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.

Fintech

Judge Zia Faruqui is trying to teach you crypto, one ‘SNL’ reference at a time

His decisions on major cryptocurrency cases have quoted "The Big Lebowski," "SNL," and "Dr. Strangelove." That’s because he wants you — yes, you — to read them.

The ways Zia Faruqui (right) has weighed on cases that have come before him can give lawyers clues as to what legal frameworks will pass muster.

Photo: Carolyn Van Houten/The Washington Post via Getty Images

“Cryptocurrency and related software analytics tools are ‘The wave of the future, Dude. One hundred percent electronic.’”

That’s not a quote from "The Big Lebowski" — at least, not directly. It’s a quote from a Washington, D.C., district court memorandum opinion on the role cryptocurrency analytics tools can play in government investigations. The author is Magistrate Judge Zia Faruqui.

Keep Reading Show less
Veronica Irwin

Veronica Irwin (@vronirwin) is a San Francisco-based reporter at Protocol covering fintech. Previously she was at the San Francisco Examiner, covering tech from a hyper-local angle. Before that, her byline was featured in SF Weekly, The Nation, Techworker, Ms. Magazine and The Frisc.

The financial technology transformation is driving competition, creating consumer choice, and shaping the future of finance. Hear from seven fintech leaders who are reshaping the future of finance, and join the inaugural Financial Technology Association Fintech Summit to learn more.

Keep Reading Show less
FTA
The Financial Technology Association (FTA) represents industry leaders shaping the future of finance. We champion the power of technology-centered financial services and advocate for the modernization of financial regulation to support inclusion and responsible innovation.
Enterprise

AWS CEO: The cloud isn’t just about technology

As AWS preps for its annual re:Invent conference, Adam Selipsky talks product strategy, support for hybrid environments, and the value of the cloud in uncertain economic times.

Photo: Noah Berger/Getty Images for Amazon Web Services

AWS is gearing up for re:Invent, its annual cloud computing conference where announcements this year are expected to focus on its end-to-end data strategy and delivering new industry-specific services.

It will be the second re:Invent with CEO Adam Selipsky as leader of the industry’s largest cloud provider after his return last year to AWS from data visualization company Tableau Software.

Keep Reading Show less
Donna Goodison

Donna Goodison (@dgoodison) is Protocol's senior reporter focusing on enterprise infrastructure technology, from the 'Big 3' cloud computing providers to data centers. She previously covered the public cloud at CRN after 15 years as a business reporter for the Boston Herald. Based in Massachusetts, she also has worked as a Boston Globe freelancer, business reporter at the Boston Business Journal and real estate reporter at Banker & Tradesman after toiling at weekly newspapers.

Image: Protocol

We launched Protocol in February 2020 to cover the evolving power center of tech. It is with deep sadness that just under three years later, we are winding down the publication.

As of today, we will not publish any more stories. All of our newsletters, apart from our flagship, Source Code, will no longer be sent. Source Code will be published and sent for the next few weeks, but it will also close down in December.

Keep Reading Show less
Bennett Richardson

Bennett Richardson ( @bennettrich) is the president of Protocol. Prior to joining Protocol in 2019, Bennett was executive director of global strategic partnerships at POLITICO, where he led strategic growth efforts including POLITICO's European expansion in Brussels and POLITICO's creative agency POLITICO Focus during his six years with the company. Prior to POLITICO, Bennett was co-founder and CMO of Hinge, the mobile dating company recently acquired by Match Group. Bennett began his career in digital and social brand marketing working with major brands across tech, energy, and health care at leading marketing and communications agencies including Edelman and GMMB. Bennett is originally from Portland, Maine, and received his bachelor's degree from Colgate University.

Enterprise

Why large enterprises struggle to find suitable platforms for MLops

As companies expand their use of AI beyond running just a few machine learning models, and as larger enterprises go from deploying hundreds of models to thousands and even millions of models, ML practitioners say that they have yet to find what they need from prepackaged MLops systems.

As companies expand their use of AI beyond running just a few machine learning models, ML practitioners say that they have yet to find what they need from prepackaged MLops systems.

Photo: artpartner-images via Getty Images

On any given day, Lily AI runs hundreds of machine learning models using computer vision and natural language processing that are customized for its retail and ecommerce clients to make website product recommendations, forecast demand, and plan merchandising. But this spring when the company was in the market for a machine learning operations platform to manage its expanding model roster, it wasn’t easy to find a suitable off-the-shelf system that could handle such a large number of models in deployment while also meeting other criteria.

Some MLops platforms are not well-suited for maintaining even more than 10 machine learning models when it comes to keeping track of data, navigating their user interfaces, or reporting capabilities, Matthew Nokleby, machine learning manager for Lily AI’s product intelligence team, told Protocol earlier this year. “The duct tape starts to show,” he said.

Keep Reading Show less
Kate Kaye

Kate Kaye is an award-winning multimedia reporter digging deep and telling print, digital and audio stories. She covers AI and data for Protocol. Her reporting on AI and tech ethics issues has been published in OneZero, Fast Company, MIT Technology Review, CityLab, Ad Age and Digiday and heard on NPR. Kate is the creator of RedTailMedia.org and is the author of "Campaign '08: A Turning Point for Digital Media," a book about how the 2008 presidential campaigns used digital media and data.

Latest Stories
Bulletins