3 predictions from a Workplace from Facebook leader about the future of work

Asynchronous communication and even virtual reality will shape the hybrid office that many companies are planning.

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Companies have used live video and collaboration platforms to keep corporate culture alive during a year of remote work. The next challenge is figuring out how these tactics will survive as in-person offices reopen and leaders define the next new normal.

Christine Trodella, head of Americas at Workplace from Facebook, predicts that companies will build more flexibility into traditional work schedules and use new communication skills to keep employees connected to leadership and to each other. Trodella shared her observations from working with Workplace clients over the last year as well as what Facebook has learned about remote work.

Workplace is a business version of Facebook that creates a collaborative space that is very familiar to anyone who has used the consumer version of the platform. According to Facebook, Workplace currently has 5 million paid customers including Walmart, Nestle, AstraZeneca, Chevron, the World Health Organization and United Way. 

SEE: Workplace by Facebook: A cheat sheet

Here are the three trends that have emerged from a year of remote work as well as predictions about how these tools and tactics will shape the hybrid office.

Connecting via live video

At the start of the pandemic, company leaders adapted quickly to make communication with employees more transparent, Trodella said 

"We saw the usage of live video skyrocket during the pandemic, which helps leaders connect to employees in a human way," she said. 

Trodella said that the pandemic made it easier for companies to see the value of video and other online communication tools. She said that NuMotion, an adult mobility equipment company, spent a year evaluating Workplace and rolled it out to the company just before the lockdowns started. 

"The CEO went live right after the pandemic hit and has done live videos every single week since," she said. 

SEE: COVID-19 workplace policy (TechRepublic Premium)

Trodella said that the ability to record these videos and post them for viewing at a later time has helped more people consume the content. She used Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg's weekly Q&A session as an example. 

"I think we've seen an increase in people attending because these sessions are recorded and people don't have to carve out time right now to watch," she said.

Using asynchronous tools to build community online

Trodella said that asynchronous communication can be a helpful alternative to constant video meetings. 

"People have really looked for other ways to connect with each other and communicate and have meetings or resolve issues and that's where asynchronous is coming into practice," she said.

Trodella said that asynchronous communication makes it easier to build community online. At the start of the pandemic, she used Workplace to recreate a physical space at every Facebook office—the micro kitchen.

"It's a place where you talk about anything except work and it's become an active community for us," she said.

She posts a question of the day that touches on something personal such as a favorite TV show.

"I've talked about things I would never share with the team had I been in an office setting," she said.

Trodella said that Workplace has been an effective tool to connect frontline workers, people who don't sit at a desk all day.   

"These are people out in the field who are likely connecting through a mobile device,"  she said.  

Trodella said that customers also are using the platform as a modern version of the corporate intranet to store shareable and searchable information such as training content.

Workplace commissioned Forrester Consulting to conduct a Total Economic Impact study of the ROI for businesses that use the product. Forrester interviewed 19 customers, and surveyed over 200 with experience using Workplace and found significant benefits in increased revenue per customer, reduced leadership communications costs and increased efficiency in training and development.

The study also found benefits in building a connected culture such as increased employee onboarding efficiency, higher employee retention and increased product innovation.

The next challenge: Defining the hybrid office

As COVID-19 restrictions ease, the next puzzle for corporate leaders to solve is what work will look like when there's a mix of in-person and remote workers. 

Trodella said Workplace clients are currently trying to understand what change management practices will help them make the transition back to the office.

"It's going to be a big thing and companies will have to live it in real time," she said

The challenge will be how to preserve some elements of the culture built over the last year while developing new habits for the hybrid approach.  

"My hope is that we are more remote," she said. "Let's empower people to have more choice and flexibility."

Trodella said that Facebook has invested heavily in AR and VR and expects Oculus to have a significant role in the future of the enterprise. 

She said companies are using the platform for training purposes.

"There's also this idea of building empathy labs, such as giving a man a way to spend a day  working in a woman's shoes," she said.

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By Veronica Combs

Veronica Combs is a senior writer at TechRepublic. For more than 10 years, she has covered technology, healthcare, and business strategy. In addition to her writing and editing expertise, she has managed small and large teams at startups and establis...