When People Analytics Meets Workplace Analytics, Employee Experience Insights Follow
Amongst the multitude of announcements Microsoft has made about its employee experience platform Viva is something I believe is significant, but that might have been easily overlooked: its integration of Glint into Viva Insights.
Glint is one of the many people analytics survey platforms ooking to gain the attention of the HR buyer in a crowded marketplace (viz. Qualtrics, Peakon, Visier, Culture Amp, Trakstar, etc.). HR departments are now being challenged to provide frequent, data-supported employee insights as organizations look to navigate the complexity of hybrid, flexible work practices. Survey platforms are a form of “active” data collection (i.e., you directly intervene to collect data).
“With Glint data in Microsoft Viva Insights, HR and business leaders can combine de-identified and aggregated employee feedback from Glint — "how people feel" — with de-identified and aggregated collaboration data from Microsoft Viva Insights — "how people work" — to deeply understand key aspects of the employee experience and, most importantly, identify concrete and objective ways to improve it.”
Workplace analytics uses “passive” data collection techniques (i.e., done in the background, without direct interactions with the subjects).
Forbes magazine painted the opportunity as:
“This move does put Viva on the path to the longer-term value we envision — a more complete employee engagement platform that draws on data from multiple sources and regularly delivers insight to individuals, managers, and executives when and how they can use it best. But that vision is still anybody’s market to claim and is correctly the goal of every major EX tool provider, from HR suite providers to best-of-breed tool vendors.”
What Is Workplace Analytics?
People (or HR) analytics is relatively well known. Most employees are familiar with the annual employee engagement surveys and now, more regular pulse surveys. Hopefully these surveys would be followed with ensuing reports shared through their HR function. Workplace analytics is less well known. Identified by Gartner as an “new technology" in 2021, Gartner describes it as providing "unprecedented insights into worker and organizational behaviors and practices thanks to an increasing quantity of employee data collected in connected work environments."
Workplace analytics has surfaced through the modern workplace technology adoption practices, mostly located within the IT function. Copious real-time data provides the opportunity for use of the de-identified data to not only report with high granularity on workplace habits, but to also deliver personalized interventions right into the recipient’s “flow of work.”
Collaboration patterns are one element of the workplace that HR surveys struggle with. For example, a survey might surface the proportion of staff self-reporting experiencing workplace stress. But research has shown that a good proportion of workplace stress is related to relationships with closely interacting team colleagues. How can HR analysts confirm or otherwise establish this proposition? This is where workplace analytics can come into its own by analyzing digital interactions between employees in close to real time.
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Organizations Are Demanding Higher-Frequency Analytics
A decade or more ago it was acceptable for HR departments to rely on an annual engagement survey to help improve the operations of their workforce. For an annual survey, the improvement cycle from planning, doing, checking (assessing) and acting (making an intervention) would be more than a minimum of a year. Nowadays, its commonplace for larger organizations to conduct “pulse surveys,” which typically run weekly, monthly or quarterly with a more focused context. However, even with regular pulse surveys, the improvement cycle could last for months or longer.
Workplace analytics has an advantage in that it is on all the time, for all employees. It has no statistical sampling requirements and personalized interventions can be delivered in close to real-time (e.g., have you received a Viva my analytics email suggesting you schedule more focus time?) On the downside, passively collected data also limits the context within which insights can be inferred e.g., can we accurately assess your degree of work overload or stress from your digital interactions alone?
To meet the demand for higher-frequency, human-centered analytics a convergence between HR people analytics and workplace analytics must take place:
The balance between speed of change and the richness of the change can be managed through the cascading improvement cycles, as shown above.
Related Article: Employee Experience Surveys: Dos and Don'ts
Fusing Active and Passive Data Collection
While we have yet to see software integrations between Glint and Workplace Analytics, we have seen Microsoft HR analysts use survey and workplace analytic insights in the same study “Why Microsoft Measures Employee Thriving, Not Engagement.” But what could a closer integration between the active and passive approaches look like?
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The foundation element is the people directory. All organizations have one or more. The Microsoft Active Directory is designed as the enterprise directory for people. However, it’s the people directory contained within the human resource information systems (HRIS) and connected to payroll systems that will likely be more accurate and up to date.
The directory should contain where an individual is located within the organizational structure (labelled organizational membership), described by multiple attributes (e.g., department, function, location, reporting to, start date etc.). Some elements of the directory may not cater to the more dynamic elements (e.g. membership of project teams, online communities etc.). In this case the formal directory would need to be supplemented by data from systems like the enterprise social networking platform for communities or teams membership from the teaming platform.
Collectively, the directories provide a rich source of segmentation for active HR people analytics driven analyses (employee journey) and the passive day-to-day employee work experiences. Fusing the active and passive data collection approaches around a common people directory provides the opportunity to deliver multi-tiered insights, right down to the individual level.
Related Article: Is Responsible Employee Surveillance Possible?
Pervasive Employee Experience Analytics in Practice
An example scenario: HR people analysts have identified a potential engagement issue with new staff. Many of these staff have been onboarded during the pandemic and are only now starting to venture into the office. The 2021 annual engagement survey identified quite strong levels of engagement by this cohort — after all they were starting a new job — but there were some worrying signs in the open comments about feelings of isolation, despite the availability of a comprehensive digital working environment.
During 2022 a number of pulse surveys were designed and executed with the specific purpose of assessing the effects of the company’s new staff wellness program on this cohort in particular. The pulse surveys identified a particularly low uptake of the program by this cohort. It was becoming apparent that the source of concern and potential flight risk for this cohort might be in their engagement with their direct line management and day-to-day team colleagues.
The leadership decided to continue their investigation through the use of workplace analytics dashboards using de-identified data specifically from this new starter cohort. Attributes for departmental membership, geographic location and gender were also added as additional filters. The workplace and HR analysts decided to look at the two-way digital interactions for this cohort, as a proxy for people to people engagement. They were also interested in the degree of cross-department and cross-team interactions between new starters. The intent was to look for scenarios where engagement issues could be identified that were consistent with those identified in the annual and pulse surveys.
Having identified, with some granularity, where the flight risk was greatest with the cohort of new starters, the analysts went about designing customized interventions. Some of these interventions entailed specifically designed face to face events. However, a good proportion of new staff were permanent remote workers. In those cases, the workplace analysts teamed with the HR learning and development staff to design a set of tiered educational resources that could be triggered when individuals met specific thresholds (e.g., employees showing low levels of digital connections with other staff). These resources were tiered from simple hints and tips to full online collaborative workshops and courses.
Importantly, the analysts did not have to wait for the next annual or pulse survey to see the results of their training interventions. The continuous reports in the workplace analytics dashboards made it possible to assess the impacts as they happened.
The above scenario may be fictitious, but the issue described is a real one surfaced though our digital working benchmarking studies. I think the Forbes magazine commentary on the potential for this new partnership is spot on.
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About the Author
Laurence Lock Lee is the co-founder and chief scientist at Swoop Analytics, a firm specializing in online social networking analytics. He previously held senior positions in research, management and technology consulting at BHP Billiton, Computer Sciences Corporation and Optimice.