Facebook Workplace Enters Race for Video Meetings

Workplace Rooms headlines new features for the collaboration tool

There’s no doubt that video meetings have been the standout solution during the Covid-19 pandemic. With so many of us working remotely and remaining socially distanced, they’ve been the primary way for people to connect with colleagues, friends, family, teachers, students and customers. Adoption of tools like Zoom and Microsoft Teams has skyrocketed and, although there’s now some lethargy toward the many webinars and video calls many of us are participating in everyday, we’re all gradually coming to terms with this being the norm for the foreseeable future.

Please Welcome Workplace Rooms

So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Facebook wants to get in on the action here too. Last week, the company announced Workplace Rooms, which will provide one-to-one and group video meeting capabilities to customers of its Workplace collaboration solution. Rolling out in June, Workplace Rooms uses the Messenger Rooms technology of the consumer Facebook product. This highlights the urgency and strength of the opportunity that Workplace sees in this feature, as Messenger Rooms only launched in April. The new tool limits the number of participants to 50 and supports screen-sharing. Participants needn’t be Workplace users, and organizers have the option to lock rooms and eject participants.

This is a major new feature for Workplace and comes hot on the heels of the launch of Knowledge Library in April, which provides a static publishing vehicle that could serve as a replacement for an intranet for many companies. Together, these additions mark a distinct pivot in Facebook’s strategy with Workplace, and one that I believe is vital for the product’s long-term growth.

According to Facebook, these moves are already having an impact on who the buyer is for Workplace in an organization. Communications and HR employees have previously been the primary buyers for Workplace, but the intranet possibilities of Knowledge Library are now attracting IT decision-makers.

However, the addition of support for video meetings brings Workplace into the realms of communication infrastructure, and, of course, squarely in competition with the likes of Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Webex, Google Meet and others.

A New Direction for Workplace

Video meetings will undoubtedly become a major influence in purchasing decisions for Workplace, but most importantly they will also boost usage, particularly at this time of heavy remote work. Like other communications and collaboration tools, Workplace has seen a huge surge in customers over the past two months and now has 5 million paid users, a rise of 2 million since it last reported figures in October 2019.

However, it’s notable that Facebook doesn’t reveal the number of daily active users of Workplace; the product’s newsfeed-based interface means that it’s not necessarily an embedded part of employees’ daily workflow. The meetings capability has the potential to dramatically change this, turning Workplace into a true engagement platform.

Adding Portal and Oculus to the Workplace Mix

Facebook’s announcements also made it clear that the Workplace collaboration platform is only the beginning of the company’s push into the enterprise market. New Workplace integrations with Portal, Facebook’s video calling device, suggest that the hardware is being targeted as a business solution, not just a consumer tool. And Oculus for Business, which is now generally available, opens a whole new avenue of opportunity for Facebook into the enterprise space with virtual reality (VR). Oculus for Business has been largely “under the radar” until now, but it has been quietly amassing a community of 400 partners that are developing VR solutions for enterprise uses, fuelled by the success of the Oculus Quest, Facebook’s wireless VR headset.

Facebook’s Enterprise Ambitions Start to Become Clear

Compared with some of its rivals in the collaboration space, Workplace from Facebook has been relatively quiet throughout the Covid-19 pandemic until now. However, these announcements show that the company has certainly been busy responding to the changing needs of its customers and the market more broadly, and that it has big plans for attacking opportunities in enterprises.

Remote working is now part of life, and the pandemic is pushing many organizations to think about how they can support and enable remote work more effectively in the long term. Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg revealed on a public livestream of the company’s employee town hall meeting that the company is considering supporting permanent remote working for its own employees, and this is leading Facebook to explore investment in new areas of technology innovation as a result.

Of course, Facebook faces some heavyweight competition in the enterprise space, and will continue to be challenged in its credibility as a trusted provider of enterprise solutions. However, Facebook is undeniably ambitious, and we don’t doubt that it has more tricks up its sleeve.

A version of this blog post was first published by CMSWire on 26 May 2020.