Innovation

Facebook Workplace could replace Slack, Jira, Hangouts, and a lot more

Facebook's corporate tool has arrived and it's targeting business software you love and hate. Learn why companies are discovering they like Workplace better and see new features Facebook just added.

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​Image: Facebook


There are now grocery chains who use Facebook Workplace as their primary corporate information tool and airlines that use it as the default way to message flight crews.

What started as an internal Facebook experiment to dogfood its Groups feature in 2011 is now threatening to become a disruptive force in enterprise software. After exiting beta in October 2016—and mostly looking like a side project before that—Workplace emerged at this year's Facebook F8 as one of the headliners of the annual developer conference.

It's startling how many tech partners Facebook has lined up for Workspace, how many blue chip companies have already started using it, and how intensely Facebook pitched more developers and enterprises to get on board at F8.

The last time you heard about the product, it was probably called Facebook at Work. It wasn't until last fall when it officially launched to the public that it got the moniker Workplace. The idea is that your company creates a standalone instance of its own Facebook with a superset of features aimed at corporate productivity. You create a separate profile from your personal Facebook account so that corporate data remains compliant and secure and every employee maintains the privacy of their personal life as well.

The benefits of Facebook Workplace include:

  • Replace your corporate intranet portal with a much more familiar interface
  • Instantly make your corporate portal highly accessible on mobile
  • Allow groups and teams to easily create their own collaboration portals
  • Employees can create and collaborate on Pages, Docs, and Notes (Facebook's answer to Google Docs)
  • Use Work Chat (enterprise version of Messenger) for text messaging, voice calling, and video calling to communicate privately with coworkers
  • Built-in AI and machine learning (bots) to automate tasks
  • Share and collaborate with other companies that use Workspace
  • Search all accessible company documents from web or mobile

With just those core features, a number of the companies that have been early adopters—as well as Facebook itself, naturally—say that they can't go back now that they're using Workspace because of the speed and efficiency they've gained. Starbucks says 80% of it store managers are using Workplace on a weekly basis. Rema 1000 supermarket chain in Norway has 10,000 employees and says over 80% of them of using Workplace. Facebook's enterprise service has been a key component of digital transformation for both companies, which have a lot of workers that don't sit at desks with a computers but rely on their phones to get information. Prior to Workplace, Rema 1000's primary way of communicating with employees was posting bulletins on break room walls.

New features launched at F8:

  • New integrations with Microsoft Office, Microsoft OneDrive, Box, Salesforce, and Quip (added to existing integrations with Dropbox, Google G Suite, and BlueJeans)
  • Building custom bots to automate workflows is now possible and you can even @mention a bot to trigger a task or workflow. Facebook also has five launch partners that can build bots for companies.
  • Security and compliance integrations are being bolstered by partnerships with cloud compliance, e-discovery and data loss prevention providers. This include webhooks for real-time alerts of suspicious activity, data leakage, and compliance violations.
  • Workplace's Live API for streaming video takes the existing video features to the next level. In addition to streaming and archiving meetings in Workplace, companies can now broadcast from professional-class video equipment to Workplace. Businesses like Starbucks and Viacom have already tested using this to stream all-hands meetings from the CEO. It could also be used for training, webinars, and live Q&A.

SEE: 4 new features for Facebook Workplace that could make it a better business tool

At F8, Facebook said Workplace is being used by over 14,000 companies on every continent—including Antarctica. The software works in low temperatures, apparently. It also works in 77 different languages. In fact, the killer feature for Workplace may be for multinational corporations where workers can collaborate across different languages. The Facebook software uses machine learning to automatically translate between languages.

The list of companies already using Workspace is impressive. Some of them include:

  • Starbuck's
  • World Wildlife Foundation
  • Viacom
  • Sigfox
  • Campbell's
  • Financial Times
  • Stanley Black & Decker
  • Airtel
  • Save the Children Fund
  • Discovery Communications
  • Canadian Tire
  • Columbia Sportswear

Where you can really see the potential of Workplace is in a demo that Facebook's Simon Cross, a product manager for Workplace, did for the professionals at F8. In the scenario, a sales professional posts a PowerPoint slide deck in Workplace and asks for feedback from the team. Workplace automatically creates previews of each slide and posts it in way that makes it look like a set of photos from a friend on Facebook—very easy to view on both desktop and mobile. A teammate then notices a typo and quickly posts a comment (just like a comment on a photo on Facebook). The creator of the slide deck gets an alert and click the PowerPoint file embedded in the post and it automatically pulls up a rich text editor that lets the salesperson edit the slide. All of this was done without leaving Workplace, but all the changes were also written to the original file on Microsoft OneDrive. Here's Facebook's video of this demo in action:

When Cross when through this demo at F8, there were audible murmurs of excitement across the audience—a rare feat for a presentation on a piece of software. This was clearly a lot faster, more efficient, and more mobile-friendly than the current method of emailing files around that still happens at most companies.

The other demo that impressed the audience was one where someone posted about a technical problem and an IT support technician jumped in the thread and used an @mention of a bot to automatically turn the thread into an IT help desk ticket. That was far more efficient than simply telling the person, "Okay, go file a ticket for this." Cross said that IT help desks have been among the first to take advantage of the new custom bot capabilities to automate and streamline business processes.

Final word

The fact that so many companies use enterprise software, pay so much for it, and spend so much time complaining about it make it wide open for disruption. However, we also shouldn't underestimate how entrenched these old software platforms can be and how long it can take to replace them.

Nevertheless, Facebook does look like it has built a better mousetrap with Workspace. And since a lot of companies are on the digital transformation bandwagon right now, they can use that to justify a rip-and-replace. They can also justify the fact that Facebook Workplace could replace not just one solution but multiple solutions—which can save a lot of money and potentially reduce support costs.

But, the two trump cards for Facebook Workplace could be cross-language support and Millennials. As mentioned above, multinationals could probably justify the move to Workplace on the automatic cross-language translation alone. The other driver could be that 50% of the global workforce will be Millennials by 2020. Millennials often spurn Facebook for Instagram or Snapchat in their personal lives, but the Facebook interface is a lot more familiar and inviting to them than almost all traditional enterprise software. Add that to the fact that the over-40 crowd—which still makes most of today's buying decisions—tends to love Facebook in their personal lives and you've got a pretty good recipe for disruption in enterprise software.

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About Jason Hiner

Jason Hiner is Global Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Global Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He's co-author of the book, Follow the Geeks.

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