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How Much Can Technology Improve Employee Experience?


Picture wihat people putting puzzle pieces together, showing teamwork
Image: alphaspirit -
If, like many enterprises, you turned to Microsoft Teams as a cornerstone of your 2020 on-the-fly transition to remote work, Microsoft just added a new element to your 2021 planning and strategy.
Responding to the remote-work realities that have emerged over the last year, Microsoft announced Viva, which it calls an “employee experience platform,” as shared in last week’s in a WorkSpace Connect post by my colleague Ryan Daily. Viva lives within Teams and includes modules aimed at enhancing employee connections; improving analytics for management; making information easier to find and share; and fostering employee learning. But for the moment, these details are less important than the big picture, which is that the leading provider of productivity software has declared that employee experience should now be a major focus for enterprise technology.
In our sister site No Jitter’s coverage of the Viva announcement, IT analyst Dave Michels of TalkingPointz wrote, “Microsoft believes that employee engagement needs to be reimagined digitally to accommodate distributed workforces…. Viva is a collection of services intended to help organizations maintain culture in a hybrid [remote plus office-based] world.”
I think it’s way too early to tell if Microsoft is right about employee experience needing a technology solution — and it may be an oversimplification to suggest that’s what it’s attempting. Certainly without Teams and similar competing technology tools — Slack, Cisco Webex, Zoom, etc. — it’s hard to imagine the last year of knowledge work being anywhere near as productive and, overall, successful.
So Viva may add some tools that enhance the employee’s experience of the technology they’re using, and that’s important — technology hasn’t always affected employee experience for the better. But employee experience can only improve if leaders from HR and (in a hybrid setting) facilities/real estate work together with IT.
For example, no amount of technology can make a day of back-to-back Teams meetings or Zoom video calls a pleasant experience. In response, some companies are instituting “No-Meeting Fridays,” or, more challengingly, “No Meeting Wednesdays.” Some companies either suggest or require that every meeting end at five minutes (or 10 or 15 minutes) before the top of the hour. (I saw a tweet of a calendar screen shot showing how somebody literally blocked out time for bathroom breaks.)
And then there’s the employee experience of being at the office post-pandemic. Maybe I’m off base here, but my gut feeling is that once we get to a point where people are OK with waiting around in crowded airports again, they may not feel a need to experience their offices much differently than they did pre-pandemic.
Instead, the biggest concern for many enterprises seems to be the differing experiences that remote and office-based workers may have once employees return to the office. So the issue is less about changing the office than it is about changing the virtual world that will be hosting people from two different types of environments, home and office — which takes us back to technology.
The underlying factor in all of this seems to be culture. Going back to that statement I shared above, Microsoft’s Viva may succeed or fail based on how well it — and the enterprises implementing it — facilitate a new kind of culture.