Workplace by Facebook: The Basics

In October Facebook launched their long-anticipated enterprise offering, Workplace. Regular readers of this blog will know we’ve been super excited about this since it was first rumoured in 2014.  With the product now available, we’ve written a three-part series on all you need to know about the social behemoth in the enterprise. In part 1 we’ll run through the basics of Workplace by Facebook.

What is Workplace by Facebook?

Workplace is, simply, a version of Facebook designed for use inside the enterprise. It’s an entirely separate instance of the social network, making the tools we’ve all come to love/hate/love again in our personal lives available for use at work. That means wall posts, profiles, groups, events, messenger, photos, tagging, video – and even live video. Workplace offers all the features you see in the consumer version aside from ads (yay) and games (double yay).

What? Using Facebook for work? But…

Workplace uses a completely separate instance, with users set up and managed by your company. So there is no risk of accidentally sharing personal content with colleagues.

Is it any good?

Yes. Facebook functionality gives users – and companies – a host of tools for one-to-one and one-to-many communication which are familiar, highly usable and designed with mobility in mind. Organisations on the beta have reported adoption rates of 90% within weeks of launch. Anecdotal feedback from users we’ve spoken to on the pilot was incredibly positive, and now we’ve had a chance to get our hands on the real thing we can see why. It offers an excellent set of features, top-notch usability and standout mobile capability, together with a degree of familiarity that drives levels of adoption of use of more than double that usually seen in other enterprise social networks.

What does it do?

Standout features include:

  • Workchat: Outside of work messaging has become huge; we don’t email or even phone one another  – we use Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp to contact people. Workplace brings consumer-grade messaging to the enterprise in the form of Workchat, which works in the same way as Facebook Messenger, allowing all users to instant message (with attachments if needed), with our without audio, across all devices. This could really, genuinely make a dent in email volume.
  • Multi-company groups: Where companies have introduced collaboration tools it’s remained stubbornly difficult to open these beyond the firewall, forcing employees to switch back to email or on to shadow IT to work with suppliers and partners. Workplace allows companies to set up shared groups in order to work on projects with other companies (as long as those firms are also on Workplace). This in turn enables communication and collaboration to happen in one place rather than forcing users to switch to other tools as soon as external parties are included.
  • Search: Workplace lets you search for names or phrases, using the familiar universal search bar at the top, just like in regular Facebook. It also allows users to search  within groups and chats.
  • Video calling: Users can video call one another right from their phone or desktop. We can see this being a real boon for distributed teams, allowing people working remotely to easily be looped into team meetings, for example. This could be a massive cost-saver for companies too; Workplace is cheaper than other unified communications (UC) tools so for this feature alone it’s worth the cost (but see our caveats below on this).
  • Live video: Facebook introduced live streaming to the platform last year, with the feature hitting Workplace just weeks later. We can see this being a real game-changer at work, for example allowing town halls to be broadcast – and for audiences to feed back comments in real time, or respond using emoji reactions. This is useful for distributed teams, too – enabling colleagues working remotely to join meetings by video with the ease offered by Google Hangouts or Slack’s Calls feature.
  • Video sharing: Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat have democratised video so the majority of us now make and share films outside of work, but this has rarely been delivered successfully by enterprise social networks. Workplace brings a near-frictionless upload and viewing experience to the enterprise, making it possible for anyone with a phone to share videos with colleagues. This brings some amazing opportunities to change the way we communicate at work (more on which in Part 2 of this series).

Is it going to take off?

Critics argue that Facebook is simply the latest in a string of Silicon Valley giants who’ve tried to break into the enterprise market – and failed, because they don’t really understand the challenges of enterprise environments.

But we think this has real staying power. Given the feature set and price point it’s likely to be a popular choice. Organisations looking to introduce enterprise social to their digital workplace mix would be wise to at least consider it as an option.

Will it replace my intranet?

No. Just as Facebook hasn’t replaced websites, it won’t replace content and transactional intranets anytime soon. There will still be a need for a canonical source of published information; Workplace just changes the way in which that content can be found and distributed. But just as social has changed the way people use websites – making communication two-way and improving the discoverability of information – the same is happening with social tools in the enterprise, which are becoming more integrated into the digital workplace at every level and enabling people to connect, communicate and share.

Facebook should exist in addition to rather than instead of a traditional intranet. But it could significantly change the way organisations communicate with their employees. We’ll talk more about this in our next post on the impacts of Workplace on internal comms.

Yes, it is theoretically possible to replace your intranet with an enterprise social network, but this generally results in a substandard intranet with limited publishing capability, and for myriad reasons we would not recommend this.

What’s the downside?

Workplace isn’t going to work for every company. For a start, it’s not available anywhere Facebook isn’t available, making it a difficult proposition for firms operating in China.

Unlike products like Jive or SharePoint  – but in common with most commodity cloud services – there are fewer options to customise to meet complex organisational needs, for example by locking down features. Businesses are going to have to make a strategic choice early about the degree of customisation they want from all enterprise software. To get the benefit of low-cost options like Workplace you need to accept a one-size-fits-all approach.

Most notably it’s only available in the cloud, hosted on Facebook’s own infrastructure. For most firms this is a strong selling point – Facebook’s infra is as fast and stable as any you’ll get from other cloud suppliers – but its security may not meet the standards required by highly regulated industries like defence or pharma. If you’re in such an industry you’ll need to have strong governance around what can be discussed or shared on Workplace.

Workplace doesn’t offer multi-factor authentication (MFA), but it does work with other solutions (like Microsoft) which do. That means you’ll have to do the hard work of integration with your existing security. Again, that’s a huge leap for anyone not already in the cloud.

Finally, the strength and speed of infrastructure Workplace offers only applies as far as your door; it won’t fix the slow connectivity inside your own organisation that’s the source of most frustration. Most video issues in big organisations are down to limited internal bandwidth, and Workplace won’t fix that. If you already have Skype for Business and think Workplace will make your crappy video calls better, it won’t. At least not until you upgrade your wifi.

Like any SaaS product, Workplace is not a magic bullet for stupid people or bad IT.

What doesn’t it do?

Workplace is a social tool. It’s great for conversation and what you could term ‘shallow collaboration’ – the kind of things that are currently done (badly) by email. It doesn’t offer the kind of flexibility products like Jive or SharePoint do for ‘deep collaboration’, enabling users to co-create an artefact like a document, nor are there options for things like workflow.

However, Workplace product head Julien Cordornieu revealed recently that there will soon be an app platform for Workplace, allowing the kind of integrations currently available in Slack – and the ability to build custom integrations, or enterprise bots. We’ll share our thoughts on this in Part 3.

Will it really kill email?


Are you using Workplace? What’s your verdict so far? Let us know in the comments below.