Reading Time: 10 minutes

OK, it’s Tuesday and time for me to unpack Friday and Saturday’s activities. This time I wasn’t running around taking my son to a tennis lesson or a football match, although I did get to do that on Sunday and yes, they played brilliantly and came away with a 3 – 0 victory – Go Norwich Eagles Academy! I also wasn’t dancing to some pounding Techno beats or in a pub drinking far too many beers, although I was in the bar Friday night but didn’t have too many.

No, I was in Manchester for the first ever Viva Explorers Community Day on the Saturday and what a day it was. I had the absolute privilege of being asked to speak about Viva Learning at the event.

I’ll give you all a little run down of the trip there, each of the sessions and a take away from each one and then the gruelling trip back!

First off, I travelled up on Friday as it’s quite a slog from Norwich, I got the train meaning I could get on with some work and make some of the meetings I’d committed to. I generally quite enjoy getting the train and cracking on with some work or reading a book and the 4.5 hours from Norwich to Manchester is perfect for this. Luckily the train starts in Norwich so I got nicely settled in with a table seat at the window and there is signal most of the way meaning I can actually function pretty much the same as I do at home, all hail hybrid work hey 🙂

I’ve recycled this image from a few weeks ago as I forgot to take one on Friday but it’s a lovely building Norwich Train Station. Anyway, music on,  laptop out, coffee getting drunk productivity booming.

I arrived in Manchester and hotfooted it over to the Hilton Garden Inn which was right next door to the venue for tomorrow and I had a really great view from my hotel window shame there was no cricket on, but England were off doing their thing this weekend to win the T20 which was brilliant news on the Sunday.

Most of the speakers for the event were travelling up on the Friday so we all met up and had some dinner and drinks in the hotel. The amazing Lesley Crook MVP had even made some rather special looking letters in the right colours to spell out Viva so it would be rude not to have all posed for a quick picture with it.

Now it’s already been mentioned that if the palm tree was a Nordic Spruce then this would make a great Christmas card picture, so I’ve included that as a bonus at the end of the blog so read on.

So, after a nice sensible early night it was a good hearty breakfast in the hotel then on to the venue to help get things setup and what a venue it was, check out Tom Morgan’s MVP video here for a better look at it and thanks so Much to Microsoft for letting us use this wonderful space.

With some free swag laid out – and this was genuinely free and provided by the Viva Explorers putting their hand in their own pockets as this was not a sponsored event, I think this speaks a lot to the generosity and genuineness of the community here.

It was time for Mark Furr to welcome us in and provide a bit of an update on the Microsoft Global Community Initiative. My takeaway from Mark’s welcome message was obviously all about community and it really was showing in the room, every single person in the room was there because they really wanted to be. They’d given up their Saturday for it so they could either learn, or share and help others learn, which is a really powerful thing. It just fits in so well with everything Microsoft Viva stands for.

And learn we all did, next up it was Lesley Crook MVP with “Making the complex, simple!” and I just love her way of explaining Viva and using something tactile to do so. Lesley has created one of those origami fortune teller “thingys” (I don’t know their official name) but it’s such a brilliant way of getting across the ever-growing number of Viva modules that are out or coming soon. You can read her blog on it here and you can download your own one.

The next session was from Pete Johns called “Nurture culture with Viva Engage+” it was, like all of them, a great session. I really liked how he said that culture already exists, and that tech is a window into it first and an opportunity to nurture it second. There were some great talking points after his session, around how to really kick start the adoption of Viva Engage.

The next session was from Ana Inés Urrutia MVP who I think had travelled the furthest to be there, all the way from Madrid! It was a really great session and one that I learnt loads from as I’d not really looked into HR Dynamics before but what a great fit between what it can do and what Microsoft Viva can offer. The two things have some real cross over opportunities and I’m really looking forward to seeing how they can develop over the coming months and years.

A quick break was had with more coffee and some biscuits and most importantly some Haribo for that all important sugar rush, (there were healthy fruit snacks available as well).

Then it was on to Kat Beedim’s MVP awesome session “Viva Connections for news & views” I loved how Kat broke down the different elements of Viva Connections and especially liked her explanation and demos of the Viva Connections Dashboard and the different types of cards that can be used in them. She wrote a great blog on it just recently and you can read it here. I also took away that apparently there is a big tech community going on over on TikTok, yes TikTok! So after I’ve written this blog I’ll be signing up to TikTok and following Kat, who knows I may even start posting some videos of me… dancing? That’s what they do on TikTok isn’t it? Well apparently, not just that 🙂

Then it was my turn to present ” On the job Viva Learning” I tried to give an overview of what Viva Learning is, how it works and how it surfaces the right learning at the right time. Then had a bunch of (pre-recorded) demos as I don’t have the confidence that Kat does to do them live 🙂 to show how people can use Viva Learning to share, recommend and importantly book time and make learning a natural part of their day. I think its important people realise Viva Learning is not an LMS, it can super charge your LMS but most importantly it helps organisations build a culture of learning and get far better engagement with their LMS and to help employees thrive. I didn’t get a picture of me speaking so have a slide from my presentation instead 😉

The next session that stood between us all and lunch was a two-parter “Feed on knowledge harvested with Viva Topics” and first up it was Sara Fennah MVP who gave a really great overview of what Viva Topics is but not only that she had some real world examples of how she has used Viva Topics in her own Microsoft 365 tenant and it just goes to prove that you don’t actually have to a large scale enterprise size organisation to start getting useful topics surfaced and to see the benefits of this module.

Part 2 was showing the flip side of this where Simon Denton MVP shared his own experience of utilising Viva Topics in a pretty large-scale organisation. The way he’s treated it like an experiment was so interesting and the story he told of how they’ve implemented it and continue to tweak and play around with Viva Topics was really inspirational. I really loved how he said: even if you think you’re not ready for a full scale roll out at the very least get 1 single Viva Topics license and send it off on an AI crawl of all your SharePoint data. This will help to show you the voice of your company, definitely food for thought!

Talking of food now it was time for pizza, kindly provided by Microsoft there were a ton of pizza’s laid out with some gluten free and veggie options if required and a great time for some chatting to new people, I definitely made some new connections and had some great conversations with people. I didn’t get a photo of the pizza’s, but they were lovely and very welcomed, some even had pineapple on them which I don’t actually have a problem with, but I know some people feel very strongly about this.

After everyone had their fill and grabbed another coffee it was time to get right back to it, I’ll just mention the day was absolutely stacked we had so many great speaking sessions and the amount of info and insights (yup next session is on Viva Insights, see what I did there) gained from the day was phenomenal you’d be hard pressed to get this level of detail from other events as this was just so focussed on the sharing of knowledge and what Microsoft Viva can do.

“Just in time data with Viva Insights” and this session was a tag team with the brilliant and amazing Chirag Patel MVP MCT and Kevin McDonnell MVP. I’m a massive fan of Viva Insights myself so it was great to hear both these guys evangelise Viva Insights and cover it from the personal insights level to the managerial and leadership side of things. I really like how they related back to the Microsoft Work Trend Index and the “worth it” equation.

On to governance and compliance for the next session where Nikki Chapple MVP covered “Governance & Compliance Viva implications” Such an important subject when you’re talking about anything in Microsoft 365 or anything in tech really. Now, this subject is massive, and it could have easily been a 2 hour, 5 hour, or even a full day session but Nikki focussed in on 3 of the Viva areas in particular. I liked how she mentioned the need to be very careful with Viva Insights, in particular when setting up minimum group sizes and making sure you don’t end up splicing the data in such a way that it makes individuals identifiable. Also don’t forget to always get legal involved form the start.

Another quick coffee break, some more Haribo, a banana and a chance to refill the water bottle while everyone worked out how they were going to navigate the trains home as Kevin mentioned that some had been cancelled!! More to come on this later.

Another great double act session next “Set OKRs in Viva Goals” with Kevin McDonnell MVP and Simon Doy MVP. I know I sound like a broken record now, but this was, yet again, another really valuable session. They managed to fit a great deal into a short amount of time here as OKRs are a subject all of their own that can take a long time to understand. A great thing from this session was how to make sure your OKRs are your stretch goals that make you really thrive as a business not just your standard day to day KPIs. Annoyingly I didn’t grab a picture from this session 🙁

The next session which again I didn’t get a photo of was “Viva new features announced 22 Sept” from Zoe Wilson MVP it’s staggering to see all of the new features that are coming out for Microsoft Viva, now, when we look at the whole lot there are 9!! Different modules. Zoe mentioned it’s important to try not to talk to people about each individual one and take a more rounded approach to Viva conversations. I also loved how she mentioned it’s not just an IT conversation or for that matter, just an HR conversation and we need to be involving people operationally throughout a business when talking about Viva.

That then neatly led on to Al Eardley speaking about “Viva – Microsoft Views” it was brilliant to hear from Al and how he works at the MCT and how they are having conversations around Viva and he backed up what had been said.

  1. Viva is not an IT conversation.
  2. A wide set of stakeholders should be engaged.
  3. Present outcomes and benefits not products.

There was then a great open panel type discussion from the crowd who even though it was getting on for 5PM still seemed to be as engaged as ever which was great to see considering how much information everyone had digested already.

To summarise it was a brilliant day and everyone who spoke was so passionate about Microsoft Viva and the employee experience. The amount of information that was given out in every session was mind boggling and a day like this could easily have been spread out into a weeklong conference with full day long workshops on each area. It being on a Saturday meant that each and every person there had given up their own time to come and better their understanding of Microsoft Viva. It really was a brilliant day, so a MASSIVE thankyou to the Viva Explorers and Microsoft and everyone who gave up their own free time to make it such a successful event.

The train journey back was horrible, it took me over 6 hours to get home and there were lots of drunk football fans shouting on the train. Thankfully I had some decent noise cancelling headphones and managed to push my way through the crowd to grab one of the very few seats available and start writing this blog.

Oh yes I said I’d post the Christmas card edition of the Viva photo that Femke (de Bruin) Cornelissen took and edited…