Workplace by Facebook: The end of email?

Workplace by Facebook is the latest entry in the marketplace of online platforms that seek to foster better internal teamwork, communications and collaboration for businesses and other organizations. After months of beta testing with more than 400 companies, Facebook in October announced that the service was open for business to any company or organization that wanted to use it. Starbucks, the Royal Bank of Scotland and the French food giant Danone are among the 1,000 companies using Workplace so far.

Workplace by Facebook looks and functions a lot like the regular Facebook except companies must pay a per-user fee for the service. Workplace’s fees are much lower than rival services such as Slack or Yammer. Much like Slack, Workplace enables users to create groups for brainstorming and discussions, use a version of Messenger to communicate in real time, broadcast live presentations, and view a news feed that displays updates or comments that may tailored for certain teams or sent to the entire company. Companies can also invite business partners and other colleagues from outside the company to join specific groups.

No training required

Company officials said a big advantage of Workplace is that it is so much like the regular Facebook, which most people have used. So Workplace may appeal to a broader audience than office workers, who are the primary customers of other services competing for a share of the market. “No training needed,” said Julian Codorniou, director of the product. “It is for everyone from factory workers to baristas to the CEO.” Another advantage, again like the regular Facebook, is that Workplace works well on mobile phones and tablets. For example, Danone is using Workplace to reach 30,000 factory employees who do not work at desks with computers.

“The one thing that I really think Facebook has going for them is that the feature set has proven to work really well on mobile,” said Josh Bersin, principal and founder of Bersin by Deloitte, which consults with companies on corporate learning. Bersin said companies struggle to connect their people and email is failing them.

Dissatisfaction with email

Indeed, a September survey of 250 corporate executives by Deloitte found that only 15 percent were satisfied with their current communication and collaborations practices. Ahead of Workplace by Facebook, dozens of tech companies are seeking a share of a market of businesses that need their employees to collaborate online in ways that are not possible with email.

Slack, a popular collaboration platform that is valued at nearly $4 billion, has nearly one million paid accounts. It recently began a partnership with Salesforce aimed at increasing Slack use by large companies. At $6.67 per user per month, Slack’s fee is more than double that of Workplace, which charges $1 to $3 per user per month depending on the number of users the company or organization includes. Slack also offers more features than Workplace, including more storage space. Other competitors include Microsoft, which bundles the Yammer chat application in its Office 365 suite of software at a charge of $8 per month for the full package, and Google Hangouts, which is part of a larger G Suite that costs $5 per month.

Product used internally for years

Facebook’s approximately 14,000 employees have been using a version of Workplace for years as the primary method of internal communication, knowledge- sharing and online teamwork. Facebook tested the platform over a period of 18 months with 450 different companies, tweaking and adding features based on feedback. A staff of 400 engineers and more than 250 sales and marketing personnel based in London developed Workplace at a cost of more than $200 million.

At launch, Facebook said, it had 1,000 customer companies whose employees had already created about 100,000 online work groups. The top countries where Workplace is in use to date are India, the United States, Norway, the United Kingdom, and France. Facebook product director Codorniou said Workplace’s ability to support banks and retailers that have large numbers of satellite branches or offices has been particularly compelling. Yoma Bank in Myanmar, for example, has replaced fax machines with Workplace, Facebook said.

Customers include multinational companies such as the carrier Telenor, the Royal Bank of Scotland, Danone, Starbucks, and as well as nonprofits such as Oxfam, the Royal National Institute for the Blind and the Government Technology Agency of Singapore, according to Facebook. Nicola Mendelsohn, vice president for Facebook in Europe, said today’s business environment with distributed teams and the need for remote collaboration will drive adoption of Workplace. “It is a voice for everybody in an organization,” enabling companies to “make decisions quickly,” Mendelsohn said.

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