For the better part of a decade, using Facebook at work meant running the risk of being caught using Facebook at work. The world’s largest social media network was also the number one timewaster for American employees, until Google pinched the procrastination crown earlier this year.
Then, in October last year, Facebook decided to attempt a 180-degree turn and market itself as a way to work, rather than as a way to avoid work. It launched Workplace by Facebook, a workflow video calling and chat tool built in the likeness of Slack and its imitators, such as Microsoft’s Skype Teams. Workplace kept the look and linked networks of its parent, but was pumped full of features to appeal to the more serious business world–Facebook even cast aside its famed “f” logo and blue color scheme for a more mature grey.
A year after launch, Workplace has been adopted by 14,000 businesses around the world, including giants such as Walmart. Name recognition can help create initial curiosity like that, but can the office gossip really give rise to a better way of working? And how does the Workplace by Facebook video conferencing functionality fit in?
How Workplace by Facebook Works
The heart of Workplace is the same as its social predecessor. It’s about building and sustaining real-time connections between people. But instead of a wide circle of friends telling others about their day and sharing memes, Workplace is meant to create an intimate network of colleagues chatting about the projects they’re on together and sharing information and ideas.
It still functions around a central news feed, and it still lets users split into smaller groups, schedule events, ‘like’ posts, ‘follow’ groups, and use text chat and video calls to communicate. You can send group-wide and targeted messages and control the appearance of your own profile page and who can see it.
What’s different from Facebook is Workplace’s ability to integrate with other programs, apps, and providers, such as storage companies. You can connect with services like Dropbox, Microsoft Office, G Suite, or Salesforce, with many more on the way. The point is that you work the same way you always have, but now you have a central hub you can use to speak instantly and directly to your colleagues, rather than sending an email or scheduling a meeting.
However, if you’ve used Slack or one of its collaboration competitors, all of this is going to sound very familiar.
Workplace Is a Long Way Behind
Luring 14,000 businesses to a new product in a year sounds impressive until you line up Slack’s achievement next to Facebook’s. The original workflow collaboration tool recently passed 6 million average daily users, and recently expanded its offering further by allowing different companies to share each other’s feeds–something Workplace has been bragging about.
Slack has more partners and third-party integration and recently launched its own native Slack video calling feature, cutting into another area where Facebook might have been counting on an advantage.
The bottom line is that Workplace doesn’t have a lot of fresh ground that it can use to beat Slack at its own game. What’s more, there have been complaints from users that the signature Facebook central news feed can, like your social version, become unwieldy, with the mundane and the momentous merging together and important notices getting lost–although Workplace does have a special algorithm designed to pick out news items relevant to each group.
Perhaps Workplace has been too hasty in shedding its social, “fun” heritage? Perhaps it could create something unique by offering up a social service with workflow add-ons, rather than the other way around?
Workplace by Facebook Video Conferencing for a Remote Workforce
The Facebook name is a double-edged sword. Its popularity as a social and e-commerce platform makes it a familiar tool, but the image of Facebook as a fun time-waster hasn’t made it easy to establish credibility in the business world.
Workplace’s answer to finding a foothold may be to embrace its social media background and act as a digital water cooler for an increasingly mobile workforce. Telecommuters are now a recognized part of the U.S. workforce, with 9 million employees working from home at least half the time. Remote work has, however, met with some resistance lately as companies like IBM claim it limits communication between staff.
Workplace is ideally suited to provide that social spark while delivering a productive workflow for both internal and external employees. It has built-in, instant video calling functions that can accommodate group and 1-to-1 calls and create an intimate setting. And, it has access to the necessary practical tools for solo and collaborative work, like Microsoft Office.
There’s no workplace platform out there to challenge the ease of communication and usability Facebook can provide. Every employee, no matter where their coffee cup rests, could begin each day by signing in to Workplace and having a quick, informal chat with their colleagues, scouring their news feed for the latest office news, and updating their own profile. Throughout the day they can meet and chat online as if they shared a cubicle wall, but in numbers far exceeding a practical office space. Workplace doesn’t have to be a place for employees in the same building to collaborate on projects, it might work better as a place for remote employees to form connections and work together.
Facebook won its place in the modern world by removing the physical distances between friends and acquaintances. To win a share of the crowded collaboration market, it might first have to prove itself by bringing together the disparate workers of the modern office.