Workplace by Facebook: Workplace, Social Intranet or Social Network? (II)

Last year, Facebook started offering a business solution called, Workplace by Facebook. It's a variation of the social network of the same name, but for use in the office. Companies can easily register, calculate costs, and quickly get up and running.

But what does the term "workplace" really mean in this case? What does Workplace by Facebook (referred to as Workplace hereafter) actually offer companies? In part one, we were concerned with these questions:

  • Architecture and pricing: Workplace is appropriately priced and can be implemented quickly.
  • Administration: The administration is clearly arranged and understandable, even for those without IT backgrounds. At the same time, there's clearly a limited set of functions, through which only a few parameters are configurable.
  • Communication: Workplace offers an accommodating set of communication functions which are familiar to Facebook users. The options are cut and dried, and work smoothly on mobile apps everywhere.
  • Documents & files: Working with documents & files is much like working with them on Facebook. Documents (with the exception of notes) can only be uploaded or downloaded.
  • Ease of operation: Overall, Workplace is very easy to operate. The tried-and-true experience with Facebook, along with meeting private customers' needs, has clearly paid off.

In this part, we'll be discussing the editor, community interaction, office and collaboration, as well as organizational communication. Afterwards, I'll explain my conclusion about Workplace, what it's really good for, and what its weaknesses are. I'll also clarify the role of Intranet Compass.


Workplace by Facebook (Editor)

Workplace by Facebook (Editor)

How well does the editor handle content creation and editing?

The editor in Workplace is much like the one in Facebook. Users can mention their coworkers or groups by using the @ symbol and typing in the suggested name. Embedding videos from popular platforms is also easy, as they get displayed under the written content with a corresponding link. The editor works seamlessly and reliably on all platforms, including on mobile devices.

Other features, such as those needed for content creation and maintenance are not included. Additionally, layout editing (e.g. for different content types) isn't supported. Tables and document previews embedded in content, like WYSIWYG, are also lacking (except for the limited ones in notes).

The editor is simple, yet it impresses with its reliability and choice of available functions. However, it doesn't allow for rich and extensive content (such as tables).

Interaction and community

Workplace by Facebook (Group Settings)Workplace by Facebook (Group settings)

How does Workplace support internal communication, along with the interaction between its members and communities?

I was especially excited about the employee profiles and the way the organization is displayed. Profiles are completely independent of Facebook, but they're significantly reduced in comparison. Attributes like interests are not included. As an employee, you can type in your position, department, who your superiors are and your reporting path. But clicking or searching (for example, who works in Department A? Who reports everything to Mr. Meyer?) doesn't work. Only group subscriptions and memberships are displayed.

Communities are supported through groups. Within each group, there are three "privacy" options (company administrators can see all groups):

  • Open: Anyone in the organization can join, or be added or invited by a member.
  • Closed: Anyone can send a request to join, or be added or invited by a member.
  • Secret: Anyone can join, but they need to be added or invited by a member.

There are five types of groups, through which employees can more easily understand what goes on within each one:

  • Teams and Projects
  • Open Discussions
  • Announcements (department, office or organization)
  • Social and More
  • Buy and Sell (things posted to bought, sold, or traded)
  • Multi-Company (collaboration with people from other companies: this needs to be initiated from an existing Workplace account)

Functionality wise, the group types differ almost completely. What's important though, is how each group is configured. Here's where management comes into play: If managers are added to a special entry in the group configuration, all of their team members become group members automatically.

Groups are where the sense of community is fostered, and makes interaction easier via discussions, photos, events, and files.

Office and collaboration

Workplace by Facebook (Event)

Workplace by Facebook (Event)

What can Workplace do for classic office organizations regarding collaboration on tasks, topics, and content?

Normal office functions and the ability to collaborate are missing in Workplace. There are no tasks (neither personal nor team/project tasks), no calendars (neither personal nor team), no external access to documents, no online conferencing (for example, the ability to share screens or documents), and no collaborative editing of content/pages (notes can't even be attached to other content). The familiar Facebook polls are indeed present, but things like idea management are not. "Spaces," where tasks, calendars, files, information, conferencing around a topic or a task usually appear, are also missing.

Events are similar to those on Facebook, as there are no other options besides providing general information in addition to discussions and photos.

Workplace also doesn't offer a way to display Microsoft Office tasks or support digital collaboration in general.

Organizational communication

Workplace by Facebook (Multiple Languages)

Workplace by Facebook (Multiple Languages)

What can Workplace offer in terms of communication throughout the organization or organizational units (meaning to support structured information exchange between its members, e.g. Intranet 1.0)?

The "official" top-down communication throughout an organization/company, or through organizational units, is displayed via clearly identified "channels" (such as page trees and sites) and supports the structuring of information. This includes multilingual content, and editorial workflows for content approval, and publication times. Workplace does not offer any of these options. Individual users may authorize posts in other languages, but at their own discretion. There is a way, though, for administrators or moderators to approve discussion entries in groups. Multi-stage release procedures or support for a four-eyes principle are, however, missing.

Pages, as available on Facebook, where contributions can be published or withdrawn at a certain time, do not exist in Workplace.

Workplace relies solely on groups for communication through organizational units. Classic organizational communication with employees isn't possible with Workplace.

Conclusion (warning: opinion!)

So what exactly is Workplace by Facebook?

Workplace is a simple and effective social network for organizational use, through which employees can communicate and exchange ideas. It's essentially an improved Yammer. If Yammer had continued to be developed after it was acquired by Microsoft, Workplace wouldn't stand a chance. Workplace, however, is a nice solution that has a key focus: Facebook is in the name, but instead of the classic blue, the color is gray. Facebook did focus on ease of use and proven features (such as its editor), as well as communication between colleagues. Groups in Workplace also work well.

However, Workplace is not an intranet, social intranet, or a digital workplace. This includes a lot more than simply posting messages and status updates, being in groups, viewing files, and uploading and downloading them again. It simply isn't enough. Organizational communication (Intranet 1.0) may no longer be a central requirement for many companies - especially in the case of larger companies. But, basic support for office organizations and collaboration on topics, tasks, projects, or even working with external companies (such as suppliers, agencies) is completely absent.

For an "enterprise" social network, I find that something is missing. The profiles in Workplace offer few possibilities for networking. Name, email, telephone, location, position, department, superiors (managers), and reporting paths ("Reports") are available. That's it. No interests to find and exchange with like-minded colleagues. There's also no way to create a network based on the structure of the company (for example, generated lists of employees in a department or a generated organizational chart). Is there a place to look for others who share similar (my) interests? No.

For those who don't have an intranet, it's great. For organizations with a classic intranet, Workplace can be used as for social communication, but it will be isolated. Effective collaboration in Workplace won't happen.

For companies, the manageable price and low technical implementation requirements may have their appeal. But maybe it would be even more attractive to start a few Whatsapp groups.

Intranet Compass

These two blog articles about Workplace by Facebook are based on the information that I found at Internet Compass:

Workplace by Facebook at Intranet Compass

Intranet Compass is intended to provide intranet managers with an overview of available intranet solutions with basic comparison options. The Intranet Compass focuses on solutions that allow the distribution of information (Intranet 1.0) as well as communication and collaboration (Intranet 2.0) for an intranet. Partially, we rely on publicly available manufacturer information such as product websites and brochures. Partially, as in the case of Workplace by Facebook, we look at the solutions themselves. And in part, we get the information from the software manufacturers themselves. (Talk to us!)

Intranet Compass is an initiative from Dr. Karsten Wendland, Martin Seibert (//SEIBERT/MEDIA) and I, and is financially supported by Atlassian and //SEIBERT/MEDIA.

Frank HammFrank Hamm is a consultant for communication and collaboration who supports companies in their digital transformation. He has written for INJELEA-Blog about social business, intranets, enterprise 2.0 and company communication practices since 2005. Frank is an avowed nexialist and writes about this at Der Schreibende.

You can find more articles by Frank Hamm in our intranet special.

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