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Microsoft's Viva Engage Assures Us Yammer Is Still Here, Slack Announces Price Bump, More News

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Siobhan Fagan avatar
Yammer makes an appearance in Microsoft Viva's latest release, presenteeism emerges as digital workplace problem and more news.

What does it mean when any mention of a product comes along with assurances that it is still operational? The product in question is Yammer and the assurances came from Microsoft product leader Dan Holme in a post this week about the latest app for the company's employee experience platform: Viva Engage. Microsoft's Seth Patton first announced Viva Engage during the company's annual Inspire partner conference.

Patton, who is the general manager of Microsoft 365, described Viva Engage as a social app for digital communities, conversations and self-expression tools that builds on the existing Yammer capabilities. 

Back to Holme's blog post. "Say it with me," he wrote. "Yammer is not going away."

Brings to mind the Monty Python bit from the 1975 movie, "Monty Python and the Holy Grail": "I'm not dead yet!"

You can't blame people for wondering, as the social networking service's fate has been hazy since Microsoft first acquired it in 2012.

As a product, Yammer's focus has primarily been on community building and offering a forum for knowledge and information exchange. More recently it was folded under the Communities app in Teams, providing more or less the same function. Viva Engage fundamentally supersedes the Communities app in Teams and Outlook with Communities set to retire "later this summer." Is Engage Yammer? Is Yammer Engage? Unclear. 

Viva Engage comes at a time when companies have increasingly adopted a hybrid or remote-first approach to the workplace. Patton wrote in a blog post that this dynamic created the need for the app, as companies seek to improve community within their distributed teams.  

So what does Engage allow workers to do? With it, they can share, view and comment on posts in storylines which look familiar to the feeds in Facebook. Those posts can take the form of conversational posts, videos, images and more. Engage also makes it possible for people to connect with colleagues and join groups based on common interests. 

Engage is embedded within Teams, adding networking capabilities to the enterprise collaboration features that were already available. With Teams occupying a central position in Microsoft's productivity strategy, the integration is to be expected.

Engage's place in the Viva platform is also logical. Microsoft launched Viva in February 2021 to improve employee "engagement, learning, well-being and knowledge discovery, directly into the flow of people’s work." It stated it would accomplish this across four main categories:   

  • 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.   

As for the Yammer vs. Viva Engage question, the answer is ... fuzzy. Microsoft insists – again — that Yammer is and remains a key part of Microsoft 365. A post on the Microsoft Tech Community site reads: 

"Yammer is a key part of Microsoft 365 and Microsoft Viva and this change only impacts the Communities app for Teams & Outlook. The Yammer web experience and the native Yammer mobile apps will continue to be a part of Microsoft 365 SKUs and the same communities, storylines, and stories are made available through both Yammer and the new Viva Engage app. We are continuing to invest in Yammer and bring the powers of Yammer to Microsoft 365 and Viva."  

Onwards.

Google Workspace Get DoD Accreditation

Google has announced that its Workspace suite has taken another major step forward in the public sector with the award of Level 4 authorization from the U.S. Department of Defense. The new authorization effectively gives the Mountain View, Calif.-based company public sector clearance, especially for those agencies or organizations that work with sensitive data. 

The Impact Level 4 (IL4) authorization is a security requirement defined by the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA), which defines security measures and controls related to the handling of Controlled Unclassified Information (CUI). This includes the handling of data related to critical infrastructure, defense, intelligence, finance, law enforcement and proprietary business information. 

The U.S. government has made very clear its intention to move as much of its computing to the cloud as possible. But in order for this to happen, any tool or platform that is installed has to meet DISA's strict security stipulations.

The issue has become even more important in recent years as government agencies look to recruit younger workers who have grown up in digital environments and expect similar tools and functionality in work as they have at home.    

What is noteworthy here is that while many of the cloud vendors now have individual, or stand-alone, cloud offerings for the public sector, most provide what Google describes as isolated “government clouds” that fail to offer everything workers are looking for. This recent certification for Google, however, applies to the entire Workspace and not just isolated elements. 

What certification like this provides customers is a sense of confidence that they are collaborating securely, without having to deploy a separate government cloud limited in its capacity to support customer needs at scale. It also means customers in highly regulated agencies and industries can operate without having to incur additional cost and implementation complexity.      

The new certification bodes well for the future. In June, Google launched a new public sector division that was created to exploit the possible business opportunities offered by the public sector. 

At the time of the launch, Google Cloud CEO Thomas Kurian said the objective of the new business unit was to overcome the obstacles to adoption by public organizations: "Google Public Sector will provide a full complement of business functions and capabilities, including specialized sales, customer engineering, customer success and services, customer support, channel and partner programs, compliance and security operations.”

Google is clearly focused on making this work as only a month after launch, it has already achieved the new certification. 

Slack Bumps Up Its Prices

It was probably inevitable that a price increase would happen after San Francisco-based Salesforce bought Slack in 2020. Slack announced this week plans to raise its prices in September. The increase will only affect users of Slack’s Pro plan, with the price rising from $8 to $8.75 per user per month from September 1, and annual Pro subscriptions increasing from $6.67 to $7.25 per user per month. 

Learning Opportunities

However it is possible to put the price increases off until next year as current customers on an annual Pro subscription can lock in the existing annual rate of $6.67 per user per month for another year by renewing the annual Pro subscription early, before the price increase goes into effect. 

A number of changes are coming to its free plan too. According to a statement from Slack, instead of a 10,000-message limit and 5 GB of storage, Slack is offering users access to the past 90 days of message history and file storage. The result, the statement reads, is that no matter how much your free team uses Slack, you will always have access to 90 days of history. While this sounds as if it might negatively affect smaller users who don't reach their limit within the 90 day period, the statement assures this will be a good change for "the majority of our active free teams."

Granted, this is the first price increase in eight years. Over that period, the platform has rapidly evolved to the point where it is equal to competitors such as Teams or Google Workspace.   

The price increases will only affect Pro customers worldwide, and not companies on Slack’s Business Plus or custom enterprise plans. 

 ‘Presenteesim’ in the Workplace

Productivity software has failed to live up to its promise of better work practices. That's just one conclusion out of a recent report from Qatalog and GitLab titled  Killing Time at Work. The survey of 2000 knowledge workers aimed to find out how organizations are adapting to asynchronous work.

The report also identified a phenomenon which many workers said they have felt in the past, but didn't have the term to describe it. The new term is “digital presenteeism’ and it’s not just a vague feeling of discontent, but rather an entire culture, the research says.

The report shows that the introduction of hybrid and remote work models has meant that many managers only interact with their teams online. For knowledge workers this has led to concerns, expressed by more than half of those surveyed (54%), who said they felt pressure to demonstrate that they are virtually ‘present’ and online during the day.

The pressure is so bad in some cases, that respondents reported wasting an extra 67 minutes online each day due to such ‘digital presenteeism’ pressures, which the report defines as the feeling by workers that they need to show they are present online.

How do workers show they are present?

  • 70% send or reply to emails.
  • 53% send or reply to messages on messaging applications.
  • 52% set status on Slack or Teams to 'Active.' 
  • 51% join team video calls.
  • 29% add or reply to comments on document editing tools. 

The flip side of this is that managers ‘allow’ themselves to work asynchronously and as best suits their own timetable, something which only 24% of junior staff reported being able to do. 

The survey results show that almost three quarters (74%) of those in the C-Suite said they work asynchronously ‘Often’ or ‘Always,’ compared to 48% of those at vice president or director level, 32% of those at a Manager or Consultant level, and 24% of those in Analyst or Administrative roles.  

One of the many questions this raises is what impact this has on employee experiences. How does it affect engagement? How is this contributing to the so-called ‘Great Resignation’? In addition, of course the big question is what it means for remote and hybrid working. Check out the full report here.

TextExpander Raises $41.4M

Finally, this week, San Francisco-based TextExpander, which develops productivity software, announced it raised $41.4 million in its first ever financing round. The company also appointed a new CEO.

According to a statement from the company, the money will be used to continue its R&D plans as well as hire new staff and expand the company’s reach.

TextExpander was developed to automate content creation and offer a more personalized approach to communications by offering customizable, user-defined keyboard shortcuts, or “snippets."