Will Facebook Workplace…work?

Ever shouted across the office at somebody to ask them a quick question, or sent them an email to ask something that really shouldn’t have taken that long? Have you been distracted by your colleagues constantly coming to ask you questions or calling you internally to discuss something?

These are some of the issues which Facebook is hoping to address with its new offering, Workplace. The private, company-internal social network has been in the pipeline for almost two years and now has over 1,000 companies signed up – mostly in India, the US, Norway, the UK and France. It’s positioning itself as a rival to other services such as Slack, HipChat and Yammer (which is now part of Microsoft), and is trying to reinvent the way colleagues talk to each other.

The big question is: will it work? The network will let employees share updates to their colleagues’ News Feeds, stream Live video, see Trending posts within their company, create Groups for projects or sub-teams, host and manage events, and instant chat – all the features that the network’s almost 2 billion monthly active users have come to know and love. This could mean employees are more likely to use it as it won’t take long at all to become familiarised; it’s the same platform just with different content.

An interesting, new, strategy from Facebook – and one which indicates the network might be worth a try – is the pricing. The platform will be ad-free and organisations will only pay for each monthly active user. The ones who don’t log in aren’t included in the bill. In short, the more engaging Facebook makes the platform, the more it rakes in.

Although it might seem like Workplace can’t fail, there is still a fairly sizeable elephant in the room. Privacy concerns have followed Facebook around like a bad smell for years now, and it’s possible that this is a roadblock to the network’s success. Will businesses be able to get past this and trust Workplace with their internal communications? People will often be discussing confidential projects or private, internal matters that companies might rather Facebook didn’t have access to.

On top of this, employers already have worries about time-wasting: more than a third of employers think social media is a productivity killer, and that’s even before it is put in place as an official method of communication in a company.

The drawbacks from the employer’s point of view are clear, but there are also issues from the employees’ perspectives. People in most companies know their activity on work computers is conducted under the watchful eye of IT departments. This is now law – in January this year the European Court of Human Rights ruled that a company reading an employee’s messages, sent at work, were well within their rights to do so. People therefore don’t tend to send private messages via email. Facebook is an entirely different story and, if companies are granted the right to watch over information sent and received on the network, employees might see this as extra surveillance, on top of Facebook’s own monitoring, and may be reluctant to get fully involved.

However, this remains to be seen. These concerns might be pushed to the backs of people’s minds given the easy and familiar user functionality of Workplace (people are fundamentally creatures of habit and will tend to stick with what they know), and the benefits it can bring to internal communications. Despite concerns, it’s likely that people will use the platform. The combination of Facebook’s incomprehensibly large user base, people’s desires to stick to what they know, and the pricing strategy probably leading to some new and interesting engagement tactics from Facebook itself means that while it’s the same, it will still be exciting, different, and incredibly useful.

Written by Rebecca Ingram, Senior Digital Account Executive (@_beccaingram)

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