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Microsoft Viva may be a challenging topic or product to wrap our heads around since it’s not just one thing. It’s a family of products that together make an Employee Experience Platform. Microsoft Viva started to make sense during the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic for providing employee resources virtually or remotely.
Introducing Microsoft Viva
Microsoft Viva presents Viva Connections, Viva Insights, Viva Learning, and Viva Topics as the first four pillars of a new Employee Experience Platform. Microsoft Viva is a platform since it is extensible via APIs and partner offers to be customized and built upon. The Microsoft Viva pillars are surfaced through the products that users are familiar with, including Microsoft Teams, Microsoft Outlook, Microsoft SharePoint, etc., lowering friction and increasing familiarity. Microsoft Viva is meant to increase employee productivity within the context of a hybrid/remote/virtual user experience.
User experiences are customized for users using Microsoft AI technology to present information and news in their context. Microsoft Viva also uses data gained from employee behaviour to make recommendations for employee well-being and surface productivity information to managers.
Microsoft Viva components are not entirely new, as we will read further below, instead of assembled using existing Microsoft 365 technology and effective use of Microsoft AI.
We must also note that Microsoft Viva fits into your more extensive digital transformation journey. While we make this point later in this article, it is worth keeping in mind as we continue the journey that the Microsoft Viva suite fits into a more comprehensive digital adoption strategy and should not define it as a whole. We will start with why the Microsoft Viva suite of products exists – the User Experience Platform.
User Experience Platform – new buzzwords or new paradigm?
Before COVID-19, we congregated physically in buildings, offices, and headquarters. It was easy to talk about our employee experience since we had a place to go to, which allowed us to interact with our co-workers, make eye contact, read body language, and have coffee together. How we treated each other and how our manager treated us along with our shared experience and company culture while working together defined our employee experience. There is no doubt that it is easier to feel cared for when your teammate or manager can see how tired you are, hear the distress in your voice, or pick up on physical cues regarding your well-being. We need a new paradigm when we remove all possibilities of interacting physically and yet want to interact, measure wellness, share news, and increase productivity.
Creating and maintaining culture is easier if we can interact physically, transfer culture, share encouragement, and share knowledge. The “water cooler” conversation became a quick whiteboard discussion, or a “since we’re seeing each other, how do I…?” Knowledge sharing is complicated at the best of times when using digital-only means. In-person knowledge-sharing lowered that friction considerably; however, how do we knowledge share when in-person anything is discouraged or even forbidden during a pandemic.
Many platforms that don’t speak well to each other as part of our employee experience or even new-joiner onboarding experience are ok if there is someone who may sit next to us who can ask how to find the HR portal, or how would one capture a timesheet.
The new paradigm is a digital experience – little or no physical interaction – yet we are increasing employee wellbeing, surfacing productivity and wellness data to managers, maintaining or increasing a sense of connectedness as well as allowing employees to learn on the job, in the context of the work that they are doing. Add to that that we need a method of creating culture and connection for digital-only, office-bound, and hybrid workers who straddle both worlds – enter the Employee Experience Platform or EXP.
If we evaluate the pillars of Microsoft Viva in Technology terms only without the context of the thinking behind an Employee Experience Platform, then it will be difficult to articulate or even defend the possible value that Microsoft Viva can produce for the license cost.
In the following sections, we look at the different pillars of Microsoft Viva, using both technical and User Experience Platform lenses.
Microsoft Viva Connections
Microsoft defines viva Connections as “The gateway to your employee experience.” Using Microsoft SharePoint intranet experiences, Yammer communities, Stream video, and Teams live events; Viva Connections customizes relevant news, conversations, and company resources into a user-specific view. Companies can target and schedule content towards departments and people groups.
Since SharePoint powers Viva Connections, i.e., a SharePoint Intranet presented as a Microsoft Teams App, it looks great for desktop and mobile users.
In an 8-step process for implementing Viva Connections, Microsoft documents the steps for an administrator to publish a customized SharePoint Intranet as the Microsoft Viva Connections app via the Microsoft Teams admin center. The image below details the steps required.
In summary, Microsoft Viva Connections is a well-crafted SharePoint Intranet, surfaced in Teams. However, we can miss the point of the Intranet entirely if we don’t consider the Employee Experience Platform intent.
Experientially, working for an organization evokes generally positive emotions if based on robust and positive connections. We like belonging and being part of something. Microsoft Viva Connections should define the digital experience as our organizations’ daily or even hourly entry point. Seeing a birthday acknowledged and celebrated, finding the town-hall meetings, and targeted and personalized communications is how we want to think when crafting the Intranet that becomes the entry point to our cultural portrayal of company culture using digital means.
If you think this sounds harder than the marketing suggests, you may be right. Microsoft Viva Connections is a framework of digital enablement, which forces us to think about how content is perceived through the lens of creating and maintaining connection and then culture.
Microsoft Viva Insight
Data-driven and AI-based, Microsoft Viva creates Personal, Manager, Leader, and Advanced insights.
The AI-powered nature of insights is displayed to the end-user using Microsoft Outlook via the daily briefing email and a Microsoft Teams app. This feature shared branding with Microsoft Cortana, adding some confusion to users hoping to use Cortana on Mobile or Windows to enable or disable it.
AI scrapes our mailboxes looking for action words, which can be turned into reminders or tasks. This summary email often reminds us of things we should have scheduled but didn’t. The Briefing email also allows us to schedule focus time, plan our weeks, block out time to catch up with our team, etc., often including data on how well or how badly we have planned or executed our productivity plans. Due to the data-driven nature of the product, chatting during meetings, working after hours, etc., are tracked and reported. When presented to managers, none of this information is ever personally identifiable.
Manager, Leader, and Advanced insights report on work patterns, work culture, and employee engagements using different lenses and emphases on the data at hand. We can see how this data for individuals and managers can be surfaced as part of an Employee Experience Platform to raise awareness of and manage burnout. The individual and organizational lenses of the same data create an understanding of work patterns and over-commitment, which could be missed in a digital-only or hybrid-working workflow.
After licenses are deployed, Microsoft Viva Insights is turned on by default, although Microsoft recommends an adoption strategy to communicate which features are deployed to end-users.
Microsoft Viva Learning
Knowledge workers tend to enjoy learning and learning in the context of the task or tools they are using. Microsoft Viva Learning fits directly into the Employee Experience Platform since the individual may have used Microsoft Viva Insights to block time out of their calendars to improve their knowledge and increase their sense of accomplishment and well-being. Career development can be part of the regular users working day.
Microsoft Viva is used in Microsoft Teams allowing users to learn on the job, without taking a week from work to attend a class, using Microsoft and third-party providers, including LinkedIn Learning.
Microsoft Viva Topics
Microsoft Viva Topics used to be called Microsoft Viva Knowledge. It attempts to solve the collating and preserve the intellectual property generated by companies and individuals to be made available as topics and insights.
Microsoft Viva Topics use Microsoft Graph, Microsoft Search, Microsoft AI, and other components to form the service. AI is used to search for and identify topics to which knowledge can be attached, amended, or edited by a knowledge manager. These topics are made visible using highlighted and actionable cards in SharePoint Online and search results using online and Microsoft Office-based searches.
Potentially the most ethereal of problems to solve, the preservation and dissemination of knowledge is critical to our user experience. Working in a digital-only manager, frustration can easily mar our days by not knowing what specific words mean or where to find the knowledge to do our work.
The Employee Experience Platform attempts to make knowledge available when required by providing it in the context of the user experience, i.e., browsing a SharePoint page without leaving the application.
Microsoft Viva for Government Cloud
Microsoft Viva is available with more features to both Government Cloud instances, GCC and GCC High. Note the Public roadmap announcements https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/microsoft-365/roadmap with the Cloud instance filters set GCC and GCC High.
Microsoft Viva Pricing
Microsoft Viva Suite is available at USD 9.00 per user per month or USD 4.00 per user per month for each individual component. Pricing information, as well as which features are bundled vs. which features require additional add-ons, is documented by Microsoft.
Microsoft Viva suite and Microsoft viva individual components cannot be purchased without base licensing, including:
- Microsoft 365 F1, F3, E3, A3, E5, and A5
- Office 365 F3, E1, A1, E3, A3, E5, and A5
- Microsoft 365 Business Basic, Business Standard, and Business Premium
- SharePoint K, Plan 1, or Plan 2
A Microsoft Viva license is required for the use of any Microsoft viva components, with the following caveats:
- Viva Learning
A license is required for anyone who wants to access partner content and learn management systems or recommend content and track completion progress.
- Viva Insights
Personal insights are available to Microsoft 365 users without requiring a separate Viva Insights license. Premium personal insights, manager insights, and leader insights, as well as advanced insights, are available to users with a Viva Insights license.
- Viva Topics
A license is required for anyone viewing, accessing, or curating topic cards, topic pages, topic centers, or otherwise benefiting from Viva Topics capabilities.
- Viva Connections
Viva Connections is currently available to all Microsoft 365 or Office 365 enterprise plan users without requiring a separate license.
Microsoft Viva Roadmap
Microsoft Viva is an evolving product, as evidenced by the recent acquisition of ally.io to create the fifth pillar, which was not named at the time of writing. Ally.io is an OKR (Objectives and Key Results) company, which fits into the ethos of Microsoft Viva to assist both employees and managers, and leaders to instrument the digital user experience. Not much is known at the time of writing of the specifics or pricing model of the new model, post-integration; however, the market expectation is that Microsoft will grow Microsoft Viva features both organically and by acquisition, like ally.io.
The new capabilities of ally.io will be integrated into the Microsoft Viva suite in 2022.
The feature roadmap for all of Viva is available to view by clicking on the Product dropdown and ticking Microsoft Viva
Microsoft Viva is extensible, with Partner integrations available for Viva Learning, Viva Connections, and Viva Insights. A growing list of current and future partners may be viewed here.
Getting Started with Microsoft Viva
Microsoft Viva is an inter-related suite of Microsoft products using Microsoft 365 components. We may choose to deploy only a part of Microsoft Viva, such as Microsoft Viva Learning, or we can deploy all of it. Adoption and change management for a digital journey is not a quick or a light topic; similarly, the deployment of an Employee Experience Platform requires coordination and thought about the intent of what the organization wishes to achieve with each component, and critically how the parts should lead the user through a positive experience. Microsoft Viva Connections springs to mind as the most immediate component requiring thought and customization, followed by Microsoft Viva Insights.
Microsoft Viva documentation is a great place to start the implementation journey, remembering that Microsoft Viva Components and the Microsoft Viva suite are tools in the User Experience strategy and not the strategy itself.
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