Microsoft logo on flagship store in NYC, 2019
PHOTO: The Art of Pics | Shutterstock

The adage "when you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail" is certainly the case for enterprise collaboration. Collaboration product vendors often claim their products do it all, but the reality is collaboration comes in many forms and so far, one size fits none.

The MIT Sloan Management Review article "Picking the Right Approach to Digital Collaboration" spotlighted two prevalent forms of organizational collaboration scenarios: teams-based activity between close colleagues and sporadic activities, when people look for answers and expertise across a broader circle of potential collaborators.

Chat and task management tools like Basecamp, Microsoft Teams, Slack, Chatter and Workplace best suit  teams collaboration while sporadic collaboration is best addressed using “broadcast tools” which allow people to share information with the entire organization (or to a group), like you would do in Facebook. While these are two common collaboration scenarios, there are many others, as demonstrated by the vast number of diverse tools available in the marketplace.

Microsoft 365 Collaboration

As a major player in productivity software, Microsoft offers a wide range of collaboration products, as shown in the Modern Collaboration Architecture (MOCA) diagram below. The teams collaboration and sporadic collaboration scenarios are labeled in the diagram as Teams and Communities, respectively.

MOCA
PHOTO: Microsoft, 2020
Source: Microsoft, 2020

The diagram highlights the vast number of Microsoft tools available for collaboration. With so many available tools, workers are often confused about which to use for each purpose, resulting in multiple repositories containing conflicting information and a lot of wasted time trying to track down what you need.

That’s why I was excited to hear about today’s rollout of Microsoft Viva, the company's new Employee Experience Platforms (EXP), whose goal is to create an integrated experience across the many available tools. Collaboration is only one of several experiences addressed by Viva, so before exploring that, let’s take a look at what Viva is all about.

Related Article: Don't Know Which Microsoft Collaboration Tool to Use? You're Not Alone

Vive La Microsoft Viva

Launched today, the Microsoft Viva announcement boasts that, “Viva brings together communications, knowledge, learning, resources and insights into an integrated experience … Powered by the full breadth and depth of Microsoft 365, it is experienced through Microsoft Teams and other Microsoft 365 apps that people use every day.“

Viva includes four modules: Insights, Learning, Topics and Connections. All the modules are accessed from Microsoft Teams, which jives with Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s vision for Teams as the single work interface, as he detailed in a recent Financial Times interview: “Teams is on its way to becoming a digital platform as significant as the internet browser, or a computer operating system … collaboration tools, video meetings, chat and other business applications, all reached through a single user interface."

As the interface anchor, Teams will host all the modules in Teams pages. Let’s look at what each of the Viva modules provides.

Viva Modules: Insights, Learning, Topics, Connections

Viva addresses common business challenges in today’s work from home and hybrid work environments, namely, staying productive and mentally aware, self-educating, finding information and collaborating with colleagues. Each situation is addressed by a different Viva module that integrates the appropriate set of tools for the task at hand. The four Viva modules are as follows:

Insights is a dashboard that provides information about how people work and feel, including how teams are collaborating and who is in danger of burnout. It includes some intervention tools to prompt workers to take breaks and to meditate.

Learning is a hub through which employees discover training and other learning content in a single place. It integrates content from LinkedIn Learning, Microsoft Learn, Skillsoft, Coursera, Pluralsight, edX, as well as from custom sources.

Topics is the next step in Microsoft’s Project Cortex journey, which is designed to organize information into terms that are familiar to workers. Cortex’s first step was SharePoint Syntex, which uses AI to extract topics from SharePoint documents and assign them as document metadata. I covered Syntex in a previous article, "SharePoint Syntex: The First Stop on the Road to Project Cortex."

According to today’s announcement, Topics “uses AI to automatically organize company-wide content and expertise into relevant categories like 'projects,' 'products,' 'processes' and 'customers.'" Topics generates hyperlinks for key terms in Teams conversations, Outlook emails and SharePoint documents, which are linked to a Topics card and to a Topics page. These provide detailed information about the term, including links to related content and frequent users of that term.  There is a lot excitement about Topics — I will elaborate further in an upcoming article.

Connections is the final Viva module. If it works as advertised, it may represent a breakthrough in how people collaborate in organizations. Connections is, in essence, a personalized employee (SharePoint) portal accessed from Microsoft Teams. It surfaces individualized information from SharePoint, Yammer and Streams. While the idea of a personalized portal is certainly not new, Viva’s special sauce is using AI and signals from the Microsoft Graph to present the most relevant and interesting content for each worker.

Related Article: Is Microsoft Teams the Portal We've Been Looking For?

Collaboration Revisited

Back to collaboration  .... With its Connections module, Viva intends to be the world's first one size fits all solution, by integrating many collaboration tools into a single interface, bringing coherency to team collaboration with colleagues and sporadic collaboration with remote workers.

Is Viva the One Size Fits All Tool We Wanted?

While Viva Connections represents an important step to creating a collaboration environment that makes it possible for workers to find information and get help from colleagues and co-workers, it's not yet the one size solution we dream of, for at least the following reasons:

  • Viva addresses a set of acute worker pains, namely finding information and being productive in remote settings. But Viva doesn't address many other business situations. One example is the need to collaborate with external parties like customers, suppliers and partners. I believe we will see additional EXP modules and third-party solutions that will address additional business needs and fill in gaps in the future.
  • While smooth integration between apps can reduce the need to toggle between disparate apps, the end game is to obscure the underlying source of information while serving it up in standard interface and format. The evolving Microsoft Graph provides the connecting tissue for creating such an ultimate user experience; together with advanced AI, it may one day be possible to achieve a simple, single interface. 

There is always more work to be done, but make no mistake: Viva is a momentous step along the worker experience journey; one which will help at home and hybrid workers be self-sufficient, independent and mentally sound.