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How IT is transforming the employee experience at Microsoft

Millions of people rearranged their lives to work from home and on the frontlines in 2020. Among those millions were the thousands who work right here at Microsoft—and our challenges aren’t so different from yours. How do we stay connected, informed, and motivated as we transition to the new hybrid work reality?

These learnings have been a major driving force behind Microsoft Viva. Viva is the employee experience platform (EXP) announced last month designed to empower people and teams to be their best, wherever they work. Since then, customers have frequently asked how Microsoft is improving our own employee experience, and what role Microsoft Viva is playing. These are great questions—and Nathalie D’Hers is in a great position to answer them.

Nathalie leads End User Services Engineering at Microsoft, which is part of Core Services Engineering and Operations (CSEO), our internal IT team that builds and operates the systems that run Microsoft. In this article, she offers insights about our employee experience transformation and Microsoft Viva from the perspective of an IT leader. We’ll get the perspective of other internal Microsoft teams, like HR and engineering, in future blogs in order to share learnings with our customers and community.

For now, since this is Microsoft Ignite week, let’s focus on the perspective from IT. Take it away, Nathalie!

In 2017, my team (End User Services Engineering, or EUSE for short), determined that to help Microsoft achieve its mission of empowering every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more we would need to transform the way we do IT. As a result, we adopted a parallel vision: To help our customers transform through technology, we need to transform the experience for our own employees. In that moment, we stopped thinking like a traditional IT shop and became stewards of the employee experience. Ever since, we’ve obsessed over the needs of our employees to ensure they have the tools and processes they need to be productive on the job and the support they need for their wellbeing, both on the job and away from work.

Specifically, in partnership with HR and the business, we envisioned a people-centered employee experience, and we’ve been working hard ever since to realize that vision. This relentless focus on the employee experience at Microsoft has helped shape and inspire Microsoft Viva. The team identified multiple dimensions of the employee experience that shaped our vision. One of those dimensions, Seamless Teamwork, informed and shaped the development of Viva Connections. And our vision for a Digitally Assisted Workday has informed and influenced the development of all four modules: Viva Topics, Viva Connections, Viva Learning, and Viva Insights.

Our journey toward a people-centered employee experience has been long but rewarding. We’ve captured some of our key learnings from that journey in this article, from deploying Microsoft Viva at Microsoft to foundational experiences we’ve built in EUSE, and how those investments have informed and shaped Microsoft Viva. We’ve also shared some of the ways we’ll continue to influence Microsoft Viva as we continuously obsess over the employee experience at Microsoft.

Viva Connections

While we’ve influenced every module in Microsoft Viva, Viva Connections is the place where we’ve had the most opportunity to inform and inspire. With over 140,000 employees around the world, Microsoft can be difficult to navigate, especially for new hires. We’ve long seen the need for a gateway to the digital workplace, and in fact, have developed custom applications and experiences in the past to do just that. Specifically, we’ve heard from our employees that they need that experience at their fingertips, accessible from their mobile devices. Viva Connections will make it easier for our employees to navigate our complex global organization.

Our first priority was to bring MSW—the ​place where Microsoft employees, contractors, and vendors around the world start when they are looking for all things Microsoft—into Viva Connections, and we’re just getting started. Tight integration with Yammer, SharePoint, and Microsoft Teams will help keep our employees connected, wherever they are, without the need to manage multiple apps and endpoints. It will help us accelerate our vision for Seamless Teamwork, by being the place where Microsoft employees congregate to share information and collaborate.

We’re particularly excited to continue to innovate and inspire in this space. One capability my team is currently investing in is wayfinding within buildings, to help our employees safely navigate our facilities once they return to the office. After all, connecting with your colleagues in the conference room or even just finding the office coffee maker is a perfect example of how we’ll connect when we’re back in the office! We’ll continue to innovate and obsess about how and why employees connect to continue to inspire the Microsoft Viva product team.

Viva Topics

Finding information at Microsoft has always been a challenge. For years, Microsoft employees rated this a top internal pain point, and my team has worked diligently to address it. As much as we’ve been able to improve knowledge discovery at Microsoft, Viva Topics will help us make it even better. Viva Topics leverages advanced AI and ML to scale the enterprise, and actively catalog resources into topical collections. My team has been working with the Viva Topics team to learn from our deployment so our customers can benefit from our experience. Impacts we’ve already driven that will benefit the employee experience include:

  • We’re building scale into the administrator experience, to give you more control. One example is a new admin experience to help you identify topics via known synonyms to improve results, since different users search for the same things using different terms.
  • Refinements to the user experience for admins to ensure that it’s as easy as possible to update algorithmic results with human curated ones.
  • And we’re working on ways to incorporate crowdsourcing to democratize information and to empower users to improve the relevance of Viva Topics for complex queries.

Viva Learning

Microsoft is a complex enterprise, with employees in nearly every country across hundreds of different specialized roles. One thing we’ve learned is that our employees greatly value access to a rich library of role-based learning experiences—in fact, data shows that access to learning opportunities and organizational support to continually invest in skills is as important as salary for many of our recruits! As we deploy Viva Learning at Microsoft, we anticipate it will improve the employee experience in three important ways:

  • Helping our employees to discover available trainings in one place, in the flow of their daily work within Microsoft Teams. This will be a game-changer for Microsoft employees!
  • Viva Insights will help to ensure that employees have the time and support that they need to make the investments in their skills and provide managers with the data they need to better support their employees’ learning journey.
  • And Viva Learning includes robust support for different learning content providers, like Microsoft Learn, LinkedIn Learning, Skillsoft, Pluralsight, Coursera, and edX courses, as well as support in the works for numerous leading Learning Management Systems to make it easy to discover great training and learning assets.

Viva Insights

Let’s face it—no company was ready for the tectonic shift in the workplace we experienced due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Infinite scale in the Azure cloud helped tremendously, but as IT leaders, we’ve still experienced challenges trying to meet the infrastructural needs of our remote workers. Tools like Microsoft Teams and Microsoft 365 have kept our teams productive while tools like Yammer and Outlook have helped to keep our employees connected, but even before COVID-19, Microsoft employees were putting in long hours, and the pandemic only exacerbated the problem of employee burnout, with people finding it even more difficult to unplug.

With Viva Insights, we leveraged our experience building Workplace Analytics and MyAnalytics to create a solution that helps employees, managers, and leaders to maximize their time on the job while also maximizing their ability to take a break, to learn, and to unplug. Viva Insights gives Microsoft the ability to understand what’s truly happening in the enterprise, in a way that protects user privacy and keeps user data secure. We’re already seeing that these insights can help with employee happiness, satisfaction, and retention, driving positive culture changes and reinforcing our commitment to employee wellbeing and satisfaction. In fact, these insights were instrumental in the decision to provide Microsoft employees additional time away in 2021 to tend to their wellbeing, given the stress of the pandemic.

The results so far have been impressive. LinkedIn was able to pair behavioral data and sentiment data from Glint to adopt measures to provide some much-needed quiet time in their employee’s lives. Our global sales team will use insights to accelerate their culture transformation so they can give needed time back to our sellers. And our hardware engineering team increased work/life satisfaction by 7 percent through a better understanding of how work gets done on their teams. Breakthroughs like these are primarily generated passively and continuously through Viva Insights. They’re perfect examples of our people-centered approach!

These are just a few of the ways that we’re influencing the evolution of Microsoft Viva as we deploy these amazing new capabilities at Microsoft. Our vision, to help our customers transform through technology, we need to transform the experience for our own employees, has informed our journey from traditional IT to a vision-led, people-centered team. While that journey is ongoing, it’s a thrill to see it come to life in Microsoft Viva. We’re so excited for our customers to take advantage of these amazing new capabilities so that our peers in IT can join us in moving beyond traditional tools and infrastructure toward being stewards of amazing employee experiences.