MJFChat: How Microsoft Viva Can Improve the Employee Experience

We’re doing a twice-monthly interview show on Petri.com that is dedicated to covering topics of interest to our tech-professional audience. We have branded this show “MJFChat.”

In my role as Petri’s Community Magnate, I will be interviewing a variety of IT-savvy technology folks. Some of these will be Petri contributors; some will be tech-company employees; some will be IT pros. We will be tackling various subject areas in the form of 30-minute audio interviews. I will be asking the questions, the bulk of which we’re hoping will come from you, our Petri.com community of readers.

Readers can submit questions via Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and/or LinkedIn using the #AskMJF hashtag. Once the interviews are completed, we will post the audio and associated transcript in the forums for readers to digest at their leisure. (By the way, did you know MJFChats are now available in podcast form? Go here for MJF Chat on Spotify; here for Apple Podcasts on iTunes; and here for Google Play.)

Our latest MJFChat is all about Microsoft’s Viva employee experience platform and how it can help customers with employee attrition during this current “Great Resignation” wave. In this chat my special guest, Microsoft 365 General Manager of Product Marketing Seth Patton, brings us up to speed on what’s happening with Viva and why Microsoft contends that it can make a difference in keeping employees and keeping them happy.

If you know someone you’d like to see interviewed on the MJFChat show, including yourself, just Tweet to me or drop me a line. (Let me know why you think this person would be an awesome guest and what topics you’d like to see covered.) We’ll take things from there…


Mary Jo Foley (00:02):
Hi, you’re listening to Petri.Com’s MJF Chat show. I am Mary Jo Foley, AKA your Petri.com community magnate. And I am here to interview tech industry experts about various topics that you, our readers and our listeners want to know about. Today’s MJF Chat is going to be focused on Microsoft’s Viva, Employee Experience Platform, and in particular, how Microsoft believes Viva can help companies deal with the current “Great Resignation” wave that’s happening out there. My special guest for this chat today is Seth Patton, who is the general manager of Microsoft 365 Product Marketing. Hi, Seth long time no see in person, but I hope soon. And thanks for doing this chat with me today.

Seth Patton (02:08):
My pleasure, Mary Jo, thanks for having me.

Mary Jo Foley (02:11):
So let’s start out with a really high level refresh for our listeners about Viva. I feel like we talked a lot about Viva a while ago, and now we haven’t as much recently. So I’m going to say, if somebody asked you for your elevator pitch on Viva, what would you say?

Seth Patton (02:30):
Well, it depends a little bit on how many floors we have. But if I have just a short, couple of floors, I talk about Microsoft Viva as the first ever Employee Experience Platform that was designed for the hybrid work era. So it brings together employee communications, knowledge, learning, workplace insights, and importantly, all the other company resources that an employee needs to succeed right in the flow of work in Microsoft Teams and other Microsoft 365 apps. And then if I have a little more time, I also will add that with Viva, our goal is to go beyond productivity and collaboration to really rethink company culture, employee wellbeing, knowledge sharing, and learning so that people are more connected and engaged. They’re more productive, but they’re also more balanced no matter where they choose to work. So it’s really a focus on developing people, growth, and wellbeing so that people in organizations can achieve more sustainable performance and not just those short-term productivity gains.

Mary Jo Foley (03:35):
Okay, great. So also let’s talk about the concept of the “Great Resignation”, because I’ve heard that term bandied about a bit, but what does Microsoft consider that to mean? And why is it happening now? Is it just a product of the pandemic and pandemic burnout, or is there more going on around this idea of everybody suddenly is quitting their jobs?

Seth Patton (03:59):
Yeah, so as companies learned, you know, during the pandemic and now as they prepare to reopen physical office locations, there is this growing recognition of the challenges with hybrid work. And according to recent surveys that we have, 60% of people say that they feel less connected to their team and their organization. After that shift to remote work. 85% say that their wellbeing had declined, 56% say that job demands have increased. And so while remote work has its challenges, at the same time, 73% of employees want flexible remote work options to stay. And so really keeping people engaged, balancing productivity and wellbeing, developing and growing skills is more important than ever, but it’s also more challenging when people are disconnected and physically apart. But now we also find ourselves in this highly competitive labor market. And so, you know, the “Great Resignation” as you called it, in fact, 41% in our workplace trends index say that they’re considering new roles and new jobs altogether coming out of the pandemic.

Seth Patton (05:07):
But really this only tells I think one part of the story. There’s the flip side of that, which is the “Great Onboarding” or ultimately what is happening, a term coined by Ryan Roslansky, who’s the CEO of our LinkedIn sister company here, is the “Great Reshuffle”. And so as you think about this, every company rethinking how they work, their culture and their values and employees, similarly, trying to find that right fit for them and their expectations have certainly changed, but what their goals are and what they’re trying to achieve has as well. So think about, you know, we’ve talked about the future of work for the last, maybe decade on how technology was going to change jobs and how people could get ready for those changes. But now we’re talking about things like work-life balance, how people want to feel more fulfilled in their job and more in control of their careers. And so we really expect this to result in some pretty significant talent shifts as companies and employees make these decisions about their workplace norms and values and policies. And we do think you know, as a part of this, we’re going to see somewhat of a reshuffle. And I think ultimately it will be a positive thing, especially for organizations who embrace flexibility. I think it will be more difficult and more challenging for those that stay a little more rigid.

Mary Jo Foley (06:32):
Yeah. So Microsoft’s actually making the claim that Viva can help users meaning like the leaders of a company prevent, or at least mitigate turnover and attrition. That’s the kind of things we’re talking about with this “Great Resignation” wave. So how specifically can an employee experience platform do that?

Seth Patton (06:58):
Yeah, so I read recently, and I’ve spoken to one of the leading HR and EX technology analysts. You may have heard of Josh Bersin and he recently talked about it as the new war for talent will be won on employee experience. And you think about it today, the employee experience in most organizations is too complicated. There’s, you know, over the years, companies have purchased and deployed a proliferation of, you know, HR and digital technologies, think employee engagement surveys, wellbeing programs, learning systems, tools for employee communications, and on and on. And while the intentions were good, the reality is that these systems are fragmented and disconnected from people’s day-to-day work. And this leads to, you know, low utilization, lost productivity, a poor employee experience. And the pandemic frankly, is exposing that fragmentation. And most employees don’t want to spend their time in HR tools. No offense to HR tools, but they prefer to get the real time answers that they need and the support that they need in the flow of the work, and the tools where they’re actually getting their work done. Things like Microsoft Teams and Office.

Seth Patton (08:09):
So I think about, you know, just making this real, I have a number of employees who have started and many people have started a new role in the last year or a new company, where you’ve never met a single person face to face, never stepped foot in a physical office. And the challenge is how do you ensure that person feels connected to the company culture, purpose, and mission? How do you ensure that they have the right onboarding training and continuous learning and development, and how do you ensure that they’re able to balance productivity and wellbeing so that we can sustain that performance? And how do we know that this is going well or not? And so those are really the things that we’re tackling with Viva. In a world where people are working from everywhere, how do we actually bring that sense of connection, of belonging, of purpose, and growth and development within the tools that you’re doing your work in. And then just at a very high level, in case people haven’t read up on their you know, their Viva guides lately, there are four specific modules.

Seth Patton (09:11):
Viva Connections is really focused on that culture and communications. Viva Insights helps balance productivity and wellbeing. Viva Learning is focused on bringing all the learning together in one place in Microsoft Teams, which makes that learning more collaborative, but also uses AI to make learning more personalized and relevant. And then finally, Viva Topics is really focused on helping people find knowledge and experts from across their organization, and then put that into work in the apps that they’re using every day.

Mary Jo Foley (09:41):
Nice. I’m going to drill down in those modules a bit with you in a bit. But first, I want to ask a question on behalf of a listener, Microsoft MVP Kevin McDonnell asked a question about how users can help increase the confidence for senior stakeholders around activities to retain staff and how do they know that’ll work? You know, he mentions Workplace Analytics, and said Workplace Analytics can be great when you want to highlight some of the things, but it’s also getting the right focus, it seems to be key. So he wants you to talk a little bit about the idea about how do you know this is all going to work when you have all these different pieces and modules, like how can leaders feel like a sense of confidence about this?

Seth Patton (10:30):
Yeah, no, it’s a great question. I think the term employee experience has been around for a while and certainly in the HR domain, the notion of people as an important asset to invest in has been around. I think the shift that we’ve seen is both in terms of research data and since the pandemic is that what was once an HR priority is now becoming a business imperative. And we now have research that shows us that investing in our people and investing in employee experience can have a real impact. So for example, highly engaged employees are 12x less likely to leave their company than those who are not engaged. 94% of employees say that they will stay at a company longer if it invested in their learning and development. And we have similar research that shows higher employee engagement also has a positive impact on customer satisfaction.

Seth Patton (11:21):
So it’s not just about the notion of making employees happier. It’s really having now a direct impact on the bottom line. And then I think you know, just because I think you mentioned it was Kevin, Kevin McDonnell,

Mary Jo Foley (11:35):

Seth Patton (11:35):
Asked a question around Workplace Analytics. The thing that we’re finding is even more powerful is when you take the data from Viva Insights, which was formerly Workplace Analytics, and you combine it with other data like employee survey data. So Viva Insights gives you an understanding of how work is happening. After hours collaboration, connections between Teams, long and large meetings, all these things, but then combining it with employee survey data about how people feel you can start to correlate. For example, if you’ve had three weeks or more of after hours collaboration in a certain part of your organization on average, does that also correlate to people saying they’re burnt out or they have a problem with work-life balance. And then over time you can even look at that in terms of retention and that’s where you start using data to understand how are you doing? How do you navigate the change and then measure progress?

Mary Jo Foley (12:32):
Okay, great. Now we’re going to have a quick word from one of our new MJF Chat sponsors, which is SmartDeploy. SmartDeploy allows IT departments to re-image unlimited computer models from one golden image, search their library for your models and grab your exclusive free software, worth over $570 by using the URL smartdeploy.com/MJFChat. Okay. Back to you, Seth, for some more questions. Now I want to drill into the four modules of Viva that you mentioned earlier. Let’s start with Connections, Viva connections. So I know this is supposedly something that’s going beyond Yammer and it focuses more on the idea of community. And community building is a lot more tough virtually than in person, I would think. So, how can Viva Connections actually make that experience better?

Seth Patton (13:37):
Yeah. So in a world where we are all physically disconnected, these online communities play a more important role than ever because they’re helping us connect with people across our company, with company leaders, and leaders engaging with employees and with each other. And it’s not just about building connections and networking. It’s also about sharing ideas and harnessing that knowledge from experts across your organization. Understanding what projects are going on that are related to your projects and keeping a pulse on feedback. For example, from your customer service or your field, on your products in order to improve product, the product innovation. So Yammer of course, provides that underlying Communities capability for Viva Connections and across Microsoft 365. So Communities are already integrated into Teams and Outlook and not surprisingly usage of Yammer has more than doubled in the last year due to that growing importance of communities and employee engagement.

Seth Patton (14:36):
And last week we announced Yammer Communities are now integrated into Viva Connections. But importantly, Viva Connections is far more than just Communities. So you can think of Viva Connections as your company’s employee app. It’s like a gateway to all of your company communications, news, the people, tasks, company resources, all within a single company app that can be branded. You know, for me, it’s our Microsoft app in Teams. So Viva Connections is for people who are familiar with sort of having a company intranet, it’s like taking that intranet, making it much more dynamic, having it be a personalized employee app that helps people feel connected and engaged no matter where they’re working.

Mary Jo Foley (15:22):
Okay. Viva Insights. I have to say of all the modules, this one feels a little touchy feely for me, I’m really old school. So I’m like, oh, I don’t know about this analytics stuff. So I’m curious what you’ve heard so far from customers, have they found Insights to be helpful or more, a little more creepy, like, oh man, my employer’s going to know way too much about me and I don’t really want them to know all that. And if it is helpful, why do you think it is helpful versus creepy?

Seth Patton (15:56):
Yeah, I mean, I think it’s a good discussion. If you think about just AI in general, it is extremely powerful in terms of things like helping people find information and experts giving you a more personalized experience in the context of, you know, knowing your preferences and work patterns, helping you be more productive. Everything from creating a document, or delivering a presentation, or providing you recommendations to be a better manager. So those are just examples. The same time with this power does bring up concerns about privacy, which is I think what you’re getting at. And at Microsoft, we have hit this just head on and there’s been good learning over the years to get this right. And we came to the conclusion that privacy is a human right. And that we’ve decided to make privacy a top priority and a promise to all of our customers.

Seth Patton (16:51):
And this means that we build privacy built into everything we do, including Viva Insights. So for example Viva provides analytics both at the individual level, as well as at the organization level. And for individuals, I get great things like reminders to take a break, if I’ve been working for too long. I get an understanding if somebody in my network I’m losing connection with, I get an understanding of how much time I’m spending in meetings or an email versus, you know, focused time. I get an understanding of how much time I’m spending after hours. I get the virtual commute feature to let me mindfully wrap up my day, so I’m more present with my family and those are all super valuable to me, but they’re only available to me. So with Viva Insights, your personal insights and your individual insights are only available to you.

Seth Patton (17:44):
Now, we also provide powerful insights analytics at that organizational level, but those are de-identified, aggregated, so that privacy is maintained. Now that’s where you get an understanding of groups of employees that are maybe at risk of burnout, or experiencing meeting overload, or connections between teams are becoming weaker. Like since the shift to remote work, my sales team is less connected to my marketing team. My engineering team is less connected my customer service team and those insights by the way, are also extremely valuable as organizations are planning their return to the offices, understanding space planning, who to bring back when, et cetera.

Mary Jo Foley (18:24):
Hmm. Okay, great. Viva Learning, I can totally see how this would make employees feel connected and engaged and purposeful, but if you’re, you know, kind of helping employees access all kinds of training materials, not just for your company, but to further their own education, couldn’t you kind of help them be looking for jobs outside their own current place of employment. I can see it being like almost a double-edged sword. Like you’re really helping them be smarter and better educated in their work where they are, but you’re also kind of opening the door to them to learning more and maybe being more successful and able to communicate their skills outside of the organization.

Seth Patton (19:10):
Yeah, I understand. Skill them up and then they find a job somewhere else.

Mary Jo Foley (19:13):

Seth Patton (19:13):
I get it. Yeah, so according to our our research, 79% of CEOs, state that a top concern for them in their future growth. So like one of the top concerns of barrier growth is the lack of those essential skills in their workforce. And then according to a study from LinkedIn, 94% of employees would stay at a company longer if it invested in their learning and development. Another one is that 86% of top performing companies reported that digital training programs, boosted employee engagement and performance. I think we’re at a point Mary Jo, at this point where you don’t really have a choice, you have to take upskilling and development seriously. And even at the risk of them going to another organization, but taking the long game, being an attractive place where employees know they’re going to get invested in developing and growing, think is the only way you’re going to maintain your competitiveness.

Mary Jo Foley (20:15):
Okay. Interesting. All right. Now Viva Topics, I have to say as somebody who covered Viva before it was Viva, I was super interested in this module because it’s all about knowledge management and how companies basically pass on knowledge through the generations and through their own employees. I’m curious though, how does that fit into the idea of staving off retention problems?

Seth Patton (20:43):
Yeah, no, it’s a good question. So we talked about, you know, this past year employees starting, who have never set foot in an office, never met their manager in person. You know, they’ve had to navigate the resources, trying to find information, making those connections all without you know, a coworker to turn to, or to ask for help. And so we did recent research with Spiceworks which shows that workers are losing 5.72 weeks per year of productivity because 11% of their time is spent searching for or recreating information. And that research also found that employees can gain 11% to 14% in daily productivity with a properly deployed set of knowledge discovery tools like Viva Topics. So Viva Topics uses AI to surface knowledge that you have across your organization already, in the content, in the conversations, and the people, but they do it by bringing it to people without them even maybe knowing that they needed to search for something. Because you’re working on a project or working on a document and you see an acronym that you weren’t familiar with and Viva highlights it for you. And then it’s as easy as hovering over that highlight to understand that product, that project, that finding experts associated with that topic. And so that really focuses on harnessing collective knowledge across the organization to make people more productive and turns out people don’t like spending a lot of their time wasted looking for information

Mary Jo Foley (22:15):
Surprising. All right. Finally, any resources, sites, podcasts, books, or any other kind of information you would recommend for people who are interested in this topic?

Seth Patton (22:29):
Yeah, I think one place that I would recommend people go see, if they haven’t already is the Microsoft WorkLab, a lot of the surveys and the research that I talked about, the different data and the workplace trends index is all housed there. Along with a lot of thought leadership articles, as well as guide books for shifting to hybrid work, both for leaders and for employees to help make that shift easier. And then of course you know, go to our Microsoft.com Viva site, Viva.com to learn more about Viva and our ecosystem of partners. Cause it’s not just about Viva, it’s also all of the partners that are integrating into Viva that make it an employee experience platform.

Mary Jo Foley (23:11):
I also noticed you’re starting to fill out the Microsoft Docs site with more Viva information too. Right?

Seth Patton (23:18):
Great point. Yes. Always a good spot to go, especially for more of the technical documentation.

Mary Jo Foley (23:25):
Great. Well, thank you so much for the time today, Seth, and it’s always great to get to chat with you and I hope I get to see you and do this in person soon.

Seth Patton (23:34):
You as well, Mary Jo, thanks again.

Mary Jo Foley (23:36):
Great. For everyone else who’s listening right now or reading the transcript of this chat. I’ll be putting up information soon about who my next guest going to be and what the next topic will be. Once you see that you can submit questions directly on Twitter, using the #MJFChat, and we need you to use the hashtag so we can find the questions and add them to our list. In the meantime, if you know of anyone else or even yourself who might make a good guest for one of these chats, please do not hesitate to drop me a note. Thank you very much.