Facebook's Workplace: How one company is making it work for them

Familiarity is the key, says the CIO of one of the early adopters of Facebook's social network for employees.

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"We've found that [Facebook's] Workplace has been an easy sell to people because they can use the same platform inside and outside the business," says CIO Graham Benson.

Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Rentalcars.com is one of the first companies to use Workplace by Facebook, the recently launched enterprise social media platform. The service has now been live for staff for two months, according to Graham Benson, CIO at Rentalcars.com.

"We've decided to take an internal social media approach, as opposed to using an intranet," he says. "Workplace has worked brilliantly. We've got more than 75 per cent of our 1,400-strong workforce signed in and using the system actively just weeks after our initial rollout."

Rentalcars.com adoption of Workplace is part of a much wider trend, where organisations are adopting communications platforms, such as Slack and Yammer, to help employees collaborate. Gartner has long-expected social networks to become the primary communication channel for work activities.

However, the analyst estimates 80 per cent of social business efforts do not achieve the intended benefits, due to inadequate leadership and an overemphasis on technology.

So how will Workplace be different? Benson explains to ZDNet how his business is making the most of the new social platform.

How is Workplace being adopted and adapted?

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Rentalcars.com CIO Graham Benson: "Everyone in the company already knows how to use Facebook."

Image: Graham Benson

Benson says an encounter with the platform feels a bit like bumping into a familiar friend. "It does look slightly different to the consumer version of Facebook," he says, before adding the technology provides a secure base for internal social networking. "It's locked down, so that no one outside the business can access the information."

The familiarity of the platform provides instant benefits in terms of user experience. "It's great because everyone in the company already knows how to use Facebook," he says. "And because all our employees can use the platform, we don't have to spend time and resources on training people, as we would if we'd chosen to implement a different system or an internal intranet."

More importantly, the workers seem to enjoy using the platform to connect and communicate. Benson says Workplace is already helping to boost collaboration. "Everyone's really keen on using it," he says. "We've got groups, such as one that's for members of the leadership team."

A single owner curates the content associated to each group. One example is a group that allows employees to put ideas to the firm's leadership team. An executive assistant curates the content and c-suite members guarantee to give a response to anyone who posts an idea on the forum.

"We've made sure that we've implemented Workplace from the chief executive down," says Benson, who adds that groups on the network cover a wide spread of work and non-work interests, including a forum for cat lovers.

"It's fascinating to see people using the technology in many different ways," he says. "And in a work context, the platform is allowing us to generate a huge amount of useful content."

What are the benefits of using Facebook in a business context?

Rentalcars.com launched its trial of Workplace in mid-September and 1,000 staff members joined up for the programme within two weeks. Benson says the beta test of the platform was always part of a much longer plan for internal collaboration at Rentalcars.

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"We trialled the technology because we wanted to use Facebook across the business," he says. "We went from making a decision to implement the Workplace platform to going live within three weeks. We just knew it would work well."

The positive outlook of Benson and his executive peers has been born out in practice. "Now we're live with Workplace and we'll continue to use it because we think it's a really proactive tool for helping us interact with our staff members through a platform that they are very happy to use," he says.

Project sponsorship for the initiative came from the firm's people director, Ryan Cheyne. However, everyone on the senior management team at Rentalcars.com, including the chief executive Ian Brown, recognised the potential power of the rollout. "It's just an interesting technology," says Benson.

"We have a young workforce who are using social media to engage all the time. We've found that Workplace has been an easy sell to people because they can use the same platform inside and outside the business."

What are the long-term aims for Workplace at Rentalcars?

Perhaps one of the most crucial elements of the implementation is that the support issues that can sometimes plague a new technology project have not affected Benson and his IT team. "There have been no significant challenges," he says. "It's just accepted as the normal way to communicate across the business."

Benson accepts that some might feel that the firm's rapid embrace of a leading-edge platform is a bit of a risk, and he also recognises that the stance of Rentalcars is different to that which might be seen in other companies, yet he believes it is an approach that is likely to be rewarded.

"One of our values as an organisation is that we like to do things differently," says Benson. "Our strapline for recruiting is 'anything but ordinary'. Looking at innovative projects and technologies, like Workplace, helps us to create a interesting and creative culture in the workplace."

More specifically, he encourages other CIOs, who might have shied away from making the most of collaboration in an enterprise context, to get involved. "I think social media has its place -- it's increasingly becoming a hygiene factor for good business practice," he says.

"If you're going to be customer-centric as a business, you've got to provide the platforms to allow your workers to talk with you in the way they want to." And in the case of Rentalcars, Benson is confident that Workplace will provide lasting benefits for the business and its employees.

"It's a forum that helps us bring all our colleagues together in a single place," he says. "You wouldn't be able to get 75 per cent of your workforce on the platform if you were using a bespoke tool that was technically-oriented or sales-oriented. Familiarity with the platform really helps foster social success."

Read more about Facebook's Workplace

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