Smells like Teams spirit: New platform Viva builds in all the tools Microsoft thinks staff need to succeed

Hello lonely. Let's get you feeling productive


Microsoft's latest take on employment engagement, Viva, is aimed at cheering those working remotely with only Office and Teams for company.

The Windows giant has a chequered history when it comes to employee relations. While it may speak of a desire to "help employees grow and learn," misfires such as the vaguely creepy Productivity Score have left observers pondering the motives of those using the company's tooling.

Enter Microsoft Viva. No, not the clapped out old Vauxhall that you, a parent or a grandparent learned to drive in (or the more recent exercise in badge engineering), but a set of tools targeting "Engagement, Wellbeing, Learning and Knowledge."

The move is a recognition of the shift to remote working over the last year, where some employees might rarely meet their colleagues or managers face to face, if at all. "Viva brings together everything an employee needs to be successful, from day one, in a single, integrated experience directly in Teams," said Microsoft. Of course it is.

Firms spending big on the staff 'experience'

Microsoft 365 users generate more than 30 billion collaboration minutes in a single day, according to the tech goliath, which also laid claim to 115 million daily active users in Teams by Autumn 2020. Microsoft noted that organisations spend over $300bn a year on employee "experience", from development and training to benefits and wellbeing. The company would very much like a larger piece of that action.

It has therefore brought forth Viva, a collection of four "experiences."

The first is Viva Connections, an app for Teams that will hit public preview in desktop form during the first half of 2021. A mobile version will follow later. Built on the likes of SharePoint and integrating with Yammer, the goal is to give employees a dashboard, or more like a noticeboard or portal, directing them to company resources in the absence of in-person events, gatherings or town-hall-style meetings.

Next is Viva Insights, which will leave those worried about Productivity Score with a distinct sense of déjà vu. The theory goes that employees can use the tool to "protect time for regular breaks, focused work, and learning," while managers and leaders can monitor trends as well as receive recommendations for maximizing productivity. It's basically a way to manage your time, and get the right balance of time working and time taking breaks.

Perhaps conscious of the flak received following the infamous Productivity Score, Microsoft stated: "The insights are aggregated and de-identified by default to maintain personal privacy."

Insights will also pull in employee feedback from LinkedIn's Glint as well as incorporating data from services such as Zoom or Workday. The app in Teams and the dashboard are both now in public preview.

Viva Learning is all about collating work-related training and development resources into one place, including Microsoft's own and others, such as SkillSoft and PluralSight. Integration with others, such as Saba and SAP SuccessFactors are due later this year. Viva Learning itself is in private preview.

Finally, Viva Topics, generally available as an add-on to Microsoft 365 commercial plans, applies the dead hand of AI to a company's resources and "automatically surfaces topic cards within conversations and documents across Microsoft 365 and Teams." While you're chatting away or reading files, this tool will try to provide references to relevant internal information.

If that sounds a bit familiar, that's because it is. Viva Topics, a company spokesperson told The Register, "is the second commercial release to come out of Project Cortex. Microsoft Viva Topics applies AI to identify knowledge and expertise from across your organization and curate it into shared topics like products, customers, or projects."

Project Cortex itself was unveiled in the before-times, at the company's last in-person Ignite event in 2019. Cortex made use of Cognitive Services to recognise different types of data for ingestion.

Microsoft, to use a familiar phrase, is looking to take the lemon that was 2020 and make lemonade. "We believe this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to build people-centered experiences that help our customers drive extraordinary outcomes," the super-corp said.

It's all very laudable. However, if your spirits are flagging, an alternative Viva this hack would recommend would be Viva Le Van from the soundtrack for the Beiderbecke TV series trilogy of the 1980s and performed by the Frank Ricotti All Stars (ft. Kenny Baker.) Nice. ®


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