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Welcome To Facebook At Work

In opinion / By Gina Hall / 23 November 2016

Would you allow your employees use Facebook at work?

Facebook is making a big bet that you will, launching its new enterprise edition. The Palo Alto, Calif.-based tech giant recently launched Workplace, a business-focused, ad-free messaging and social networking service.

Workplace offers group chats, instant messaging, audio and video calling, and live video — in addition to its already familiar network profiles.

The service functions and looks much like regular Facebook, users can toggle between their professional and personal accounts. One major difference is that employees “follow” their co-workers rather than “friend” them to avoid any snubs or exclusions. More than 1,000 companies are already using it, including Starbucks and the Royal Bank of Scotland.

Facebook’s aim is to compete in the workplace communication space with the likes of Slack and Salesforce Chatter. While Facebook’s name recognition is a major asset, the social media site will have to prove that the platform is more than a landing spot for new baby photos and political diatribes.

So why would your company sign up for Facebook Workplace? Enterprise app expert Peter Yared, CTO of the micro-app development platform Sapho, says it’s all about the Millennials.

“When I first started coming to offices, there were still typewriters around,” Yared recalls. “I remember thinking ‘What are these people doing typing on paper and using whiteout?’ A lot of people make fun of Millennials, but they’re having the same reaction.”

What older bosses may not realize is that their younger workers are increasingly eschewing phone calls, in-person meetings and email in favor of messaging apps. The evidence? Facebook-owned messaging apps WhatsApp and Messenger each have more than 1 billion monthly active users, according to Facebook’s third-quarter report released in early November.

Facebook Workplace takes an interface already familiar to most Millennials and puts it right on their work computers. And because many Millennials are on Facebook, so are their parents, who want to communicate with them. That means there are few people in the workforce who are unfamiliar with how the platform operates, resulting in less time spent training workers on the system.

“One of the primary problems you have in an enterprise is getting people to use something,” Yared observes. Prior to co-founding Sapho, Yared was the CIO of the online content network CBS Interactive. He remembers rolling out software that theoretically should have made people’s lives easier, but they simply wouldn’t engage with it.

“One of the most intractable problems in IT is you spend a lot of money trying to get users to use stuff, but then nobody uses it,” Yared recalls. “The strong point that Facebook has when they come into an enterprise is people know how to use this already. They understand how it works and they’re going to use it.”

Despite its advantages, Facebook is up against stiff competition from some recognizable names. Team-messaging app Slack has carved a space for itself at many Silicon Valley-based startups and the company is backed by almost $540 million in funding.

Slack already has 4 million users and is expected to generate $100 million in revenue this year, according to Business Insider.

Microsoft also just launched its own “Slack killer,” called Microsoft Teams, while IBM recently released a communications tool that takes advantage of artificial intelligence called Watson Workspace. In addition, many expect Google to create a similar product that takes advantage of the Hangouts interface.

One major disadvantage for Facebook is their former motto: “Move fast and break things.” It’s a philosophy that won’t resonate well with enterprises which want to ensure their communication tools are reliable and secure.

But Yared points out that Facebook tends to hire really smart people and that the company will likely build the right features and strike the right tone with businesses.

“It’s a very hard for a company to transition from a consumer to enterprise product,” Yared observes. “It’s going to be hard for them to make that leap. That said, they’re already getting a lot of traction.”

Gina Hall

Gina Hall

Gina Hall is a writer for the Silicon Valley Business Journal covering the tech industry. She also authors a blog for the Huffington Post and covers Silicon Valley for The Nasstarian.

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