Microsoft outlines plans for Viva, an employee-experience platform anchored in Teams

Microsoft is assembling a collection of various Office 365 technologies, new and existing, and morphing them into a suite of apps focused on employee engagement.

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Microsoft's Viva Insights provides personal and managerial analytic data.

Microsoft is jumping into the employee-experience space in a big way today, February 4, with its announcement of Microsoft Viva. Viva packages together some already available and some new Microsoft technologies, ranging from Yammer and SharePoint, to its analytics and additional "Project Cortex" knowledge-management elements.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella was on hand to roll out Viva during a virtual event today focused on "Reimagining the Employee Experience." Viva marks Microsoft's entry into the category of tools for employee onboarding, ongoing work-related education and knowledge discovery. Providing these kinds of employee resources virtually/remotely has become especially challenging during the ongoing COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic. 

I believe Viva is one of the first deliverables from Microsoft's MetaOS/Taos work, though I doubt anyone at the company will say this publicly. In writing last year about MetaOS -- Microsoft's foundation aiming to make Microsoft 365 an end-to-end work/life experience -- I noted: "Microsoft is working to create a set of common inbox apps and controls that will carry across products and services. These include products like Planner, Stream, Tasks, Lists, Files, Whiteboard, Notes (OneNote, Sticky Notes), analytics, learning, history, downloads, and similar products/services."

Microsoft officials have christened Viva a "platform" because it is extensible and enables integration of third-party services into its app layer. In job postings on its Careers site, Microsoft officials alternatively have described its coming employee experience offering as a "suite" (which I find a bit clearer and more precise). Viva is targeted at employees in companies of all sizes and in all roles; it is not designed for the education market, however.

Currently, Viva has four main pillars, but more are on the way, officials said. These pillars are meant to represent different parts of an employee's day-to-day work experience. Each pillar includes multiple Microsoft 365 components, as well as other Microsoft technologies.

Users will access Microsoft Viva primarily through four new apps, representing these four pillars, that will be hosted in Microsoft Teams. Officials said that some Viva capabilities also will show up elsewhere in Microsoft 365, such as Viva Insights features in Outlook and Viva Topics in Office apps like Microsoft Word.

The four current Viva pillars/experiences:

Viva Connections: Brings together internal communications capabilities from SharePoint intranet experiences, Yammer communities, Stream video content and Teams live events. It is meant to be a gateway or dashboard to internal communications and company resources.

Viva Insights: Includes personal well-being experiences in Teams such as Virtual Commute and Headspace integration for individuals. It also includes metrics and recommended actions from Workplace Analytics. Over time, existing MyAnalytics and Workplace Analytics experiences will also be updated "to reflect the Viva Insights brand," officials said.

Viva Learning: Revolves around the Learning app for Teams announced last year, which will be available in private preview as of February 4. It includes content from LinkedIn Learning, Microsoft Learn, third party content providers, and a company's own custom learning content.

Viva Topics: Delivers more components designed as part of Microsoft's Project Cortex knowledge-management work. (The first Cortex deliverable was SharePoint Syntex, which is meant to help organizations with content management/document processing.) . Viva Topics includes the Topic Cards, Topic Pages and Topic Centers developed as part of Cortex. It is meant to help people connect with experts through people cards throughout Microsoft 365.

While Viva is all about Microsoft integrating its existing own apps and services in new ways, officials are playing up the ways that partners -- including its own LinkedIn business unit -- can be part of the Viva platform, too.

Viva Learning partners will include Skillsoft, Coursera, edX, Pluralsight, Cornerstone OnDemand, Saba and SAP SuccessFactors. On the Insights front, Microsoft is adding a new dashboard that adds survey data from LinkedIn's Glint about how employees feel. Customers also can integrate other analytics data from third party tools including Zoom, Workday and SAP SuccessFactors, officials said. And Microsoft and its reseller partners are building all kinds of connectors and integrations between Project Cortex pieces like Viva Topics and services like ServiceNow and Salesforce.

As of today, Viva Topics is generally available. Microsoft also announced today the public preview of Viva Insights and a private preview of Viva Learning. Officials are not yet talking about how Viva will be priced and licensed. I asked if users will be able to license the pieces of Viva separately or will have to commit to the entire suite and was told the company would share that information when the components become generally available. That said, Microsoft Viva Topics is available as an add-on to Microsoft 365 commercial subscriptions starting February 4.

Microsoft built an employee-experience platform, but will users come? It's worth noting that not all users are fans of the way Microsoft has designed other personal and managerial analytics tools like Microsoft's Productivity Score because of privacy concerns (some of which Microsoft has said it is addressing).

"Viva could be the first example of app collections designed to meet specific needs," said Tony Redmond, owner and principal of Redmond & Associates consulting and lead author of Office 365 for IT Pros. "I guess it depends on how people respond to it. I am not sure how well this combination will fly in places like France and Germany where employee privacy is taken a lot more seriously than in the U.S.," Redmond added.