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This is a Microsoft Guest Post

This morning in London, I sat down with Satya Nadella and Ryan Roslansky, LinkedIn’s CEO, to discuss how leaders can empower employees — and drive business impact — in the face of economic uncertainty. No matter how your people work, from remote to in-person to somewhere in between, understanding your workforce is more important than ever.

The world has changed, and anyone who thinks we’re going back to the way we worked in 2019 is sorely mistaken. It’s become clear to us that work is no longer a place, but an experience that binds employees and leaders across home offices, company headquarters, time zones and more. Employees around the world have embraced flexibility and hybrid work schedules, reveling in the freedom to work where, when and how they want. At the same time, many leaders still crave the familiarity of the traditional office where brainstorming happened in person and chance encounters in the hallways led to unexpected collaboration. In short, there’s a disconnect between employers and employees. And in an unpredictable economy, that disconnect is only growing wider.

The solution? A new approach to employee engagement, one that embraces the digitally connected, distributed workforce, realigns employees to business priorities and re-onboards them to the company culture and mission. In our latest Work Trend Index Pulse Report, out today, we offer three urgent pivots leaders must make to bridge the divide — and help employees not only do their best, but be their best.

“Thriving employees are what will give organizations a competitive advantage in today’s dynamic economic environment,” said Satya Nadella, Microsoft Chairman and CEO. “Today, we’re announcing new innovations across our employee experience platform Microsoft Viva to help leaders end productivity paranoia, rebuild social capital, and re-recruit and re-energize their employees.”

Let’s dive in.

Measure what matters

Many leaders used to rely on the visibility of the office to assess organizational productivity, hearing the click of keyboards and seeing the long hours at desks. In the shift to hybrid work, 85% of leaders say they have a hard time knowing for sure that their people are being productive. Yet whether they were working remotely, in person, or a mix of both, 87% of employees say they are productive at work. That fear has led some companies to institute digital monitoring, tracking trivial metrics to assuage their angst.

It can be stressful to trust that your people are working when you can’t see them. And all employees need metrics to gauge their on-the-job performance. But rather than relying on productivity theater, leaders must focus on impact, or what employees do that matters. Giving employees clarity on what work drives impact is even more essential now, as nearly half of workers say they’re burned out. This should alarm every leader, as burnout not only stifles employee well-being, but also chokes off innovation and decimates retention.

To start, listen to your people. It sounds simple, but more than half of companies (57%) rarely, if ever, hear about their employees’ experiences at work. Actionable employee insights are critical to keeping a pulse on your organization — and hearing feedback can help you catch issues before they reach a breaking point that costs you talent, time and money.

At Microsoft, we’re dialing up new ways to help leaders drive clarity and alignment, eliminate time-wasting busywork, and determine what is getting in the way of your people making a real impact. Today we are introducing Viva Pulse, a new app that will enable managers and team leads to seek regular and confidential feedback on their team’s experience. Viva Pulse uses smart templates and research-backed questions to help managers pinpoint what’s working well and where to focus, and also provides suggested learning and actions to address team needs. This is complementary and additive to robust company-wide engagement tools like Glint, which will be coming to Viva next year.

And earlier this year, we launched Viva Goals, a new goal-setting framework that helps organizations align employee work to business outcomes. New integrations in Viva Goals help bring goals into the flow of work, including an enhanced Microsoft Teams app to check in and collaborate on Objectives and Key Results (OKRs), an integration with Azure DevOps to automatically update work items, a connection to Power BI datasets to track Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and Key Results, and integrations with Microsoft Planner and Project for automatic project management updates.

Stay connected in and out of the office

The number of organizations that have rolled back their return-to-office mandates is proof that people need a better reason to come into the office than policy alone. The data shows that the reason they will come in actually benefits organizations: People, we found, come in for each other. Eighty-four percent of employees say they’d be motivated to go to the office to socialize with coworkers, while 85% are motivated by rebuilding team bonds. The data underscores we have a deep human need to connect with the people we associate with, and that spending time together can help us build stronger relationships — which are key to doing our best work.

Firms desperately need to rebuild that social capital. Half of employees say their relationships outside their immediate teams have frayed, and 43% say they feel disconnected from their company. In a hybrid world, leaders need to think beyond the office, too: No matter where your employees work, consistent communication and connection is critical to help them feel like they’re part of a community.

In addition to optimizing office space for time together, a digital employee experience ensures employees can stay connected and engaged when working apart. We’re introducing Viva Amplify, a new app that empowers employee communications teams and leaders to elevate their messages and reach employees where they are with consistency and impact. The app centralizes communications campaigns, offers writing guidance to improve message resonance, enables publishing across multiple channels and distribution groups in Microsoft 365 and provides metrics for improvement.

We also recently launched Viva Engage, an app that fosters digital community building through conversations and self-expression tools. And within Viva Engage, we’re excited to announce Leadership Corner, a space where employees can interact directly with leadership, share ideas and perspectives, host “ask me anything” (AMA) events and more. Leaders can use intuitive dashboards to track metrics and employee sentiment in real time.

To help colleagues easily discover connections and collaborate across the organization, we’re introducing People in Viva, a new capability that uses AI to unlock insights across interests, knowledge and team goals. This experience will be available through Microsoft 365 profile cards and as a new app.

To retain talent, prioritize learning

Seventy-six percent of employees say that if they could benefit more from learning and development, they’d stay at their company longer. The desire for training on the job has exploded over the last few years: Employees consider opportunities to learn and grow as the No. 1 driver of great work culture, a jump from 2019 when it ranked ninth. It’s undoubtedly more cost-effective to upskill workers than hire brand new people. These findings make it clear that if you don’t invest in the talent you already have, they will leave. In a tight labor market, re-recruiting your people — and investing in their careers for the long run — could be the difference between a successful and a struggling organization.

With Viva, your workforce can master those skills right in the flow of work. The Viva Learning app makes it easy for employees to discover, share and track the latest learning content in Microsoft Teams, so a company’s entire workforce can stay up to date on required and recommended training. Enhanced integrations between Viva Learning and LinkedIn Learning will make it even easier for people to access content from LinkedIn Learning Hub right in the flow of work in Teams. Learners will see all of their LinkedIn Learning Hub content synced, including custom content, curated learning paths and the courses they have already completed, all reflected directly within Viva. And admins will be able to set the integration up directly within their settings on LinkedIn Learning Hub – no APIs needed.

And to help put collective knowledge to work for all employees, we’re introducing Answers in Viva, a new chat-like experience that uses AI to match employee questions to answers and experts across your organization.

Even more from Viva

Work can be hard, but how you work shouldn’t be. Today we’re introducing several enhancements across the Viva platform to help employees get back their time — and have more impact. To streamline the Viva experience and help employees start their day, the new Viva Connections home experience brings all Microsoft Viva apps into one place, and updates to the Viva briefing email will provide more personalized recommendations to help employees catch up on work, meetings and learning.

As we look to the future, we’re also thinking about how to tailor the employee experience to meet the unique needs of specific roles. Viva Sales brings together a seller’s CRM with Microsoft 365 and Teams to provide a more streamlined and AI-powered selling experience — right in the tools they’re using every day. We’re also announcing a partnership with Seismic to personalize and scale customer engagements through AI-generated content recommendations.

The world of work has fundamentally changed, and to set ourselves up for long-term success, our approach to leadership must change with it. I won’t sugarcoat it: It may be uncomfortable. Change always is. But by looking to the data and supporting employees — through clarity, connection and learning opportunities — your people and organizations will flourish.

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