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Workplace by Facebook gets user interface overhaul

A planned overhaul of the Workplace by Facebook user interface will streamline notifications and prioritize groups and chats.

Workplace by Facebook, an enterprise collaboration and intranet app, has a revamped user interface that places more emphasis on groups and chats. The new look will partially mirror a planned redesign of the consumer product.

Central to the changes is a new left-side navigation bar for toggling among notifications, chats and a news feed. The feature consolidates controls previously spread across toolbars on the left, right and top of the page.

Similar to consumer Facebook, chats in Workplace pop up along the bottom of the screen. Moving forward, chats will be located in a single chats tab on the left. Notifications are also consolidating into an inbox that users can organize to their preference.

Facebook will display groups more prominently within Workplace and tighten the link between groups and chats by adding a tab for instant messaging within group pages, next to tabs for posts and file uploads.

Administrators will have a fourth tab on their left-side navigation bar for accessing a control panel. Facebook is consolidating tools for managing users under a People tab, and it's consolidating tools for managing web domains, profile templates and preferences under a Settings tab.

Facebook gave administrators of organizations with premium subscriptions access to the new design last week. The company has not said when the new site will launch for users.

Workplace by Facebook differs from Slack, Microsoft Teams

The new user interface -- particularly the left-side navigation bar -- brings Workplace by Facebook more in line with the setup of team collaboration apps like Slack and Microsoft Teams. However, Facebook has positioned its enterprise offering differently than those apps.  

"They want to be the place where work is talked about, not necessarily where work is done. And that makes them a bit different," said Wayne Kurtzman, analyst at IDC. "They are focusing on what they do well: conversations."

Slack, in contrast, wants its app to be a workflow hub for users. Increasingly sophisticated integrations with business and productivity apps let users do work without leaving Slack. Microsoft has presented a similar vision for Teams centered on the Office 365 suite.

Organizations that have adopted Workplace by Facebook have reported using the app more as an intranet platform than as a replacement for Slack or traditional unified communications clients, such as Skype for Business. Some of Facebook's earliest customers were large companies with a mix of service and office workers, including Walmart and Starbucks.

Consumer privacy concerns could haunt Facebook in enterprise market

But to build a much larger enterprise business, Facebook will need to overcome the negative public perceptions stemming from its mishandling of consumer data.

"There is no question that the brand challenges they have had on the consumer side [are] affecting their evaluation on the enterprise side," said Dion Hinchcliffe, analyst at Constellation Research, based in Cupertino, Calif.

Facebook's misuse of data has led the Federal Trade Commission to consider issuing the largest-ever fine of a technology company. The social media giant has set aside $3 billion to $5 billion for the expense.

Facebook has come under fire not doing enough to prevent political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica from exploiting user data and for a breach that exposed the personal information of tens of millions of users.

To reassure businesses, Facebook has emphasized that Workplace runs on infrastructure separate from the consumer platform. For instance, users have to create new accounts for Workplace, regardless of whether they use consumer Facebook. 

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