Portland, OR, USA - Mar 29, 2021: Microsoft Yammer app icon is seen on an iPhone. Yammer is a collaboration tool that helps users connect and engage across the company.
Image: Tada Images/Adobe Stock

Because of customer demand, Microsoft has repeatedly increased the number of people you can include in a Teams team: It’s now up to 25,000, but chats and meetings have much lower limits, and if you want to have everyone in your organization in a single team, that tops out at 10,000.

That’s because Teams is designed for focused tasks between people who work closely together rather than general social connections. For that broader social networking that relies on open conversations rather than building a tight-knit team, there’s Yammer and SharePoint itself — and now Viva Engage.

Viva is a set of apps that mostly appear inside Teams to improve the employee experience, with each module doing something specific like making it easier to find training, understand your work habits, turn big picture strategy into realistic goals and metrics, or handle specific roles like sales. Taken together, the Viva modules are about making people more effective at working together by addressing the mechanics of working with colleagues, whether that’s collaborating with peers or managers acting as the intermediaries between upper management and the people who report to them.

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Creating and maintaining company culture and informal connections is also part of that, because people have friendships at work as well as purely business connections. That kind of support makes for more successful teams with higher productivity. The weak ties between broader groups of employees matter too, and Microsoft’s own research shows that remote work tends to form silos where a team might do well but not be in contact with colleagues across the business, and these shrinking networks may mean that innovations and improvements may not ripple out from each team to the rest of the organization.

Image: Microsoft. Outlook and Teams data shows that remote workers tend to stay in tightly knit teams and do less broad networking.

Some organizations have pushed for employees to come into the office to build networks of relationships in person. In fact, the CEO of Goldman Sachs suggested that the “secret sauce” of networking could only happen in person.

But that rejection of hybrid work is uncommon and unpopular, and generally the return to the office is slow and far from guaranteed: Kastle’s office “occupancy barometer” suggests only one-third to one-half of office workers across the U.S. are back at their desks. Microsoft itself expects six to nine months before it’s clear how many staff will ever come back to their campus full time. Up to 80% of workers want either remote or hybrid work, and some are prepared to sacrifice a certain amount of their salary to get it.

Even when everyone was in the office, they weren’t all in the same office in all but the smallest companies. That’s why enterprise social networks like Yammer became popular in the first place. Integrating those into the tools that support remote and hybrid work is a logical step, with research showing that what Microsoft calls AI-curated online communities can break down silos and get information flowing more widely.

Yammer helps teams engage online

Last year Microsoft integrated Yammer communities into the Viva Connections app and switched Yammer to use the same way of organizing company information and communities as Viva Topics.

Image: Microsoft. Viva Engage puts Yammer inside Teams.

With organizations needing to double down on building community and connections between hybrid and remote workers exhausted by constant video meetings, Viva Engage — which Microsoft says “builds on the strengths of Yammer” — aims to be another way to give employees more tools to have conversations that don’t depend on them being online at the same time.

Image: Microsoft. Viva Engage is for broader networking not talking about work.

“Think of Viva Connections as connecting employees to company resources, and Viva Engage as connecting employees to each other,” a Microsoft spokesperson told TechRepublic. “Many of the world’s largest companies use Yammer for community sharing, virtual events and knowledge sharing. Viva Engage is the evolution of this experience and offers an easy-to-use engagement platform that scales up or down to the needs of the business.”

Image: Microsoft. As in Yammer, you can highlight questions in Viva Engage to get more engagement.

“Viva Engage offers a way for our customers to strengthen relationships amongst their employees, integrate into the Viva apps, and deliver a whole new variety of ways for employees to engage with each other and with leaders.”

The pandemic has made the idea of bringing your “whole self” to work more practical by bringing colleagues right into each other’s homes, with pets often proving the highlight of online meetings. Microsoft envisions Viva Engage covering those personal interests, with communities about pets alongside official company news.

Image: Microsoft. Bring your dog to work in Viva Engage.

Viva Engage will replace the existing Yammer Communities app in Outlook, Teams and the Teams Mobile app. It includes both the existing Yammer capabilities — running polls, congratulating colleagues publicly, highlighting the best conversations  — and new features like Storyline and Stories, which Microsoft refers to as “personal expression tools” for sharing thoughts, ideas, expertise and passion.

Stories are short videos and photos that you can quickly upload so people you share them with get access. They’re stored in Microsoft Stream and OneDrive for Business, and Teams will handle permissions.

Image: Microsoft. Stories can be videos that look like a presentation with comments rather than live chat.

Storylines are more like blog posts with links, files, photos or videos included. They will show up on a Storylines tab inside Viva Engage, Yammer, Outlook and Teams through the Engage app.

Image: Microsoft. The Storylines feature is very like writing a blog post.
Image: Microsoft. The Storyline tab in Viva Engage.

Yammer isn’t being replaced by Viva Engage, and you will need a Yammer license to use it. Yammer.com and the Yammer mobile apps will continue to be part of Microsoft 365, and Microsoft told us they “will receive many of the new capabilities also flowing into Viva Engage.”

If you don’t use Viva, Teams is also getting a video message recording option in September: Video Clip lets you record and send short videos in a Teams channel if you’d rather make a recording than write an email. This isn’t a live stream or a formal presentation that you expect lots of people to watch — instead, it’s more like the video equivalent of voicemail. It will likely appeal to younger workers who have made short-form videos popular online.

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