Microsoft Viva Insights Module: Making work life better

For a while now, Cortana has been popping up in my Outlook each morning with a gentle reminder of action items I’d promised in emails. When I have a meeting scheduled, Cortana recommends potential resources to review. In short, Microsoft Viva Insights is my more organized self.

With Insights, Microsoft is bringing this functionality into Teams but marrying it with other features that may help me work smarter and in a more balanced manner. And that’s only a third of it. Managers and Business Leaders will use the same Insights to check in on their team’s anonymized and aggregated data for whether their team is on the same floor or spread around the world.

Starting with Cortana

The first element of Viva Insights to land in Teams is the same gentle reminders that I get from Cortana in Outlook. While some may be put off by an AI bot telling them what to do, I’ve really appreciated going to Insights and seeing the reminders of things I had said I would do or really should do. In fact, I kind of wish more people would make use of this feature.

Microsoft will quickly expand on this basic Cortana functionality with other features to make our hybrid/remote work life better. They’re promoted integrations with Headspace (an app I personally love and use before starting work each day) and a “virtual commute” to help remote workers transition from work to home and back again.

While appealing to some, these types of features sometimes come off as gimmicky and not really adding business value. At worst, they are merely shiny objects that trade some functionality for our attention and data.

There is a cafe in my town that offers up high-speed wifi, unlimited coffee, and snacks to college students…in return for their email address and answers to a few short survey questions. I have some concern that Viva is offering up meditation apps and wellness check-ins for the sole purpose of gaining behavioral data.

Data for decisions

Business leaders may find value, however, in the next two parts of Viva Insights: the manager and leader dashboards. Here, Microsoft is again utilizing the Graph (Microsoft’s gateway to productivity and user data) to provide information. Unlike in Viva Topics, where the goal is to identify individuals with unique expertise or resources, Insights pulls de-identified and aggregated data to highlight and emphasize work trends.

(One thing to note: Currently Manager and Leader insights requires a subscription to Workplace Analytics, which is really only for Enterprise (5,000 seats and more) customers. So the SMBs of the world may have to wait until this focus shifts.)

On the near-future roadmap are integrations with Glint, Workday, and others. The integration with Glint will allow managers and leaders to gather sentiment data to pair with work trends for a richer picture of how their employees are feeling about their work. One can easily imagine IT directors creating reports and analysis from a wide variety of data sources—with all the data anonymized for security and privacy.

Proving value…quickly

Microsoft’s investment in the combination of employee experience and data seems really shrewd. Knowing the pressure will be on IT departments to quickly and easily provide the data proving the platform’s value, Microsoft has made it easy with preconfigured reports and visualizations, as well as the ability to customize.

In addition, the inclusion of Insights in the initial four modules of Viva signals pretty clearly to the C-Suite that Microsoft understands that data matters. That people matter. And data about how people are feeling about their work? Yeah, that matters a lot.

The dark side

While I fully applaud Microsoft’s intentions here, the jury is still out on the risk/value analysis. The potential value is clear. According to a report by Limeade, 72% of employees say they are “currently burned out.” This is up from a pre-pandemic rate of 42%.

But not everyone will be happy about this module (remember the backlash over Productivity Score?). There are real and valid concerns here about privacy. Microsoft goes out of their way to reassure their customers (the word “privacy” is used 11 times in this introductory blog post), but there have been too many data breach horror stories for us to be fully convinced.

In addition, information about employees’ work habits (de-identified or otherwise) is problematic in the hands of a bad manager, whether that comes from a nifty digital dashboard or just surveying a room full of workers. It is not hard to imagine how this can go wrong.

Insights might be a really useful tool for better employee engagement and well-being…or it might be just a cup of coffee in exchange for an email address. Time will tell.

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