Microsoft Viva enhancements address employee disconnect in hybrid work environments

For the majority of office-based workers, working outside the office has been the new normal for close to two and a half years. Hybrid work, however, has created a growing disconnect between employees and leaders, according to new research from Microsoft's latest Work Trend Index Pulse Report, published in conjunction with the latest product upgrades to its employee experience platform, Viva.

The report, "Hybrid Work Is Just Work. Are We Doing It Wrong?," is based on data from 20,000 people in 11 countries, in addition to trillions of Microsoft 365 productivity signals and findings from  LinkedIn and Glint People Science.

Organizations have reached a critical turning point in the evolution of hybrid work, with Microsoft's findings clearly demonstrating that a new approach is needed from companies, said Sunita Khatri, a senior director of product marketing at Microsoft.

"Now more than ever, leaders need to balance employee interest with what it takes for the business to be successful moving forward," Khatri said. "This means aligning people's tasks with work that matters or has an impact and creating an employee experience that meets employee expectations."

These tensions are particularly acute when it comes to issues of productivity. Dubbed "productivity paranoia" by Microsoft, research shows that 85% of leaders say the shift to hybrid work has made it challenging to have confidence their employees are being productive, while 87% of employees surveyed for the report said they are productive at work.

Managers miss visual cues of productivity

Many leaders and managers are missing the old visual cues of what it means to be productive because they can't physically "see" who is hard at work, according to Microsoft,. The report found that 49% of hybrid-work managers said they struggle to trust that their employees are doing their best work, in comparison to 36% of in-person managers.

Furthermore, 54% of hybrid-work managers reported having less visibility into the work their employees do, while only 38% of in-person managers reported having the same problem. As a result, employees are now feeling the pressure to "prove" they're working, causing so-called "digital overwhelm" to soar.

Consequently, unless leaders stop worrying about whether their employees are working, amd instead focus on helping them prioritize the work that's most important, Microsoft hypothesizes that hybrid work will become unsustainable. This issue is further illustrated by the fact 81% of employees surveyed said it was important that their managers helped them prioritize their workload, but only 31% said their managers had ever given clear guidance during one-on-ones.

The report also highlighted the need for organizations to have a better understanding of what motivates their employees to come into the office. Seventy-three percent of employees and 78% of business decision makers surveyed said they need a better reason to go into the office than company expectations, with 84% saying they would be motivated to go in if they could socialize with coworkers, and 85% citing the ability rebuild team bonds.

To retain employees, the Microsoft research highlights the importance of re-skilling and up-skilling your employees. Of those surveyed, 55% of employees said the best way to develop their skills is to change companies. However, 68% said they would stay longer at their company if it was easier to change jobs internally, a figure that rose to 76% if they knew they would be offered learning and development support.

To try and address the challenges outlined by the report, Microsoft have launched a slew of new additions to its Viva platform.

Microsoft Viva addresses hybrid-work challenges

Khatri said that alongside attempting to bridge the employee/manager disconnect, all the updates to the Viva platform are focused on unifying the employee experience. These include two new apps, Viva Pulse and Viva Amplify.

Viva Pulse is designed to enable managers and team leaders to seek regular and confidential feedback on their team's experience, using smart templates and research-backed questions to help managers pinpoint what's working well, where to focus, and what actions could be undertaken to address team needs.

"This [product] is really focused on empowering managers to regularly seek feedback from their teams and then be able to take action on those confidential responses," Khatri said.

In comparison, Viva Amplify is meant to improve communication between leaders and employees. The app centralizes communications campaigns, offers writing guidance to improve message resonance, enables publishing across multiple channels and distribution groups in Microsoft 365, and provides metrics for improvement.

In addition to the app launches, Microsoft is also introducing a slew of new capabilities to Viva, including Answers in Viva, Leadership Corner in Viva Engage, and People in Viva.

Answers in Viva uses AI to match employee questions to answers and experts across the organization to help put collective knowledge to work for all employees, while Leadership Corner provides a space where employees can interact directly with leadership, share ideas and perspectives, participate in organization initiatives, and more.

People in Viva is also an AI-driven capability that creates profile cards with details on an employee's interests, knowledge and team goals to help colleagues easily discover connections, experts and insights across the organization.

Viva integrations enhance ease of use

Viva Goals, which was launched over the summer, will have upgraded capabilities too, including a deeper integration with Microsoft Teams to check in on OKRs (objectives and key results), new integrations with Microsoft Planner and Microsoft Project, and an Azure DevOps extension.

The integrations enhance ease of use, said J. P. Gownder, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester.

"The fact that a lot of the employee-facing experiences can be used right inside of Teams is helpful at reducing some of the complexity of the numerous features,"  Gownder said.

In addition, enhanced integrations between Viva Learning and LinkedIn Learning will make it easer for users to access content from LinkedIn Learning Hub, all of which will be synched directly in Viva. A new home experience in Viva Connections will bring all the Viva apps together in one place, and updates to the Viva briefing email will provide more personalized productivity recommendations to help employees catch up on work, meetings and learning.