by Clint Boulton

With Viva, Microsoft aims to augment the employee experience

News Analysis
Mar 30, 2021
Collaboration SoftwareEmployee ExperienceMicrosoft

Microsoft wants employees to spend more time in its enterprise applications. Whether users will want to do so remains to be seen.

Microsoft Teams real wear
Credit: Microsoft

Employee experience (EX) technologies have emerged as critical enterprise software to help improve well-being and productivity during the COVID-19 outbreak. And Microsoft, with its built-in gravitational pull in corporate productivity and collaboration software, is targeting this nascent market.

The software giant in February introduced Viva, four software modules that serve as a one-stop shop for access to corporate news and details about reskilling opportunities, among other information designed to help workers do their jobs better.

Viva aims to help IT and HR leaders consolidate a loose federation of apps often buried in corporate intranets and could prove useful, for example, in helping new employees acclimate to their roles at a time when onboarding has been rendered remote, courtesy of the coronavirus.

“The pandemic brought all of this into focus,” says Chuck Friedman, Microsoft corporate vice president of employee experience, who leads the Viva team. CIOs must “invest in durable solutions” as the hybrid work model evolves, he adds.

Moreover, momentum is growing for mobile, virtual, and distributed tools that can augment EX in a way that improves customer experience (CX). Organizations providing such experiences will outperform competitors by 25% in satisfaction metrics for both CX and EX, according to Gartner research.

What exactly is Viva?

Viva comprises four modules, which employees access through Microsoft Teams and other apps included in Microsoft 365, an enterprise subscription product that includes Windows 10 and Office 365.

Viva Connections is designed to help corporate leaders engage employees through town halls, while allowing workers to access information such as news, policies, and benefits, as well as employee resource groups and communities. Content posted there can also be tailored for employee personas. Connections can help employees better “understand how their work ladders up” in an organization, Friedman says.

Integrated with the Teams collaboration app, Viva Insights harnesses the analytics capabilities from Workplace Analytics and MyAnalytics to analyze work patterns such as frequency of meetings, work hours and collaboration activities and recommend actions to employees. For instance, it may recommend that employees take breaks and suggest to managers that their teams are at risk of burnout.

Also available via Teams, Viva Learning leverages artificial intelligence (AI) to recommend when employees might wish to take training courses and microlearning content from LinkedIn Learning or Microsoft Learn, as well as from content providers like Skillsoft, Coursera, Pluralsight, and edX. 

Finally, Viva Topics, which Friedman describes as a sort of “AI-driven Wikipedia,” helps employees decode company acronyms and automatically organize content and expertise into such categories as projects, products, and processes. Employees working in Office, SharePoint, and Teams can hover over unfamiliar topics or acronyms to automatically surfaces topic cards. When employees click on those cards, a topic page appears with documents, videos, and related people. 

The views on Viva

Early adopters, including Unilever, which uses Viva’s analytics capabilities, and Refinitiv, which uses Topic Cards in its corporate intranet, have good things to say about the software.

Yet Viva raises questions.

Do knowledge workers, with all the communications, collaboration, and productivity tools they currently juggle, need more modules to navigate?

For example, sales workers spend a lot of their time moving between to access information about contacts and Office 365 for their email, collaboration, and other tools. Would they be willing to access more software that tells them how much they’re using such tools, let alone how they can make changes to become more productive? 

And does Viva fall into the category of just another hammer looking for nails to pound home?

Viva’s gravitational pull depends on the personas and journey maps of an organization’s workforce, says Gartner analyst Mike Gotta, who is skeptical about platforms that try to change employee behaviors. He says that EX is a holistic  solution that should be woven more specifically into the employee’s workflow.

“Employee experience technology needs to be more artful,” Gotta says. “It’s more of a collection of technology that you integrate at certain points.”

Making Teams the focal point for Viva makes the app more useful for employees, which boosts engagement, says Forrester Research analyst David Johnson. “The strongest technology-related predictor of engagement is when employees are satisfied with the collaboration tools they use for work.”

Johnson adds that while Viva still leaves a lot of room for best-of-breed solutions, the plug-ins may serve a sweet spot for Microsoft 365 users. “Many organizations will find the capabilities in Viva convenient to use and good enough for most of their needs,” he says.