Business Technology

Wednesday 26 October 2016

Facebook already runs your life. Now it is launching a social network for the office

James Titcomb

Published 11/10/2016 | 07:21

Workplace mirrors Facebook, except with a new colour scheme Credit: Facebook
Workplace mirrors Facebook, except with a new colour scheme Credit: Facebook

In just 12 years, Facebook has swept aside most of its rivals, drawn in half the world’s internet users and changed how we keep track of long-lost friends. But there is at least one area of our lives that the social network is yet to conquer: the office.

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On Monday, the internet giant set out plans to change that, unveiling a version of Facebook designed entirely for businesses. “Workplace by Facebook” has been in testing for two years and will be instantly familiar to members of the social network, apart from a facelift that replaces the familiar blue colour scheme with a more muted grey.

Users can post status updates, photos and videos, “like” and comment on posts within their feed and chat with colleagues. But instead of viral cat videos and envy-inducing holiday photos, Workplace is meant to be filled by meeting minutes, messages from the boss and corporate schedules.

The service is headquartered in London, making it the first major Facebook product to be designed and launched by a team outside the US, and is one of several, such as Slack and Yammer, meant to replace the drudgery of email with an easy-to-use, smartphone-friendly interface. The move represents a new chapter for the company, which has so far stuck to consumer-focused apps funded by advertising.

Despite being based on Facebook, the service is entirely separate: Workers do not need an account, and are given new profiles by their employers. The two services do not share data and Workplace does not carry adverts, instead charging businesses a monthly fee.

“The mission of Facebook is about connecting people,” said Julien Codorniou, the global head of Workplace. “And you can’t have the ambition to connect the world if you don’t connect the workplace.”

Facebppl Workplace 2.png  

Facebook has been using a version of Workplace internally for years, and has all but eliminated emails within the company. When Mark Zuckerberg has a staff announcement to make, for example, he will post it within a Facebook group.

But just over 18 months ago, the company began testing a version for businesses under the name Facebook at Work with organisations including Royal Bank of Scotland, Club Med and the Royal National Institute for the Blind. On Monday it said others that had signed up include Danone, Starbucks and Singapore’s government.

“The mission is not to kill email, but it is what happens,” Mr Codorniou said. “[With email] you wake up every day and get 400 emails listed by chronological order. If the intern in Japan just posted something you might get it before the CEO who posted two hours ago.”

Within Workplace, posts are not ranked chronologically but by the News Feed, the homepage algorithm that prioritises the most important updates. In another break from the consumer version of Facebook, users do not add friends but follow individuals and join groups to determine what messages they see.

Mr Codorniou said that Facebook would not be sharing information between the consumer service and Workplace, and that businesses would own the data. “The list of companies [using it] is testament to the security of the product,” he said.

He denied that the company’s history as a social platform would hinder it as rivals have suggested, saying the fact that many employees are already familiar with Facebook would help them to get to grips with Workplace, instead of having to learn something new.

In many companies, blue-collar workers do not have email addresses, which Mr Codorniou said hampered communication.

“Danone is launching to 100,000 employees. 30,000 of them never had an email, never had a PC never had a desk,” he said. “The only way the CEO could talk to his factory workers was send an email, make sure the email got printed and then post the email in the restrooms. [This] gives everyone a voice.”

He said technology already used in Facebook’s consumer version and applied to Workplace, such as assistance for visually impaired users, foreign language translation and its mobile app, also give it a edge.

The bar for success is high at Facebook: The social network has 1.7bn users, while its WhatsApp and Instagram apps have over 1bn and 500m respectively. Mr Codorniou said he hoped Workplace would have “hundreds of millions” of users in the next few years.

He added that the division was “not obsessed by monetisation”, although it could earn billions in revenues, with the company charging between $1 and $3 per user per month depending on how many people use it.

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