Could Workplace, Facebook's New Collaboration Tool, Work For You?

Facebook dives into the enterprise social networking space with Workplace, its new communication and collaboration tool. But is it the right fit for you?
November 30, 2016

Facebook may be great for individuals sharing vacation pictures with friends and family or for businesses seeking to develop customer relationships. But for work-related communications such as sharing best practices between employees, the social media space is generally seen as too public and too informal. Facebook aims to remedy that with Workplace, an enterprise social networking platform recently released for general use after a year in beta testing.

Workplace uses Facebook's familiar interface to let workers share updates with each other. They can communicate on things such as progress toward sales and production goals, new program kickoffs and the like. It also can serve as a more interactive improvement to conventional top-down communications tools such as newsletters from the CEO to employees.

"It's first and foremost about engagement," says Richard Edwards, an analyst with London-based research firm Ovum. "It's about employees engaging with one another, but also with people who are leading and running the business."

The Newest Addition to Enterprise Social Networking

Some of the beta user case studies provided by Facebook indicated that Workplace has helped create community and engagement among far-flung team members. Reported benefits include better information flow from remote locations to headquarters-based decision makers, and improved participation in team-building exercises such as volunteer events.

One of the most cited benefits is reducing the use of email and encouraging more interaction. "We all know what happens if somebody replies to email," Edwards notes. "It gets very noisy very quickly. In a social networking environment, the platform is constructed for this broader dialogue."

This might be a way for people to get together and come to know one another and share best practices.

—Richard Edwards, analyst, Ovum

Facebook is offering a free three-month trial to new Workplace users. After that, the service is priced at $3 a month per user, up to 1,000 users. (The rates decline for higher volumes of users.) Workplace also offers unlimited file, photo and video storage, as well as no limit to the number of team and project groups users can create. It provides live video streaming, support for single sign-on and tools to help IT teams and administrators monitor and support the platform users.

The enterprise social networking space has been growing rapidly, with established competitors including Slack, Team One and Microsoft's new Teams. The most obvious asset Workplace brings to the scene is Facebook's nearly universally familiar brand and interface.

"For an organization that employs a proportionately high number of service workers and manual workers, I see it as a strength," Edwards says of Facebook's entry into enterprise social networking. Facebook may offer fewer obvious advantages compared to better-established enterprise social networks for organizations with higher percentages of digital-savvy knowledge workers.

Issues in the Workplace

Facebook brings some baggage to the field. The social network's informality may, for instance, lead to information security issues. Facebook has plenty of cybersecurity technology protecting the platform against hackers, says Kevin O'Brien, CEO of Belmont, Massachusetts, cybersecurity firm GreatHorn.

"The challenge is not how do I protect information from external hackers," O'Brien says. "It's more a question of visibility, governance and user behavior." For instance, an employee using Workplace may share information in the environment that should be kept for less-broad distribution. Companies can deal with this by setting up appropriate policies for using Workplace, he says.

Another issue is how Facebook will use data collected by users. O'Brien says Facebook's user agreement says content created or shared, including video, text and images as well as data such as locations and dates posts were created, can be used to personalize user experiences. "This is apt to raise eyebrows," O'Brien says, "as it's hard to understand what personalization there would be around more sensitive IP, financial transactions and other critically sensitive message flow that might be present on Workplace." (Facebook declined a request for an interview to discuss the app.)

Tomas Gorny, CEO of Nextiva, a business communications company that recently introduced a product that includes enterprise social networking, said Workplace may help internal collaboration but won't do anything for external communication between employees and customers. That restricts it to a small portion of a company's communications challenge, he says.

"Facebook Workplace won't solve the core problem of app sprawl and information silos that has put business communications in a state of crisis," Gorny says. Ideally, he says, digital collaboration tools such as enterprise social networks should help companies unify communication, improve support, make better decisions, understand customers, engage employees and automate workflows.

For some companies, the expense may be worth it. "Imagine a business with a very distributed workforce with people who work on the road primarily and seldom come in contact with colleagues," says Edwards. "This might be a way for people to get together and come to know one another and share best practices."

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