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Microsoft Gives Employee Experience a Viva Boost, LumApps Debuts Campaigns, More

September 30, 2022 Digital Workplace
Siobhan Fagan
By Siobhan Fagan

Anecdotal evidence suggests there's a considerable disconnect between management and workers over productivity and what each understands by the term. The recently published Work Trend Index Pulse report from Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft appears to confirm that disconnect.

The survey found only 12% of leaders had "full confidence" their team was productive. Yet 87% of employees reported being productive. In an interview with BBC, Microsoft CEO and chairman Satya Nadella urged leaders to move past what he termed 'productivity paranoia.' 

The report also showed dissent between leaders and employees on the role and importance of office-based and flexible work.  

“To bridge this gap, a new approach is needed that recognizes work is no longer just a place but an experience that needs to transcend time and space so employees can stay engaged and connected no matter where they are working,” a blog post about the research reads. 

Some interesting figures from the report: 

  • 85% of leaders say the shift to hybrid work has made it challenging to have confidence in their employees.  
  • 73% of employees say a back to office mandate isn't a good enough reason to return to the physical workplace. 
  • 55% of employees say the best way to develop their skills is to change companies. 

Organizational leaders will find plenty of other data points worrying, especially given the scope of the research. The report is based on an external survey of 20,000 people in 11 countries along with analysis of trillions of Microsoft 365 productivity signals, which indicates the problem is global. 

What it comes down to is — despite evidence to the contrary — company leaders don’t believe workers are as productive at home as they are in the physical workplace. 

The report's findings weren't all negative. It showed most workers are looking for a hybrid solution and are willing to return to the office given a good enough reason. In fact, 85% said they would be motivated to go in if there was an opportunity to socialize with co-workers or rebuild team bonds. 

Stanford professor Nick Bloom and WFH Research found that only 31% of workers actually want to work entirely remotely:  

There's a myth that all employees want to be fully remote. Some do - 31% on average in the US - but the majority want hybrid #WFH, coming to work usually two to three days a week. Age 20-29 employees are the least keen on fully-remote, valuing in-person mentoring and socializing

— Nick Bloom (@I_Am_NickBloom) September 23, 2022
It’s a major problem too. Research from numerous organizations over the past two years indicate that happy, engaged employees are productive employees and, as this research appears to show, the hybrid model is the way to go for engagement. 

“Thriving employees are what will give organizations a competitive advantage in today’s dynamic economic environment,” said Nadella in a statement

Microsoft Gives Viva an Employee Experience Boost

Clearly, the research serves a dual purpose for Microsoft, as the results inform future and current product directions. The blog about the report also pointed to how Microsoft is applying this information in its portfolio. Nadella is quoted saying: “Today, we’re announcing new innovations across our employee experience platform Microsoft Viva to help leaders end productivity paranoia, rebuild social capital, and re-recruit and re-energize their employees.” 

The additions are designed to tackle this disconnect in keeping with the original objectives of Viva from its February 2021 release, to be an all-in-one employee experience platform. It launched with four different modules to accomplish this goal: 

  • Viva Connections: Internal communications and access to reference information.   
  • Viva Insights: Wellbeing metrics for individuals and managers.   
  • Viva Learning: An E-learning marketplace that includes LinkedIn Learning and integrations with other sources such as Coursera, Cornerstone and Saba.  
  • Viva Topics: Wiki-like cards that summarize terms and link to internal experts and resources.    

The platform has continued adding other capabilities on a piecemeal basis in the time since its launch. Until this launch. This time the additions constitute a significant upgrade, which included four major new additions as well as a number of improvements:

  • Viva Pulse: A feedback mechanism for managers and team leaders to assess the engagement levels of employees. Using smart templates, this new app gathers confidential feedback that identifies what is working and what needs development. It can also suggest learning modules. 
  • Viva Amplify: A new centralized communications app. Amplify pulls together communications campaigns and offers advice on how to improve message creation across all channels. It also provides analytics to inform changes in messaging. 
  • Answers: An interactive knowledge base hub where employees can ask questions and either be matched with existing answers through NLP or receive answers directly from colleagues.
  • People in Viva: AI-driven people discovery which connects employees based on interests, knowledge, skills and team goals. These will be available on Microsoft 365 profiles and on a new app. 

The release also improves existing offerings, including Engage. Next year, Microsoft will add Leadership Corner to Engage, which puts employees and leaders in contact with each other within the context of existing communities. The module will allow for new event formats to support dialogue. New integrations in Viva Goals will bring goals into the flow of work including a richer integration with Microsoft Teams, while improved integrations between Viva Learning and LinkedIn Learning will make it easier to access content from LinkedIn Learning. 

There are other improvements too, all of which will available at the beginning of next year and all of them are designed to improve employee experiences at all levels of the organization. 

However, technology alone cannot solve the problems noted in the Microsoft study above. As the company itself noted, a new approach is needed to bridge the disconnect between leaders and employees, one that recognizes work is no longer just a place but an experience that needs to transcend time and space. How technology fits into this mix is not clear, but Viva certainly seems to have all the bases covered in this respect. 

LumApps Releases Campaigns

Austin, Texas-based LumApps also was looking to the employee experience this week, with the launch of LumApps Campaigns. Campaigns is aimed at supporting multi-step internal communication strategies across numerous applications and channels, including text and chats. 

The release follows on the heels of the data layer announcement earlier this month. The new data layer sits on the platform and aggregates information on employees from all kinds of channels. Combined with data from organizational devices and applications, the layer makes it possible for organizations to deliver what it described as ‘hyper-personalized’ communications and interactions across touchpoints. Campaigns takes it one step further by delivering a segmentation tool, which makes it possible to provide tailored information to individuals based on multiple variables. 

According to LumApps, until now most organizations have been forced to launch communication campaigns using non-targeted top down communications that are, to all intents and purposes, shooting in the digital dark with little feedback from those who on the receiving end of those communications. 

Campaigns aims to address this issue, by creating coordinated communications based around a goal, idea, event or concept. They can speak to any aspect of an employee journey, including onboarding and culture initiatives. 

“Today’s employees have a heightened desire for personalization and authenticity. A one-size-fits-all approach to communication and campaigns is not enough to engage employees and foster communication and collaboration,” Idriss Bentoumi, chief product officer at LumApps, said in a statement

LumApps was founded in 2012 and has headquarters in Lyon, France. It also has offices in Austin, San Francisco, New York, Paris, Lille, Frankfurt and Tokyo. The company has raised $102 million, with $70 million of that raised in the last Series C funding round in 2020, according to Crunchbase.

ActivTrak Integrates With Google Workspace

Elsewhere this week, Austin,Texas-based ActivTrak announced an integration with Google Workpsace, which will give Workspace managers deeper insights into the usage of different apps and tools. According to the company, ActivTrak for Google Workspace will allow users to embed work metrics into specific apps enabling them streamline their day and ultimately become more productive.

While the company states the update will help employees protect their leisure time and improve well-being in respect to the workplace, its more likely use will be to assess who is doing what and on what tools.

In fact, citing data from its 2022 State of the Workplace Report (free after registration), ActivTrak found collaboration tools interrupt employees an average 70 times per day, and only 3% of employees have focus sessions that last longer than 50 minutes.

The focus then, is clearly work. The new integration offers metrics into digital work across all apps and websites, offering insights into app usage, screen time, distractions, focus time, breaks taken and days overworked. At a broader level, ActivTrak integrations can also offer insights into workforce activity data with other business applications and data sources like employee experience, HCM and project management apps.

All of this is can be very useful, particularly with something as important as Google Workplace, but it also raises the question – as other workplace metrics solutions do – as to how much monitoring of employee activity will be fed to management to enable a deeper assessment of employee productivity and whether this is a good or bad thing. 

Unravel Data Raises $50M

Finally this week, Palo Alto, Calif.-based Unravel Data has raised $50 million in Series D funding. 

Unravel develops a DataOps observability platform that helps data-driven organizations optimize the business value of their data. This current investment brings the total amount of funding raised so far to $107 million.

The funding will be used to build out the Unravel Platform and enable it to connect all the different data siloes created by enterprise systems like Databricks, Snowflake, Amazon EMR, BigQuery, and Dataproc and extract it to make it useable across the organization.

Unravel Data is riding on the growing interest in Data Observability as a possible solution to the unharnessed data in the enterprise.

“Data engineers and data scientists currently spend more than half their day debugging and troubleshooting issues on the thousands of data pipelines in their environment,” said Kunal Agarwal, CEO of Unravel Data in a statement.

He also pointed out that similar to the evolution of the DevOps market, which united the practice of software development and operations a decade ago to transform the application lifecycle, data teams need the same full-stack visibility, automation, and actionable intelligence around their data.


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