Microsoft has introduced a new “employee experience” platform designed to keep employees engaged and productive in the work-from-home era by centralizing information about colleagues, training, wellbeing, and corporate knowledge.
A new component of the Microsoft 365 productivity suite utilized primarily from inside Teams, Microsoft Viva combines a digital employee gathering place, an employee health portal, a learning and education center, and a workplace wiki.
The new system contains four modules. Viva Connections is designed to keep remote employees engaged despite their isolation from one another.
“Our research shows that nearly 60% of workers feel less connected to their team since the move to remote work,” says Jared Spataro, corporate vice president for Microsoft 365. “We’re struggling to replace the comradery once created by things like company town halls, off-sites, and events.”
Through Connections, businesses can stage such activities, organize employee membership groups, and distribute company news. Content can be customized by role if managers wish to provide one set of resources to frontline workers and another to knowledge workers, for example, and can also be targeted to people in specific departments, regions, or job categories.
The system gives employees a personalized, branded Connections dashboard in Teams, as well as a Facebook-style personalized content feed that draws on news and information from Microsoft SharePoint, Microsoft Yammer, Microsoft Stream, and other sources. Users can share feedback on those items and participate in conversations about them within the Yammer Communities app.
Viva Learning, which is currently in a private preview, is an employee education app for Teams. “Employees can easily discover and share everything from training courses to microlearning content, and managers get the tools they need to assign learning and then to track the outcomes,” Spataro says.
The system integrates with the LinkedIn Learning and Microsoft Learn platforms, as well as the Cornerstone OnDemand, Saba, and SAP SuccessFactors learning management solutions. Support for additional third-party education products will be added in the future.
According to a study by Microsoft’s LinkedIn group, 94% of employees would stay at a company longer if it invested in their learning and development.
Viva Insights seeks to help organizations combat the mental and physical stress often associated with remote work.
“Employees are working longer hours, often feeling disconnected from colleagues,” says Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella. “Sometimes I myself don’t know whether I’m working from home or sleeping at work.” That familiar sensation can leave employees exhausted and distracted.
“At a time when over 30% of workers say the pandemic has increased their sense of burnout, it’s never been more important to help people unplug and make the most of their scarcest resource, their time,” Spataro says.
Currently in public preview, Insights provides features for maintaining relationships with offsite colleagues and organizing time more effectively. The system draws on information from Zoom, Workday, and SAP SuccessFactors. In coming months, it will incorporate the “virtual commute” and other personal wellness functionality Microsoft added to Teams last September.
To ensure privacy, the solution makes personal wellness data visible to individual employees only, while allowing managers to view aggregated and anonymous information.
According to Nadella, investing in wellbeing at a time when most employees are under enormous pressure at home and on the job can make a tangible bottom-line difference for businesses. “We know that employee wellbeing can be an indicator of overall health of an organization,” he says. “Companies can address this by equipping people with tools to rebuild social capital, focus, and stay healthy.”
The last of the Viva modules announced today, Viva Topics, uses artificial intelligence to organize company-wide information into categories like projects, products, processes, and customers on a personalized basis. Generally available today, Topics presents those categories to users as “cards”. Clicking on a card opens a corresponding page with relevant documents, videos, and employee profiles.
“Our research shows people spend the equivalent of seven weeks per year searching for, or just recreating, information,” Spataro says.
Microsoft plans to introduce additional Viva modules in the future, along with functionality from ISV partners.
Maintaining culture and connection among people no longer sharing an office has been a challenge for businesses, including channel pros, in the last year. Companies worldwide already spend $300 billion a year on employee experience initiatives and tools, according to Microsoft, and that figure is only likely to grow in the future as working from home becomes a permanent part of the business landscape.
“Even if after the pandemic, on any given day, just 10% of your workforce is remote, you still need to connect those employees and ensure they have what they need to thrive,” Spataro says. “Our research shows there’s just no going back. Employees want to continue to work remotely at least part time, and managers are creating more flexible, remote work policies.”