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Team collaboration secondary in Workplace by Facebook app

Organizations are deploying the Workplace by Facebook app to build community among large and geographically diverse workforces. In that sense, the platform is more like an intranet than a team collaboration platform.

Facebook pitches Workplace as a team collaboration app, but businesses have found the product more useful as an intranet that helps build community across large workforces with many remote and part-time employees.

In recent months, Facebook has stepped up efforts to position its business platform as a competitor to cloud-based collaboration apps like Slack and Microsoft Teams. Recently, for example, the social media company added to Workplace by Facebook third-party business software and made it easier to deploy instant messaging.

But the Workplace users interviewed for this story do not have the platform integrated with many business apps and have not seen widespread adoption of Workplace Chat, the messaging tool.

Instead, most of those Workplace users continue to rely on platforms like Microsoft Skype for Business for unified communications (UC), while using Workplace primarily for companywide announcements and for promoting collaboration across departments.

Facebook arranged interviews with Weight Watchers, Farmers Insurance and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) for this story. Heineken USA and Rooftop Housing Group, a 200-person nonprofit based in Evesham, England, were contacted independently. More than 30,000 organizations use the Workplace by Facebook app.

Workplace by Facebook app a better intranet

Only 10% of Weight Watchers employees work at a desk in an office. The World Wildlife Fund has 80 offices around the world. Two-thirds of Heineken workers in the United States are based out of regional offices, which they visit once or twice a week.

These organizations turned to the Workplace by Facebook app because it was a mobile-centric platform that most employees would intuitively know how to use based on the popularity of consumer Facebook.

"For someone who only works two hours a week for the company, we wanted them to be able to intuitively get what the platform was, understand how to use it and take to engage in it," said Stacie Sherer, senior vice president of corporate communications at Weight Watchers.

Similar to consumer Facebook, Workplace lets users like, comment and share posts. Since deploying Workplace, employees engage with company news more frequently and are more likely to post updates about their own team's work, the users said.

"Whether you're in the field, or whether you're working in finance, or whether you're working in an administrative role, it has allowed [staff] to feel more part of WWF and our work," said Kate Cooke, head of network communications at the World Wildlife Fund. (The platform is free for nonprofits.)

The tool has increased collaboration among teams and departments that would have otherwise never interacted. Weight Watchers employees based in different parts of the country have discussed best practices for helping clients. Recently, the Armenian branch of WWF posted about a communications campaign that other offices ended up copying.

Business integrations aren't central to how companies use Workplace

In May, Facebook unveiled roughly 50 integrations with SaaS apps such as Jira, HubSpot and SurveyMonkey, following the lead of platforms like Slack, Microsoft Teams and Cisco Webex Teams. But for the most part, the organizations interviewed for this story haven't begun taking advantage of those integrations.

The users, however, do have Workplace integrated with cloud storage apps, such as Box and Google Drive, and web conferencing platforms, such as Zoom, which can be used to live stream meetings and events to Workplace. Those integrations had been available before the May announcement.

Microsoft, Cisco and Slack have marketed their team collaboration apps as hubs for getting work done. Those apps let users, for example, approve expense reports and message with colleagues from the same interface.

The Workplace by Facebook app offers similar functionality, but users are not adopting the app primarily for that reason.

"We really focused it on that engagement perspective to start and really using it as a communication channel," said Jacqueline Leahy, director of internal corporate communications at Heineken USA. "We have not started to really use it in terms of managing projects."

Workplace Chat adoption lags

None of the Workplace users rely on the app as their primary instant messaging platform. Most have other UC clients deployed, such as Microsoft Skype for Business, and don't view Workplace as a replacement for those tools.

At Weight Watchers, for example, the technology and product teams use Slack, integrated with Confluence and Jira, while others in the organization communicate through WhatsApp or text messaging. Sherer said the company was looking into boosting adoption of Workplace Chat.

In fact, Workplace may be inadvertently contributing to a communication channel overload within some organizations. Rooftop Housing Group, for example, now has three or four different ways to instant message, including Workplace Chat, Microsoft Skype for Business and a Mitel softphone client.

"We now need to find organizational defaults," said John Rockley, the nonprofit's head of communications and marketing. "Otherwise, we've got too many separate channels."

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