Extending the Employee Experience with Microsoft Viva Engage

Post Date: 08/05/2022
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Establishing a strong company culture is something that most organizations aspire to. With startups popping up everywhere and tech positions more in demand than ever before, trying to build a culture where everyone feels close and welcome is a key part of employee retention. Now that the work world is hybrid, however, this is more of a challenge than ever before, and Microsoft Viva Engage might be the answer.

In this week’s episode of #O365 Hours, I sat down with Microsoft Principal Program Manager Steve Nguyen to discuss the announcement of Viva Engage, what it means for Yammer, and where Engage fits in the overall Microsoft Viva story. Watch our discussion below or read the full transcript at your convenience!

Guests: Steve Nguyen, Principal Program Manager at Microsoft 

Topics Covered:

  • One of the major announcements out of Microsoft Inspire this past month was the news of Viva Engage, which will not only replace the Yammer Communities app within Microsoft Teams, but it will be a full-fledged member of the Viva brand. Maybe you can start things off by talking about the announcement?
  • Probably the most-asked question from within the community has been “Does Engage replace Yammer?”
  • Some of the important features within Viva Engage are around the personal profile, and the ability to share content, ideas, and activities that may not fit into an ongoing Teams project. Because of these features, another common question has been “Is Engage just part of Microsoft’s strategy to go after Facebook?”
  • Microsoft Viva is Microsoft’s foray into improving the employee experience (#EXP). For me, Viva Engage fits smack dab in the middle of the employee experience. Where does Engage fit into the overall Viva story?

Can you talk a bit about Viva Engage to start?

SN: Sure. You know, we’re celebrating the 10-year anniversary of when Microsoft acquired Yammer. We’re at this point where we’ve seen our customers get a lot of great value out of Yammer; they’ve helped to build a culture within their organizations, create connectivity with leaders and through communities, and have a sense of belonging that Yammer creates.

That’s really what our Viva platform is about. It’s about this broad employee experience platform that we’re trying to create, and we fully believe that Yammer needs to be a more compelling part of that platform. That’s really the foundation of what we announced, and we can talk a little bit more about what all that means.

Would you say that Engage replaces Yammer?

SN: We get that question a lot. For some background, a lot of the work that our team has been doing to deliver value to our customers over the last couple of years is to make sure that Yammer is an integrated part of the way that people work. We don’t want it to be this separate destination that people have to go to. With that in mind, a lot of the growth that we’ve seen over the last couple of years—and certainly through the pandemic—has happened because of our integrations through Teams, the Communities app in Teams, Outlook, the rich notifications that we’ve brought, and certainly through SharePoint.

We’re taking this opportunity to pivot the Communities app and Teams to make them more aligned to our Viva suite of experiences. The Viva Engage experience is very much powered by Yammer. So for many of our customers that are already using Yammer today, have no fear; it’s all connected. We’re making some updates to the UI to make Viva Engage a bit more familiar and a bit more comfortable, and to align with some of the design sensibilities that go along with the rest of the Viva platform. In conclusion, though, the underlying technology that powers Viva Engage is Yammer.

CB: I’ve heard people say one of the problems with Teams is that it’s fantastic for doing focused, project-related work, but not so for more broad, company-wide tasks. That’s what makes Yammer so special.

SN: Yeah, it’s all about meeting people where they’re at. Why not bring some of the Yammer notifications into the Microsoft Teams experience so you can get them in the activity feed? You can get notifications for when you’ve been @ mentioned or when there’s an announcement in a community that you’ve been in. You can also do an announcement in a Yammer community and have that be distributed as an email notification or as an announcement in Teams, or even as a push notification in Yammer. This way corporate communicators don’t have to worry so much about where their users are and can just have an announcement go out that will reach them regardless.

Is Engage just part of Microsoft’s strategy to go after Facebook?

CB: Viva is, of course, Microsoft’s foray into the employee experience, and Engage fits smack dab in the middle of it. In terms of Microsoft trying to go after Facebook with Engage, do people get that impression because of features like the ability to create a profile and share other content and interests?

SN: You know, Yammer’s been at this for over 10 years, you might even argue we’ve been at this longer than some of our competitors at implementing features like those. We’ve certainly been getting a lot of value from our customers in this space, in any case.

Where does Engage fit into the overall Viva story?

SN: When we think about the overall Viva experience, Learning and Insights are certainly a large part of it. But there’s also an experience that we want to bring to the platform through Viva Engage and Communities.

From a leadership perspective, something that we learned a lot about during the pandemic is that leaders wanted different ways to express themselves and be able to get a message out to the entire organization. And sometimes, the community construct that Yammer provided wasn’t really the right mechanism for them to communicate broadly about that message.

The Storyline feature in Engage was born out of some of those discussions we were having with customers and leaders, and we’ve already seen some of our customers really kick the tires on the version of Storyline we’ve had in private preview. Even Jeff Teper here at Microsoft does a “Fast Friday” update where every Friday he just posts a quick five-minute video of the things he did the past week.

We’ve seen leaders post everything from team outings to what they’ve been reading over the weekend. It’s a great way to see what people are up to outside of work. Not only do you get a professional view of somebody, but you get a more well-rounded view of a leader as well, one that really humanizes and connects employees much more closely than in the past. That’s one of the things we set out to do from an overall employee experience perspective.

CB: Developing those deeper connections between teams can be difficult to do, so that’s great. We’re still in a hybrid world and aren’t doing as many face-to-face interactions anymore, but this is especially true when you have more geographically-distributed teams to account for. So having more tools that allow us to better connect and relate to each other can only be a good thing. What’s the timeframe for Engage, then?

SN: We’ll start to Microsoft 365 admins probably at the end of August or in early September. We’ll certainly see a message center post before that. Storyline will also be in-line with Engage and come around that same time. And then we announced stories, which is sort of the media element of Storyline. That’ll hit GA probably more in the first half of the next calendar year.

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An Office Apps & Services MVP and Microsoft Regional Director, Christian Buckley is an internationally recognized author and speaker and runs the community-focused CollabTalk blog, podcast, and tweetjam series.

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