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There’s a fine line in the world of enterprise collaboration tools, between productivity and rabid engagement. Tools like Slack are meant to get employees communicating more, but make the interface too addictive and they could spend too much time chatting and sending each other GIFs.
Enter Facebook, a site best known for being a time-suck among consumers, but whose skills in AI and fostering engagement might actually make for an efficient and useful workplace chat tool. As the company grapples with issues around trust, data privacy, and departing executives, Workplace is also something of an outlier: It doesn’t show ads and makes money from subscription fees.
“There’s no ads, no social graph, no targeting.”
Facebook Workplace director Julien Codorniou
Facebook held Flow, its first annual conference for its Workplace business, in Menlo Park, California, this week, where COO Sheryl Sandberg also made an appearance. The company announced several new features for the two-year-old division that’s been managed almost entirely in London, by longtime Facebook executive Julien Codorniou.
TechCrunch Disrupt London 2016 – Day 22016 Getty Images
The most notable new features revolved around making sense of the stream of content that its users generate. Catching up on Slack, for anyone that uses the tool, typically involves scrolling through a long and steady stream of chats on multiple channels.
But Workplace is a lot like Facebook’s main newsfeed and uses “algorithmic sorting” to float what it deems the most important content to the top of the feed. Similar new features now allow users to mark posts on their Workplace feeds as “important” or to “pin threads.”
So far, so efficient. But how many people are actually using Workplace? Two years after it launched, we still don’t know.
Workplace has amassed an impressive roster of corporate clients: 30,000 in total, including Walmart, Delta and Starbucks. But while Slack has said that it has 8 million users across 70,000 organisations, according to TechCrunch, Facebook spokespeople declined a request from Forbes to share a corresponding number of active users for Workplace.
That doesn’t mean employees aren’t using it. The service seems to be taking off among staff at United Way Worldwide, an umbrella organization for nonprofits. “Workplace has had a near-viral level of adoption inside United Way, growing to 6,000 active users since their first pilot groups in July,” according to John Reed at Diginomica, who spoke to United Way’s chief technology officer, John Taylor at the Flow conference this week.
It also seems to be attractive to companies with blue-collar or relatively mobile workforces, from the flight attendants and technicians that make up Delta to the baristas of Starbucks and store staff in Walmart.
Food giant Danone is another early customer of Workplace, and close to a third of its employees are factory workers. That poses a strong delineation with Slack, which is more associated with white-collar professionals who are chained to their desks.
Screenshots of Workplace by FacebookImage via Facebook
Workplace’s business model is also an anomaly in the Facebook universe. Rather than monetize with ads, it makes money through subscription fees.
“You really have to think of it as an independent SaaS company inside Facebook, monetizing in a different way,” Workplace director Codorniou told Forbes in an interview in London last year. “There’s no ads, no social graph, no targeting.”
Workplace offers a free version for small companies and also charges $3 per-active-user-per-month for a premium service, which comes with administrative controls and monitoring tools. The payment model is designed so that if employees aren’t actively using the service, their bosses don’t have to pay for it.
While Slack has been billed as an “email killer,” Facebook executives have talked of Workplace as being a platform for exchanging ideas and giving staff a voice, particularly blue-collar staff.
“It usually replaces mailing lists, newsletters, intranets that no one is using,” Codorniou said. “And the behavior we want to replace is the CEO sending an email that no one replies to. That new generation of CEOs want feedback.”
Whether their staff want to use Workplace in the long term is still an open question.
More Info: forbes.com