability, and 51 percent less employee turnover.

Employee experience plays into another big trend that has emerged from the pandemic: business agility. No question in my mind creating the proper connections, continuing to learn and making sure the right content is available when needed will empower businesses to make informed decisions in a much more timely fashion.

It is clear why Microsoft is getting in the business of employee experience, but why should organizations, even those who buy into the importance of the concept, believe Microsoft can deliver the best solution? The answer for me is found in the intersection of the strength of Microsoft 365, the integration of third-party solutions and the smarts generated by the Microsoft Graph. This is "new Microsoft" thinking well reflected in the Viva branding. It leans into the broader Microsoft’s ecosystem and uses the company core assets, Cloud and AI, to drive added value and grow reliance on its tools. It will be interesting to see once all these modules are made available how all the information will be displayed within Microsoft Teams. There could be a risk of adding too much in the one place born to bring people together over a video call.

This Article was originally published on Forbes

Disclosure: The Heart of Tech is a research and consultancy firm that engages or has engaged in research, analysis, and advisory services with many technology companies, including those mentioned in this column. The author does not hold any equity positions with any company mentioned in this column.

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