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Microsoft’s new Viva tool gives ‘productivity’ a more human definition

Getting more done is still the plan, but Microsoft's trying to help keep everyone sane, too.

Microsoft Viva Connections

Viva Connections is just one part of Microsoft's new way of thinking about the employee experience.

Image: Microsoft

Microsoft is launching a new set of tools designed to help companies be more productive. That's not a terribly revolutionary thing for Microsoft to do, but the approach this time is quite different. The new set of tools, called Microsoft Viva, is less about increasing operational efficiency or hitting your KPIs faster, and more about making sure employees are happy, sane and feel taken care of.

While Viva is a set of tools, it's ultimately part of an even larger family: Microsoft's building a new "Employee Experience Platform" to try to help redefine, quantify and achieve a new definition of employee success. The industry Microsoft is trying to capture is worth hundreds of billions of dollars a year, dominated by companies like ServiceNow. And Viva is Microsoft's first foot into the fray. So far, Viva is four things: Viva Learning, a hub for all of a company's training and courses; Viva Topics, an automatically curated library of various internal videos, presentations and other content; Viva Connections, a Facebook Workplace-style intranet that can help people find resources within the company; and Viva Insights, which aims to measure and help improve employee experience.

Most companies already have a lot of this stuff, but it's in a dozen different systems that nobody ever remembers to check. Microsoft wants to collect it all in one place, and then by integrating it into Microsoft Teams, make it available in the place everyone spends their time.

In the long run, Viva Insights is the key to understanding what Microsoft is trying to do with Viva, and with EXP in general. In the early days of the pandemic, Microsoft began hearing a lot of the same question from its customers: How do I find out how my employees are doing? Not just whether they're getting any work done (though there was a bit of that, too), but whether employees are burned out, struggling to manage work-life balance, feeling lonely, all the things so many people have felt over the last year. They wanted to know if Microsoft could offer some insight.

Even within Microsoft, coping with the new ways of work has been a challenge. "I transitioned about a year ago into this new job that I'm in," said Kirk Koenigsbauer, who is now COO and CVP of Microsoft's experiences and devices group. "I haven't met 80% of my team." The day we chatted, he was gearing up for an all-nighter in his New Hampshire home, in order to do a quarterly catch-up with a team in India. "I've seen so many people I work with, with their kids, their grandparents, their spouses, their cats, their dogs. It's all just there. So how do you keep employees connected?"

Microsoft Viva Insights Viva Insights tries to put numbers — and solutions — to questions about employee productivity and well-being.Image: Microsoft

Things like connection and burnout are hard to measure, but Koenigsbauer is hopeful Microsoft can at least help shed some light on things. "If I'm a manager, I can very quickly kick off a quick survey and get insights. I would call that quantitative data." And here he's careful to note that Microsoft is trying to do this in a privacy-preserving way, anonymizing individual data and only sharing it with bosses in aggregated form. After the backlash to the "Productivity Score" that automatically showed managers a lot of individual data about users' activity, Microsoft's eager to not repeat the same mistake.

Koenigsbauer said there are other ways Microsoft is learning to measure employee well-being, but also acknowledged that there's always going to be a qualitative side of the story. He pointed to Viva's partnership with Headspace as an example: "If you have some of this high-level trend information," he said, "they can provide a bunch of tools to help employees, whether it's meditation or a bunch of different services that they're going to provide."

These insights aren't meant to just be for managers, either: Employees can turn to Viva for help remembering to take breaks and set calendar boundaries, and to ensure they're spending time on the right things. Koenigsbauer pointed to Microsoft's recent Virtual Commute feature, which automatically sets aside time for employees to get ready for work even when they're working from home, as an example of the sort of simple, automated system that can make work better.

Most companies will handle these things in different ways, he said, and there will always be outliers who demand ruthless production at all costs. "But generally speaking, people's interests are aligned," he said. "Successful, happy, non-burned out employees are what's going to keep things going."

Koenigsbauer acknowledged that Viva is new, that the world of work remains in flux, and that a lot is likely to change even in the next several months. "What if two of us decide to go into the office and the other person doesn't want to?" he asked, just to name one example. "Will the fear of missing out happen again?" But he's confident that EXP is a big business going forward, and thinks Microsoft's well-equipped to lead it. The company already knows so much about how its customers work. If it can figure out how to measure that in a way that is both respectful of privacy and useful to all parties — which will be no small task — it can help nudge everyone in better directions.

Transforming 2021

Truveta’s plan to make health AI that actually works

Former Microsoft executive Terry Myerson's new health data venture aims to apply big data to patient care with "an alliance of health systems."

Former Windows chief Terry Myerson on the move to AI in medicine.

Photo: Truveta

If health AI were a patient at a hospital, its chart up to this point wouldn't look too promising.

Its symptoms are long-standing and chronic: a lack of interoperability, a dearth of equitable data sets and a difficult-to-navigate relationship with patient privacy. And the specialists that have taken a crack at treating it — Big Tech, insurance giants, AI and cloud companies — have largely come up short with patient-care tools that have broad utility across the medical field.

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Kevin McAllister

Kevin McAllister ( @k__mcallister) is an associate editor at Protocol, leading the development of Braintrust. Prior to joining the team, he was a rankings data reporter at The Wall Street Journal, where he oversaw structured data projects for the Journal's strategy team.

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Building better relationships in the age of all-remote work

How Stripe, Xero and ModSquad work with external partners and customers in Slack channels to build stronger, lasting relationships.

Image: Original by Damian Zaleski

Every business leader knows you can learn the most about your customers and partners by meeting them face-to-face. But in the wake of Covid-19, the kinds of conversations that were taking place over coffee, meals and in company halls are now relegated to video conferences—which can be less effective for nurturing relationships—and email.

Email inboxes, with hard-to-search threads and siloed messages, not only slow down communication but are also an easy target for scammers. Earlier this year, Google reported more than 18 million daily malware and phishing emails related to Covid-19 scams in just one week and more than 240 million daily spam messages.

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Policy

Here are Big Tech’s biggest threats from states

The states are moving much quicker than Congress on privacy, taxes and content moderation.

Virginia is expected to be the second state to pass a comprehensive privacy law.

Photo: Ron Cogswell/Flickr

When critics say that Virginia's new privacy bill is "industry-approved," they're not totally wrong, said David Marsden, the state senator who has been working for months to shepherd the law through the state legislature.

It was an Amazon lobbyist who originally presented Marsden with the text of the bill, which hews closely to the failed Washington Privacy Act, versions of which have been pushed by Microsoft across the country.

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Emily Birnbaum

Emily Birnbaum ( @birnbaum_e) is a tech policy reporter with Protocol. Her coverage focuses on the U.S. government's attempts to regulate one of the most powerful industries in the world, with a focus on antitrust, privacy and politics. Previously, she worked as a tech policy reporter with The Hill after spending several months as a breaking news reporter. She is a Bethesda, Maryland native and proud Kenyon College alumna.

Transforming 2021

Blockchain, QR codes and your phone: the race to build vaccine passports

Digital verification systems could give people the freedom to work and travel. Here's how they could actually happen.

One day, you might not need to carry that physical passport around, either.

Photo: CommonPass

There will come a time, hopefully in the near future, when you'll feel comfortable getting on a plane again. You might even stop at the lounge at the airport, head to the regional office when you land and maybe even see a concert that evening. This seemingly distant reality will depend upon vaccine rollouts continuing on schedule, an open-sourced digital verification system and, amazingly, the blockchain.

Several countries around the world have begun to prepare for what comes after vaccinations. Swaths of the population will be vaccinated before others, but that hasn't stopped industries decimated by the pandemic from pioneering ways to get some people back to work and play. One of the most promising efforts is the idea of a "vaccine passport," which would allow individuals to show proof that they've been vaccinated against COVID-19 in a way that could be verified by businesses to allow them to travel, work or relax in public without a great fear of spreading the virus.

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Mike Murphy

Mike Murphy ( @mcwm) is the director of special projects at Protocol, focusing on the industries being rapidly upended by technology and the companies disrupting incumbents. Previously, Mike was the technology editor at Quartz, where he frequently wrote on robotics, artificial intelligence, and consumer electronics.

Trello is getting out of to-do lists and into fixing the future of work

It's not just boards and cards, and it's not just a productivity tool anymore.

Trello cards can now be YouTube videos, Figma designs and much more.

Image: Trello

Trello doesn't want to be a productivity tool anymore. At least, not in the way it's been lumped in with so many other tools in the past. Instead of a digital version of the sticky notes on your whiteboard — the Kanban framework it borrowed from software development and helped popularize everywhere — Trello now wants to be the dashboard for your entire digital work life.

What that looks like in practice is Trello rethinking the idea of what a Trello card actually is. Going forward, a Google Doc can be a Trello card. A Figma design can be a Trello card. A YouTube video, a Dropbox file, an Amazon listing — they all can be Trello cards. All exist essentially as miniature apps inside Trello, where they can be moved around, organized and discussed. Michael Pryor, Trello's head of product, said it has 30 integrations already, and it's opening up an API to anyone who wants to build their apps into Trello cards.

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David Pierce

David Pierce ( @pierce) is Protocol's editor at large. Prior to joining Protocol, he was a columnist at The Wall Street Journal, a senior writer with Wired, and deputy editor at The Verge. He owns all the phones.

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