Workplace by Facebook adds bevy of features, passes 3 million paid users, eyes frontline workers

Should Workplace by Facebook boost employee engagement and connect frontline workers, the company is likely to add more enterprise customers.
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor

Workplace by Facebook now has three million paid users, up one million in the past eight months, and is rolling out updates that make video collaboration easier, gauge worker sentiment, and better target frontline employees.

The new features and subscriber total was announced at Workplace by Facebook's Flow conference. The three-million tally indicates that Workplace by Facebook is a player in enterprise collaboration in just three years and is learning the nuances of selling to businesses. Workplace passed the two-million paid subscriber mark in February.

Should Workplace by Facebook boost employee engagement and connect frontline workers -- employees who traditionally don't have email addresses and are in the field a lot -- the company is likely to add more enterprise customers.

I have to admit that I've been skeptical about Workplace by Facebook largely because of the corporate parent's numerous public relations, data, and regulatory challenges. How can a company that specializes in making you and your data its product effectively pitch enterprise?

For starters, Workplace by Facebook has been segmented off from its parent. Workplace doesn't take corporate data and enterprises have full control. In addition, Workplace does know how to connect workers across companies of all sizes without needing training investments. And, finally, Workplace has checked off certification boxes for security and data management.

Karandeep Anand, vice president and head of Workplace, is a Microsoft alum and acknowledges that software as a service and enterprise sales are new to Facebook, but the company sees the opportunity and now is "starting to sell more aggressively."

Indeed, Christine Trodella, head of Americas at Workplace, said Facebook is getting C-level conversations because employee engagement has real returns. Indeed, Walmart, Campbell's, Danone, and Starbucks are large customers. Workplace has a free tier, as well as a $4 per user per month advanced subscription, and an $8 per person a month enterprise plan. Workplace will add a $1.50 plan for frontline workers.

Also: Why employee experience, engagement software may be a hot spaceHow to keep your employees satisfied in the workplace | 13 takeaways on the future of work | TechRepublic: How to increase employee engagement using AI, machine learning, and other methods

Should Workplace be a real enterprise player, it will because its collaboration tools have broken through the YAT effect. YAT is my term for "yet another tool." When you consider that you have four video conferencing tools, multiple chats, too many Slack channels, and email is just as unwieldy as ever, it's hard to believe Workplace has been able to find a solid subscriber base.

What Workplace has been able to do is engage employees and gauge sentiment via natural language processing and things such as likes and sad faces. Workplace doesn't gauge sentiment per person, but it can provide analytics on how workers feel about announcements, pay, and policies. Given how customer and employee experience software is now a thing, Workplace can carve out more than a niche.

The upgrades

At Flow, Workplace outlined the following:

  • Workplace on Portal, a new app that allows Workplace users to make video and voice calls through Portal. The aim is to use Portal's smart camera as a way to make collaboration more natural and add more presence. Note that Facebook's Workplace on Portal app will work on the consumer Portal device. There isn't an enterprise version of Portal -- yet.
  • Automatic video captioning. Using AI and machine learning, Facebook will automatically add captions to videos on Workplace. This feature provides a few benefits. First, video will be more accessible to frontline workers that can't play audio. And captioning gives an auto-generated transcript.
  • A peer-to-peer broadcasting video system that will save bandwidth and improve performance in remote offices and distributed companies.
  • Collaboration and learning tools. Learning is a new Workplace post that allows admins to create, label, and curate learning content. Enterprises can also send surveys via Workplace Chat and frontline workers can access Workplace without a company email address and comply with hourly worker regulations. (See: Customer-facing employees left behind in digital transformation: Microsoft)
  • An analytics platform for admins called Insights. Many of the metrics revolve around engagement and sentiment analysis for posts.
  • Goal setting, thanks to posts and badges to foster culture and recognition.

Can Workplace continue to grow?

Workplace's advantage -- a familiar look and feel to Facebook -- is also a disadvantage should usage of the social network fall. But Facebook has a well-worn playbook with Workplace. Google had Gmail and then went enterprise with G Suite and overcame hackles at first. Few saw Amazon developing Amazon Web Services 10 years ago either.

Anand said going from no paying customers to 3 million in two years indicates that Workplace has traction among large companies as well as smaller ones. "The C suite needs to connect everyone not just knowledge workers," explained Anand.

Typically, frontline workers have been left out of corporate communication due to the lack of an email address. By connecting everyone--the core goal of Facebook--Workplace can become more enmeshed in corporations over time.

Workplace's growth reflects a few developments:

Large companies have phased rollouts of Workplace and that adds growth to the paid subscriber tally.

  • Frontline workers aren't effectively addressed in enterprise software from a collaboration and communications perspective. Workplace can connect those workers without training costs in a mobile-first way.
  • Employee engagement is a focus for companies as they try to retain talent and be more productive. Workplace provides baked-in analytics on employee sentiment, which matters considering five generations are working together with different definitions of happiness. Some of these employee experience efforts may be simple avoidance of headline risk. After all, you'd hate for your CEO to be on the bottom of Glassdoor rankings
  • The buyer's table includes IT, human resources, and corporate communications in Workplace deals. This trio of functions is what is driving smart office and employee engagement purchases.

Trodella said in addition to core connections, Workplace can lean into Facebook's video expertise. "Video is the most popular tool on Workplace," she said. "Video allows you to show up in an authentic way."

As video conferencing and presence become lead technologies in managing distributed workforces, it stands to reason that Workplace could be a key tool alongside Zoom. Workspace already integrates with Zoom and Blue Jeans. Anand added that Workplace can be a lead video conferencing technology. "I haven't found anyone entirely happy with video conferencing," he said.

In the future, Anand can see Workplace offering augmented and virtual reality via Oculus. But that evolution would happen in baby steps, he said.

For now, Workplace has earned a right to chat with CXOs and the next phase is to build out its customer success teams as well as enterprise sales infrastructure. Workplace employees also have goals based on engagement metrics.

And why not? Frontline workers represent 80% of all employees and few of them are connected with their companies, said Trodella. (See: Slack's State of Work survey finds communications gap between aligned and unaligned workers)

Nevertheless, Workplace will face a crowded field but aims to integrate with what is becoming a disparate collaboration stack

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