The Microsoft Viva Employee Experience Platform Should be a Work Experience Platform

The Microsoft Viva Employee Experience Platform Should be a Work Experience Platform

On February 4, 2021, Microsoft announced its new employee experience platform, Microsoft Viva. Viva consists of the following modules at launch:

  • Viva Connections
  • Viva Insights
  • Viva Learning
  • Viva Topics

Viva builds on existing Microsoft technologies including Yammer, SharePoint, and Microsoft 365. The experiences will mostly be delivered via Teams.

Serious Insights Analysis

I hate to start off the analysis of a new product by asking what is wrong with it, but Microsoft made a fundamental alignment mistake by calling Viva an Employee Experience Platform (EXP).

As I point out in my Fast Company article Emotional Infrastructure: How Core Competencies Are Breaking Your Organization’s Heart, most organizations no longer consist entirely of employees. The mix of employees and contractors, often from many agencies and firms, greatly complicates the idea of an employee experience. In the extreme case, Uber employed around 19,000 people in 2019, with over 3M drivers who were not employees (outside of jurisdictions that may disagree with that perspective). Just focusing on technology solutions for employees will likely leave day-to-day partners feeling even more disenfranchised.

Viva Topics

In Management by Design, which I published shortly after leaving Microsoft, I concentrated on work experience design. Work experience design sees work as a container that is agnostic to who does the work. Work experience eliminates any implied hierarchy or bias related to distinguishing between contractors and employees. Work experience design includes the key elements Microsoft discussed in their launch video, such as connecting work to strategy, making the work of others discoverable, and unearthing organizational knowledge. Many of those in a typical Active Directory may not be employees, but because they published content, posted to social channels, and participated in teams, they will show up in the social graph as relevant and valuable. As non-employees, they may be motivated to participate in organizational learning because it may lead to renewals or upsells, but they are most likely not obligated in the way to participate in the company “culture”.

Management by Design seeks to eliminate the abstractions of culture-talk by focusing on the activities that build “culture” rather than over-intellectualizing it [for more see It’s Time to STOP Talking About Company Culture]. If an organization wants to build a knowledge-sharing culture, it needs to nurture, encourage, model, and champion knowledge sharing, not just tell people to share their knowledge. Job descriptions need to clearly state that knowledge sharing is part of the work expectation. The same goes for learning. And performance measurements need to reflect that sharing is an activity for which people are evaluated and rewarded. Contractors may not be compensated or even evaluated on their participation. For contractors, procurement needs to be involved as the human resources owner for contractors. The formulation of statements of work will reflect how integrated contactors are in the visions of the new “employee” experience.

It appears that Viva may include some of those underlying knowledge management principles, but Microsoft still talked about culture in an abstract way during the Viva launch. I highly encourage them to get more tactical about exposing and discussing the levers that lead to participation and avoid abstractions.

Defining what good work looks like

As I point out in Microsoft’s Unfortunate Retreat from the individual Microsoft Productivity Score defining what good work looks like in a complex environment is difficult. The metrics offered in Viva will likely get many things wrong early on. Microsoft will need to listen well, and its customers will need to be patient. Overstressed teams may look like they are working to the breaking point, but they may actually be driving themselves. They may see the stress as an adventure. The same goes for individuals. It appears that Viva will have some individual feedback metrics as well.

New dashboard featuring data from Glint and Microsoft Viva Insights

The analytics team needs to be careful about how they define good. A system that defines good in a way that proves antithetical to the worker’s view of good will prove more annoying than helpful. Viva employs machine learning, which means that somebody will need to train the model on what good work looks like–and there is a high probability that bias will creep into that model. Perhaps not what people think of as a traditional bias like race or religion, but a bias for or against certain approaches to work.

Microsoft needs to take the lead in developing models and metrics that better capture the dynamics or work, and the real expectations for performance. As I point out in How to Define Quality of Service for Meetings, many metrics for work focus on counting technical and personal behaviors that have little to do with performance. If work experience design is to be meaningful, it needs to reach for the difficult to measure to provide real value to individuals, teams, and the organizations they work for.

Repositioning Microsoft Viva

Viva is a thought leadership play. The timing is good, but the positioning needs to be reconsidered. Contractors were hurt as much, if not more, than employees at many large firms. They were the first to go at the start of the pandemic because companies had no obligation to them. And that is the crux of Viva’s positioning problem. Contractors are part of service delivery, value creation, innovation engine, and the organizational face to customers in many firms. Yes, contractors do make trade-offs between employment stability and flexible work. But when they are working, they are integral to the work experience, and often to delivering successful product or service outcomes. Until organizations embrace contractors as central to their success and respect them for their value and their choices, experiences focused on employees only will remain suboptimal for all.

A Deeper Look at Microsoft Viva

Microsoft Viva focuses on employee engagement, well-being, learning, and knowledge. It delivers an integrated experience via a set of modules that will provide new capabilities, partner integrations, and platform extensions built around Microsoft 365, SharePoint, and delivered mostly through Teams.

The initial models include:

Viva Connections a gateway to the digital workplace with access to internal communications and company resources like policies, benefits, and internal communities.

Viva Insights provides insights to individuals, managers, and leaders. Personal insights aim to help individuals protect time for regular breaks, focused work, and learning. It also fosters relationship building with colleagues.

Managers and leaders can see analytics at the team and organization level. Viva will offer recommendations that attempt to balance productivity with wellbeing. Higher-level insights aggregate and deidentify data to protect personal privacy. A dashboard allows organizations to combine employee feedback from LinkedIn’s Glint. Data from other Microsoft apps, and third-party services like Zoom, Slack, Workday, and SAP SuccessFactors offer the ability to create more inclusive views of the employee experience.

Viva Learning delivers suggestions for training and professional development within the work environment. It aggregates learning resources from LinkedIn Learning; Microsoft Learn; third-party providers including Skillsoft, Coursera, Pluralsight, and edX; as well as an organization’s own content library.

Viva Topics uses AI to analyze a customer’s Microsoft 365 data, along with third-party services such as ServiceNow and Salesforce, to surface Viva Topics within conversations and documents that expose potential content and people connections.

The modules will be available in the first half of 2021 for desktops, with mobile support coming later in the year. Viva Topics is now generally available as an add-on to Microsoft 365 commercial plans, some features are available in a public preview.

Daniel W. Rasmus

Daniel W. Rasmus, Founder and Principal Analyst of Serious Insights, is an internationally recognized speaker on the future of work and education. He is the author of several books, including Listening to the Future and Management by Design.

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