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Microsoft unveils employee experience platform Viva

Viva will offer Microsoft customers an employee experience platform that uses analytics and an intranet service to boost employee engagement and productivity.

Microsoft plans to roll out a new intranet-like platform called Viva to make customer employees working from home feel more engaged, knowledgeable and productive. Viva collects onboarding, analytics and well-being apps into a set of modules within the Teams messaging app.

The company announced Viva this week and said it would release the platform in stages over the next few months. Viva builds upon applications Microsoft already offers, such as MyAnalytics, SharePoint and Yammer.

Viva is Microsoft's response to the growing consensus that work will not return to normal and will remain a hybrid of home and office work for many employees. Microsoft called Viva its employee experience platform, or EXP, to reflect this idea.

"We have participated in the largest at-scale remote work experiment the world has seen, and it has had a dramatic impact on the employee experience," Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said in a prerecorded keynote. "We're bringing together collaboration, learning and well-being in order to create a completely new product category."

The coronavirus pandemic-induced shift to work from home has created gaps in corporate cultures. Missing is the sense of belonging, peer camaraderie, office folklore and gossip, Gartner analyst Mike Gotta said. With Viva, Microsoft attempts to fill those gaps.

Gotta said a vendor of Microsoft's size committing to apps that emphasize workplace culture will lead to others in the industry following suit. But software alone won't entirely replace the social advantages of an in-person workplace.

"You can't put culture in a box," he said.

Microsoft Viva
Microsoft Viva collects metrics on employee productivity, well-being and education.

The new platform will combine four modules called Connections, Insights, Learning and Topics. Each will be accessible through Teams' app sidebar.

Viva Connections brings together company communications, corporate policies, benefit details, employee resource groups and a place for workers to post information about their projects. It is essentially a LinkedIn-like newsfeed focused on company news. It also lets administrators schedule announcements for specific groups.

Connections integrates with SharePoint, Yammer and Stream and copies the SharePoint intranet model. A desktop version of Connections will be available in beta in the first half of 2021, with the mobile app coming later in the year.

Viva Insights collects data to measure employee productivity and offer best practices to improve it. The software provides personal information to employees and general anonymized trends to managers and supervisors. The personal insights encourage workers to schedule breaks, learning time and non-meeting work time. Manager insights show which teams are at risk of burnout from too many overtime hours or too many meetings, for example.

Despite the separation of personal and manager data, detailed metrics on an employee's workday raise privacy concerns, cautioned Raul Castañón-Martínez, an analyst at 451 Research. "There are some really valid concerns," he said.

Employee monitoring goes too far when workers feel like the company watches their every move and measures everything they do for maximum efficiency, Castañón said.

Microsoft has received pushback for the worker data it collects. In 2019, its release of MyAnalytics in Office 365 sparked privacy complaints. The company changed the software to keep individual metrics private and emphasize healthier work habits.

Insights integrates with data from LinkedIn's Glint, Zoom, Workday and SAP SuccessFactors. The app is available in beta.

Viva Learning, which is also available in beta, aggregates learning and training in one Teams app. Content includes corporate training videos and content from LinkedIn Learning, Microsoft Learn and third-party providers like Coursera, EdX and Skillsoft. The app lets managers see employee progress in classes.

The last module, Viva Topics, collects information about specific topics discussed in company communications and combines it with data from apps like Salesforce and ServiceNow. When users hover over a topic in Teams, Topics pulls up an information card with a Wikipedia-like summary of the topic and suggests subject matter experts and documents and threads where that subject appears.

Topics is generally available as an add-on to Microsoft 365 commercial plans.

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