Workplace by Facebook app adds multicompany chat

Playing catch-up with rivals Microsoft and Slack, Facebook unveiled this week a series of updates to its nascent communication and collaboration platform for businesses.

The Workplace by Facebook app now lets businesses instant message and video conference with partners or customers through Workplace Chat. The feature avoids the need for businesses to create guest accounts when working with external collaborators (as long as those other parties also use Workplace).

Previously, Workplace only supported multi-company communication through membership in shared groups, which work similarly to groups in consumer Facebook. The multicompany chat feature brings the business platform more on par with enterprise messaging software from Slack, Microsoft and Cisco.

Facebook also added a “do not disturb” setting to Workplace Chat (another common feature) and will let users pin important chat threads to the top of their feeds. Another update gives users the ability to create sub-threads by replying to specific messages within Workplace Chat.

“The central theme I see Facebook focusing on is employee experience,” said Alan Lepofsky, analyst at Constellation Research, based in Cupertino, Calif. “They are adding features that allow employees to connect and build relationships with both their colleagues, as well as external customers and partners.”

Launched in 2016, the Workplace by Facebook app has a similar interface to consumer Facebook but is a separate platform with no digital links to the people and pages that exist on the consumer site. Businesses that have begun using Workplace have said they were attracted to it because they knew employees would be familiar with how to use it.

Facebook has attempted to position Workplace as a collaboration app similar to Slack or Microsoft Teams. So far, however, it appears that many businesses are using Workplace more like an intranet website than as a collaboration tool. Facebook is also trying to cater to those types of customers, though, announcing this week better controls for promoting important announcements in the news feed.

Workplace has attracted more than 30,000 organizations worldwide over the past two years, including big brands such as Walmart and Starbucks. However, the user number may be padded by nonprofits, which get to use the platform for free.

“As vendors fight for market share, I’m quite impressed by the number of large-scale deployments Workplace is reporting,” Lepofsky said. (Workplace still trails Microsoft Teams, which is used by 329,000 organizations, and Slack, which is used by 500,000 organizations.)

Safety check comes to Workplace by Facebook app

Safety check is the latest feature of the consumer platform that Facebook is revamping and customizing for the Workplace by Facebook app. Businesses will get access to the tool — launched on the consumer side in 2014 — early next year.

Safety check will help businesses communicate with their employees during emergencies. The feature lets employees mark themselves as “safe” — or request assistance — during, for example, a hurricane or a fire in the office.

Administrators will be able to send notifications to employees through the Workplace news feed, as well as through a bot in Workplace Chat. The tool automatically generates a spreadsheet of those employees to track who has or has not responded.  

The feature is unique in the enterprise collaboration market, but it remains to be seen whether it adds enough value to the platform to attract more customers. Facebook will also need to continue adding integrations with third-party business apps if it wants businesses to use it for more than just community-building.

“Facebook has created an easy-to-use, easily accessible collaboration platform for businesses,” said Wayne Kurtzman, analyst at IDC. “Using the familiar Facebook look and feel make it different and more intuitive than Slack or Microsoft Teams, but the latter have more integrations available, which would add to productivity.”