The Unexpected Success of Workplace by Facebook

Facebook’s enterprise product is quashing scepticism

Facebook’s entrance to the enterprise software space in early 2015 with the beta release of what was then called Facebook at Work raised many eyebrows, particularly as many enterprise social networking players were starting to struggle. However, by the time Workplace by Facebook launched in late 2016, it had more than 450 early adopters on board including major brands like RBS. Fast-forward almost three years, and it now has more than 2 million paid seats deployed, with 150 companies having more than 10,000 users on Workplace.

In the meantime, the market has changed dramatically, with social collaboration leaders Jive Software and IBM having exited the market, and the new collaboration players to watch being Slack and Microsoft Teams. So how is Workplace continuing to carve a place for itself in this fickle and challenging space?

Connecting the Whole Workforce, Both Desk-Bound and Deskless

The Workplace team held an event for customers in London on 22 May 2019, Transform by Workplace, where it shed light on the secret behind momentum for the service: its clean, simple and extremely familiar user experience provides a platform for connecting people across an organization, particularly those people who aren’t traditional “knowledge workers” based at a desk in an office.

Beauty brand Clarins UK has been using Workplace for just a year, and 94% of its 2,000 employees are active on the platform every week through mobile devices. It has 83% of staff using the Workplace Chat feature — the work version of Facebook Messenger — every week. What makes Clarins’ story particularly interesting is that it has a predominantly deskless workforce: 91% of its staff are beauty advisors in stores and 84% have no company e-mail address. Workplace has helped connect employees throughout the business, giving everyone a voice and creating a more engaged organization. It’s clearly having an impact, with a 6% reduction in turnover over the past year.

Another example of the potential Workplace has in organizations with a significant proportion of deskless users is Virgin Atlantic. It has 81% adoption of Workplace for its 10,000 employees, 70% of whom aren’t office workers; 65% of its staff use the platform every week and 75% access it on a mobile device each month.

In fact, Workplace’s customer list is notably diverse in company size, from global brands like Walmart, Starbucks, GSK and Nestle, to Honest Burgers, which launched Workplace three months ago to improve retention among its 650 employees spread across 35 restaurants through better employee engagement.

Trusting in the Power of the Familiar

The potential for connecting front-line and remote workers is becoming a major tenet in Facebook’s positioning with Workplace, not least because this group has been so poorly served with collaboration technology in the past. The mobile-first aspect of Workplace coupled with the Workplace Chat messaging tool creates an extremely low entry point for new users. And as employees can get started on the platform using a PIN code rather than an e-mail address, the platform is open to everyone.

This is where Facebook’s approach with Workplace differs from rival Slack. Slack’s solution grows team-by-team within an organization, whereas Workplace is implemented from the top down, typically as a strategic solution to support and enable communication and cross-company engagement. Once an organization buys into Workplace, the platform is rolled out globally, and the challenge is then to encourage employees to start using it. This is where Facebook’s predecessors in enterprise social networking often struggled: adoption required a huge investment in change management. Workplace clearly still needs investment in the early stages of deployments, but the rate of adoption and progress is much faster than we’ve seen with other tools.

Like Slack, Facebook’s sales strategy for Workplace is built on a freemium foundation. Businesses can trial the full user experience for free, upgrading only when they want administrative and monitoring controls for their organization, or additional business features like access to APIs, support for single sign-on or third-party integrations. According to the Workplace team, most large customers lean on the product mainly for their communication and connection needs; smaller companies embrace the tool more for team collaboration.

The sales and customer success teams within Workplace are tasked with helping customers to build business value from the platform through employee adoption, identifying new usage scenarios and ways to embed the platform more deeply into business processes. This is a huge area of investment for the company at present, as it embarks on the next wave of growth for the Workplace platform. Facebook recently launched a new Customer Resource Centre with a collection of guides, training videos and assets to help with the launch and roll-out of Workplace. Right now, most of Workplace’s business is direct, but the company is starting to build out a partner channel, starting with US-based Stellr, with which it signed a distribution deal in May 2019.

Just Like Facebook — But Not Exactly

When it comes to the product strategy, much of Workplace’s road map is driven by its parent. One of the core advantages of the solution is that it can draw on the research and development investments of the consumer Facebook business. An example of this was the introduction in late 2018 of Safety Check within Workplace, allowing employees to mark themselves safe in the event of a crisis.

However, not every feature in consumer Facebook has a place in a business context, and Workplace inevitably introduces its own capabilities and nuances designed for its specific audience. In April 2019, the company introduced a redesign of the Workplace user interface that shifted the focus from a predominantly group-based experience to one where Workplace Chat and notifications play a much more prominent role, better supporting the expanding set of uses that customers are turning to Workplace for. The redesign also decluttered the user interface, delivering a more tailored and personalized news feed that takes advantage of the machine learning capabilities of the Workplace “work graph”. Further enhancements brought improvements to file-sharing integrations, as well as the ability to share files within comments.

One area that many customers have yet to exploit is the use of bots, and Facebook needs to do a better job of communicating the value and potential of this feature within Workplace. The company supports bots in groups and chats and sees them as an important opportunity for Workplace, enabling companies to bring business processes into the Workplace experience, effectively creating a digital workplace hub. Customers can develop their own bots as a custom integration using Workplace APIs, or they can use a partner solution such as The Bot Platform to create bots without needing coding skills.

Some customers such as Ennismore and Honest Burgers are starting to invest in bots, but this is still an area of confusion for many Workplace users and highlights the immature and perhaps exploratory nature of many of the service’s current customer roll-outs. In the coming months, we expect Facebook to sharpen its focus on this area, to accelerate adoption and accelerate business value, and to give partners an opportunity to build revenue streams on top of the platform.

Just the Beginning

Facebook is clearly still a relative newcomer to the enterprise software space, but it’s establishing considerable credibility with Workplace, and its strategy and offering is evidently resonating with customers. Despite the company’s well-publicized security and privacy issues in the consumer space, the Workplace brand has maintained its strength and reputation and could offer a great platform for further Facebook ventures into the business market. Many people expected Facebook to fail in the enterprise sector, but they have very much been proven wrong, and it feels as though this is just the beginning.