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Integrating Next-Generation Workplace Technologies

Organisations looking to use new technologies to improve collaboration and communication in the workplace face a common challenge: how to integrate these new tools with existing systems in a way that ensures employee engagement.

Too many costly collaboration platforms have gone to waste because it’s simply too difficult for staff to use them alongside the existing systems they are familiar with but which remain unintegrated. Employees don’t feel empowered to use new tools or companies don’t provide the training they need, leading to lost investment and missed opportunities for enhanced communication. Often, staff end up using personal tools they are comfortable with, such as WhatsApp, which are out of corporate control.

The corporate appetite for collaboration applications is huge: Global sales are forecast to reach $9.5 billion by 2021, compared with $8.2 billion in 2016, according to market research firm Apps Run the World.

However, no CIO wants to invest in a costly platform that is difficult for staff to use and fails to integrate with legacy systems. Millennials will account for 50% of workers by 2020, and their expectations for next-generation office productivity tools are established by the social media and chat apps they use in their private life.

Introducing Workplace from Facebook
Workplace is a collaborative platform built by Facebook and launched in 2016, after being developed and used throughout the company by employees keen to build on Facebook’s ethos of internal collaboration.

Workplace benefits from familiar Facebook features such as News Feed, Groups and Messenger, known here as Workplace Chat, which was retooled with an emphasis on communication and collaboration. It also includes enterprise-grade security and data protection.

Since its launch, Workplace has attracted numerous organisations and partners, as well as product partnerships, service providers and resellers. It has grown from an early adopter programme to around 30,000 enterprise deployments today, and it’s now used by household names including Starbucks, Virgin Atlantic and Walmart.

The evolution of Workplace was prompted by CIOs asking Facebook how they could exploit its popular consumer functionality in the enterprise.

“We have been using Facebook not just for our personal lives and connecting with friends, but to get work done and improve productivity by maintaining the transparency and agility within the organisation,” says Frerk-Malte Feller, director of strategic partner development for Workplace by Facebook

“Customer CIOs wanted to know how we continued to make Facebook so successful, and Workplace plays a big part―how we use it to feed into products and offerings to customers.”

He attributes the success of Workplace to several factors. Significantly, everyone is familiar with Facebook. It is intuitive to use, assisting awareness and education programmes. Many next-generation workplace technologies fall at the first hurdle of user resistance.

“Facebook is built with people in mind. Engineers built it to connect people, and everybody has a voice,” says Feller. “Workplace allows people to work well together.”

He points out that integration can hit barriers because changing the way people behave is not easy.

“Familiarity becomes a great advantage if you want to connect the broader organisation, from the CIO to anyone with all sorts of functions and backgrounds,” Feller says. “A tool people are familiar with gives a unique advantage. You are able to do this with Workplace.”

Barriers to collaboration success
In an article for Computer Weekly, Rob Bamforth, an independent industry analyst, says the main obstacle to the adoption of new forms of communication is often confidence.

“The biggest drains on confidence still remain: Will it work, and do I know how to use it?” he says.

Another reason why Workplace is easily assimilated is that it can connect everybody within the organisation irrespective of their role or location. Feller highlights how Workplace, because of its mobile capability, is used by many different groups, from knowledge workers to truck drivers at XPO Logistics and flight attendants at Delta Air Lines who don’t have email.

“Workplace can interact with people in an organisation who didn’t have a channel to do so before, no matter what their role is,” explains Feller.

Collaboration and communication that might be top-down and laborious in many companies are made frictionless and dynamic.

For example, a retailer might communicate with a store manager by sending an email with an attachment to be printed off and pinned up in the staff room for customer assistants. Typically, it might be ignored, and if it is seen, there is little opportunity for feedback. Workplace allows everyone to see the communication, comment and provide feedback, all of which is transparent to all interested parties.

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Champions in the boardroom
For maximum impact and to integrate Workplace culturally, it should be championed by the board. In this way, organisations can use Workplace to drive productivity.

Jim Loree, president and CEO of Stanley Black & Decker, says the company was looking for a platform that would connect people across time zones and language barriers in as efficient and timely a manner as possible and play a key part in the company’s digital transformation.

The collaborative functionality in Workplace has been championed by executives such as Loree, who says he has “never felt more connected to our employees around the world.”

“Workplace is incredibly intuitive―if you know how to use Facebook, you essentially know how to use Workplace. Plus the translation capabilities make it an amazing tool for a multinational like us. I immediately knew this could be really powerful for our global enterprise,” he says.

Feller highlights the importance of high-level leadership: “The majority of organisations we see focus on top-down deployment for Workplace, with engagement from executives or an internal communications leader. An executive is excited by Workplace and people model their behaviour.”

Tools of choice
Information can easily reach employees when they are not desk-bound, via their mobile devices―further accelerating successful integration. The ability to reach employees by their tool of choice speeds up integration and further drives productivity opportunities. Decisions can be made faster, and information can flow freely.

“Any tool needs to work fantastically on mobile. Facebook puts mobile first and offers a truly mobile-first experience,” says Feller.

Communication can be asynchronous via Workplace Groups, a feature that allows users to create a private space to discuss projects, manage information and securely share documents. It allows collaboration with teams by assigning tasks, posting updates and sharing feedback, or it can be synchronous with Workplace Chat in real time.

“Some information is relevant for everyone in a Group to see but not necessarily in real time, while Chat allows you to ping a partner that a meeting is starting,” says Feller.

The dual mode allows urgent communications to be easily distinguished from the nonurgent, which promotes integration because users are not bombarded with untargeted information.

Secure integration
Workplace is integrated securely, according to corporate policies on data use and employee roles. Feller says Workplace is built to ensure enterprise security and identity management. The highest level of security is applied to integration with existing systems and key apps, to connect people effectively and securely.

This outward-facing approach affords organisations choice in the type of next-generation workplace technologies they would like to use with Workplace. The platform is also focused on accommodating ease of integration with multiple SaaS vendors.

“CIOs are no longer confined to one provider. Any use case you can imagine is possible,” says Feller. Facebook Workplace partners are increasing in number and helping drive organisational appeal to both Workplace and its partners. “Workplace APIs mimic Facebook APIs, so it is easy to integrate with us.”

Feller adds, “There are security concerns around shadow IT. The problem is that people no longer use the same tools, so collaboration is very hard. HR and CIOs appreciate Workplace because it ties in with their regular enterprise IT environment.”

Workplace enables CIOs and executives to change the culture of their organisation by integrating next-generation workplace technologies simply and securely.

As Feller points out, not many SaaS tools connect wall to wall, and many CIOs have struggled to change the culture of their organisation because they have not had the collaboration and communication platforms and tools to enable transformation.

Workplace is designed to enable transformation, with the key steps for organisational adoption being “executive engagement, setting up the right groups, having champions beyond executives, and a communications plan to let everyone know about it,” Feller points out.

“Workplace is increasingly seen as an enabler of integration,” he says. “CIOs can use Workplace to drive the adoption of other SaaS tools they want to deploy. The increased usage gives a higher return on the licence cost already paid for.”

Three steps to better collaboration
This virtuous circle of integration leading to better collaboration is part of the Workplace journey, which typically follows three stages:

  • First is the internal communications stage, when the value of Workplace is disseminated throughout the organisation through executive championship and larger group communications.
  • The second stage is the discovery of the opportunities Workplace offers, to drive and improve productivity.
  • In the third stage, the critical integration piece is achieved, where Workplace is used through its APIs to automate workflow and increase product integration with other tools and solutions.

“Using Workplace with the rest of the SaaS stack through automation and integration is key to making collaboration and communication work for employees,” says Feller. “It allows people to connect with enterprise SaaS tools and gain more adoption. Workplace helps get jobs done and makes better use of existing SaaS products.”

The knock-on benefits include increased return on investment as more people within the organisation use Workplace and the SaaS products to drive productivity.

Workplace continues to evolve as a collaboration platform with built-in functionality for SaaS partners and integration at the heart of any developments. Feller says more investment is planned for the core platform and security, as well collaboration with other companies.

“Workplace gives organisations stronger internal communication between all levels of groups,” he says. “It has a positive impact on engagement to get the job done easier, resulting in teams becoming more productive.”