Microsoft Viva: the revolution in employee experience platforms?

A few weeks ago Microsoft announced the release of Microsoft Viva, its employee experience platform and one of the first products that really claims to be one on the market.

I will start by looking at this product from the user’s point of view before looking at the “market” dimension of this announcement in another article.

Dans ce billet :

What is an Employee Experience Platform?

To begin, it is important to define what an employee experience platform (EXP) is, a new concept with which no one is familiar.

For as long as I can remember the term Employee Experience Platform has been popularized by Josh Bersin almost a year ago.

From my point of view, solutions that concern employees are constantly multiplying in the workplace. These applications are used by different professions (HR, Finance, Managers) and address a variety of topics (Training, Commitment, Pay, Performance…).

Source : Josh Bersin

But today their problem from my point of view is that they consider the employee as an object and not as a client. They address them, they talk about them, but they are designed to be used by the different functions I mentioned above and are of little value to the employees because :

  • They are not designed for them.
  • They are designed according to business verticals, whereas the employee “lives” in cross-functional journeys that mix everything together.
  • They are therefore siloed, which limits their perceived value, both for the employee and for the professions that use them.

An Employee Experience Platform therefore aims to make the data and services from these applications directly usable and consumable by employees within their respective journeys, either individually (application by application) or even in combination (by cross-referencing data from several applications to provide more relevant information).

Source : Josh Bersin

The Employee Experience Platform: the new employee portal?

The Employee Experience Platform could thus be described as a new employee portal, a “one-stop shop” with all the data and services that concern them, which they can use to make decisions about themselves, their work, their career.

One could therefore see the Employee Experience Platform as the future of the HR portal, and that’s more or less how Bersin sees it.

I’ll come back to this question later, because in my opinion it’s a somewhat restrictive conception of the subject that once again separates HR and professions, business and support functions, while the employee lives both at the same time. But that will be the subject of a future article.

Here comes Microsoft Viva

It is in this context that Microsoft launched Viva at the beginning of February. It is “a digital platform that provides people with the resources and support they need, seamlessly integrated within the same tools they use to do their work, so they can succeed and thrive no matter their location”.

Let’s admit it doesn’t help us any further, so let’s dig a little deeper.

” Microsoft Viva brings together communications, knowledge, learning, resources, and insights into an integrated experience that empowers people and teams to be their best, from anywhere. Powered by the full breadth and depth of Microsoft 365, it is experienced through Microsoft Teams and other Microsoft 365 apps that people use every day.

Honestly I think that the marketing of software publishers should sometimes work a new type of campaign: silence! Because here, as a customer, I have the impression that I’m being taken for an idiot. So be it.

So to be concrete, Viva consists of 4 modules: Viva Connections, Viva Insights, Viva Learning, and Viva Topics.

Quick overview.

Viva Connections for employee engagement and communication

Viva Connections at a glance

It is a single point of entry for the employee to all company resources. It includes company news, discussion forums, access to information and resources specific to the employee (benefits, HR policy…), all in a personalized way according to the job, role…

Viva Connections. (c) Microsoft

My opinion about Viva Connections

I’ll skip over the irony of the fact that to talk about an engagement tool that gives, among other things, access to conversational spaces, Microsoft couldn’t find better than to take the name of an old IBM product (now at HCL) that had more or less the same objectives.

The personalized employee portal that gives everyone access to the resources, information and spaces that specifically interest them is something vital since it is understood that what matters is less what the company wants to say than what the employee needs to read.

Such a product therefore contributes to making information easier to find and consume regardless of its source.

On the other hand I am surprised to see the thing arriving packaged like this in 2021. Wasn’t that the promise of all CMS and Portal technologies for years? That of Sharepoint among others? Today we can see in Viva Connections a portal for aggregating portals…let’s hope that usage proves that it’s a little more worth it.

More than a novelty, I see it as a smart remarketing of an old concept that got lost along the way, but as long as it works and companies finally take ownership of it for what it does…

Viva Insights: take care of your time and your well-being

Viva Insights at a glance

Viva Insights provides employees and managers with information based on their own use of their work tools to help them make the best possible use of their time, not in terms of productivity but rather in terms of well-being and health at work.

Viva Insights. (c) Microsoft

My opinion on Viva Insights

After the outcry caused by the Microsoft Productivity Score here is finally a good use of “analytics”, these data drawn from the use of our work tools to “coach” employees and give managers the information that allows them to take into account new factors in the way they manage their teams.

With the coaching applications flourishing in all directions it is legitimate that Microsoft is positioned in this niche because at least they can rely on real data that quantify the work of each person.

As for whether it will go beyond the gadget stage, I don’t know. No tool will replace a managerial culture and we can give all the indicators and advice possible, even personalized, it will be useless if a manager does not want to take them into account or if an employee does not feel “comfortable” to use them.

One can even fear a diversion of the use of Viva Analytics. Where the employee will read “breathe a little” some managers will read “he will take a breather and become less productive”. But let’s not blame the tool, it is not responsible for what goes on in people’s heads.

But at least the information will exist for those who want to use it and maybe it will raise awareness among some of those who didn’t pay attention to the subject before.

Viva Learning to make learning an everyday activity

Viva Learning at a glance

Viva Learning offers a “learning center” within Teams. An artificial intelligence offers employees the learning or micro-learning modules that seem most relevant to them. A manager can also propose and assign training paths to his staff.

The content offered comes from Microsoft’s inventory (LinkedIn Learning, Microsoft Learn) but the company can also create its own content or purchase it from specialists such as Coursera. Viva Learning also integrates with some leading LMSs of which it is a partner (Cornerstone OnDemand, Saba, SAP SuccessFactors…).

Viva Learning. (c) Microsoft

My opinion about Viva Learning

Microsoft’s promise is no different from other LMSs on the market and offers a response to a real concern of employees and managers.

But where Microsoft has an advantage, at least on paper, is in being able to bring training as close as possible to the center of gravity of the digital work environment.

In my opinion, employees spend 80 to 90% of their time in two types of tools: business tools (ERP, CRM, office automation…) and communication tools (originally emails, and increasingly Teams and its likes). Any new activity that they want to “graft” on their working time and is outside these tools has very little chance of success.

By bringing the learning back into Teams one can avoid the “one more tool” syndrome, bring training back into the context where work is done and thus make its access less “complicated”.

Viva Topics to find all the information one needs

Viva Topics at a glance

Viva topics is a kind of knowledge base where employees can find all the information they need. In contrast to Viva Connections, which is more concerned with “hot” communication, here we are talking about “cold” and more structuring topics: processes, company policies.

Microsoft presents Viva Topics as a “wikipedia with super powers” that uses artificial intelligence to also offer information in the context of business tools. In other words, an employee who sees a term appear in a Teams conversation will be able to be offered information related to that term). We can imagine that the term “vacations” brings a sheet explaining the process to apply etc ….

But in addition to that, partnerships with third-party tools like Salesforce also allows to feed Topics with “business” information. You can imagine that if a customer or project is mentioned in Teams or in an email, you can access the information contained in Salesforce about it with a single click.

Viva Topics. (c) Microsoft

My opinion on Viva Topics

Searching for this type of information, “how we do it”, “what is it”, and linking cold information to hot business information represents, according to some, a waste of time of 7 weeks per year!

I would add that in a remote company approach, the formalisation of the organization and processes is something vital for current employees and even more so for those who join it. Once again I would like to make one thing clear: formalizing does not mean complicating things or making them rigid, it just means “writing down what is and how it is done”.

I have already explained at length why such a knowledge base improves the employee experience and has a significant organizational impact.

Microsoft Viva: the art of restoring value to what already exists

I admit that at the beginning I was a little bit disappointed and wondered if Microsoft hadn’t fallen into the “Experience Washing” trap, but with hindsight my outlook is more positive.

Indeed, I’m not going to say that Viva reinvents anything and brings major functional innovations, at most a little (artificial) intelligence, and that’s already not bad.

But I don’t think the purpose of an Employee Experience Platform is to bring new things from a functional point of view, but rather to add value to existing assets. At least initially.

From what I understand about Viva, the tool will have its own content, but above all it will help to bring together content that is currently dispersed in different tools, put it in perspective with the user experience and ultimately make it easier to find and consume.

When you see the time wasted searching for information and the disruptions in attention and workflow that this causes, it’s already a big step forward.

Experience Washing and Technological Solutionism

While Viva ( slightly) avoids falling into experience washing, the companies that adopt it must avoid falling into the trap of technological solutionism.

While I readily admit that the discourse of vendors can be on the verge of infantilization (not to say that in some cases it borders on absolute bullshit), the companies that adopt them also have their share of responsibility in wanting to convince themselves that a tool will solve all their problems.

While Viva will, in my opinion, solve some of the employee experience issues, the solution must be deployed in a favorable context. The technology takes advantage of “assets” and a context but does not generate them itself.

As I was saying, Viva Insight will only serve those who want to use it and dare to use it, which brings us back in one way or another to the need for a certain corporate culture and the will to apply certain policies whose existence is put forward without rushing to apply them. I am thinking here of the right to disconnection that companies find indispensable and that many managers blithely trample on without being reproached anything.

As for the question of adding value to existing content, it still has to exist somewhere and be relevant.

Finally, I read in a Microsoft communication that by providing access to information and spaces for conversation and collaboration Viva Connections encourages engagement. But are we engaged because we collaborate or do we collaborate because we are engaged? Not so obvious.

The true value of Viva is overlooked

If we consider that the Employee Experience Platform has above all a role in enhancing existing assets and facilitating employee journeys, we can say that for a first version Viva “gets the job done”. Its only real novelty is Insights, which offers a real intrinsic value, but I will wait to see how it will be used.

I was going to make a criticism before I changed my mind about the promise of Viva Topics. At first glance, Viva is very much oriented towards communication, engagement and well being. So be it. But then again, that’s not where an employee spends most of his time, let alone where his employer wants him to spend it.

But Topics and its integration with third-party tools like Salesforce delivers a greater promise: the promise of linking “informative” content, collaboration, and business information. Retrieving information about a customer, a pre-sale, a project automatically in a conversation and in the context of that conversation’s application is a major contribution to the employee experience because it improves the flow of work of the employee‘.Who hasn’t, after seeing that a customer or a business subject was mentioned in an exchange, had to search for information about it, in an ERP, a CRM…? This really saves time and removes friction points on a really operational activity.

It is a pity that Microsoft does not put more emphasis on this capability, which would allow to anchor the employee’s experience in operations and not only in engagement and well being. Either Microsoft does not want to rush the market or, worse, has decided not to fight in this field?

Too bad because for me the Redmond firm made a major announcement in terms of employee experience at the same time and it was totally ignored.

Microsoft + SAP: what if employee experience was this?

At the same time that Microsoft announced Viva, my friend Sameer Patel informed me of another announcement that concerned both Microsoft and SAP.

The idea, if simple, is no more and no less than the result of the incessant discussions that Sameer, I and other industry experts had about the need to deal with process and collaboration jointly, in the same tools. At that time, 10 years ago and more, it was far from obvious and the fact that we are now rejoicing at an announcement to this effect shows that it still isn’t. There’s still a mental boundary between “systems of records” and “systems of engagement,” which means that when talking about topics like collaboration or employee experience, one refuses to touch the employee’s flow of work, and that’s one of the issues at the heart of Salesforce’s takeover of Slack. In short, some tools contain the data that materialize problems and enable decisions to be made, others allow several people to find solutions, separating them wastes time, energy, and meaning, and bringing them together brings value.

Without wanting to be a killjoy, I think we will contribute more to the employee experience by bringing collaboration into the context of business tools or business information into the context of collaboration than by reinventing portals for the umpteenth time.

So if I had to do my ranking of Microsoft’s contribution to employee experience I would say :

1°) Microsoft x SAP

2°) Microsoft Topics

3°) Microsoft Insights

4°) The rest which is only a new and well marketed approach of things already seen again and again.

Microsoft Viva brings value to …. …. Microsoft 365

In order not to be accused of impute motives, it is obvious that I prefer a work environment with Microsoft Viva than without it, and we will see when I analyze the impact of Viva on the market that with Viva Microsoft will highlight the glaring shortcomings of its competitors. There will be a before and after Viva in the way we think about a Digital Workplace.

Let’s not forget that the complication of IT tools and the segmentation of information are two of the main problems faced by employees in terms of employee experience.

That said, if Viva’s announcement fits very well in a world that has learned a lot from the pandemic, if it will indeed contribute to a better employee experience (at least as long as we limit it to access and consumption of content), it is a product that will above all serve to enhance…. other Microsoft products.

Today Microsoft is facing two issues.

First of all, its Microsoft 365 offering is granular and offers a wide range of tools to suit everyone’s needs, far from the days when they tried to make us believe that Sharepoint did everything from the CMS to the social network. The counterpart is an abundance of spaces, platforms and information that is so fragmented and dispersed that it is no longer valued.

Then a pandemic effect that makes that in the minds of many people Microsoft 365 = Teams and Teams = Video. A restrictive vision of Microsoft’s value proposition that the vendor has to fight to prevent Slack or Zoom from being seen as credible alternatives.

If Viva is a good way to enhance the hidden treasures of a company by putting them under the eyes of employees, it is also an excellent way to enhance the hidden treasures of Microsoft by putting them under the eyes of decision-makers.

But let’s not deny ourselves a good thing : on the user’s side, if it’s not a big leap forward yet, things will be much better after Viva than before.

To be read as well on employee experience:

Image : Microsoft 365 by NapasStockphoto via Shutterstock

Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler
Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler

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