Using Facebook at work typically means furtive glances at photos and posts from friends and family. Facebook's latest venture could make such secrecy a thing of the past.
On Monday, the company moved from our social lives to our professional ones with the launch of Workplace, a new communication and collaboration platform for businesses.
Nicola Mendelsohn, the vice president for Facebook in Europe, introduced Workplace from the London office where it was designed as a "platform to connect the workplace". Formerly known as Facebook at Work, she called it a "mobile-first solution" that is also available for desktop. Read next: Can Facebook at Work penetrate the enterprise?
The mobile focus prioritises easy access for transient and geographically distant workforces, and team members without a desk job, such as the factory workers at Danone, whose executive vice president Francisco Camacho was a speaker at the launch event.
Email, he said, is fast becoming an outdated communication method as intra-office communications platforms provide real-time communications with only relevant staff members. His claim is supported by Deloitte research. Only 15 percent of the executives surveyed by the firm said they were happy with their current methods of collaboration and communication.
Workplace doesn't display posts chronologically, but instead uses an algorithm to ensure that the most important ones remain at the top. “The mission is not to kill email," said Julien Codorniou, director of Workplace. "But it is what happens.”
Companies that have already adopted Workplace, he continued, use it instead of internal emails, mailing lists, and intranet. After 18 months of testing, there are already 1,000 of them, including Booking.com, LadBible, RBC, Renault, Oxfam and Telekom Austria Group. India, Norway, USA, UK and France are the countries with the highest uptake most so far.
Facebook's Workplace: Features
The traditional design remains, both in aesthetics and function. Many of the Workplace functions will already be familiar to Facebook users, such as Messenger chat, groups, search, live-streaming video, auto-translate and Trending stories.
There are, however, some tweaks to the original, such as a shift in background colour from blue to grey, providing a more serious tone to match the professional focus. Users now follow each other and join groups to receive messages rather than add friends and the News Feeds are now used for work updates, with "Likes" likely limited to professional achievements instead of holiday snaps.
There are also entirely new tools, such as a dashboard with analytics, the possibility to integrate the service with existing IT systems, and a means to communicate between different businesses through multi-company groups. There is no limit to file, photo, or video storage and the number of groups on the platform.
Addressing security concerns, Codorniou assured businesses that "the data belongs to the employer, company and employees, not Facebook". Only office data can be transferred across the network, and businesses can modify, delete, or export their data at any time.
The company is the sole controller of access to the platform and can also administer access to Messenger groups. The platform is not connected to personal Facebook accounts and data is not shared with Facebook.
The social media firm has also partnered with a range of identity providers such as Okta, PingIdentity and Microsoft's Azure Active Directory to allow IT teams to secure and manage Workplace deployments.
Facebook's Workplace: Pricing
Facebook enters an already crowded marketplace, with Slack, Yammer and Salesforce's Chatter among its established competitors. But the Facebook brand has a unique pull for its 1.7 billion users cultivated over its 12 years of existence.
Another challenge to competititors is Facebook's aggressive pricing structure. Workplace costs $3 (£2.45) for each of the first 1,000 monthly active users, $2 (£1.63) per employee from 1,001 to 10,000 users and $1 (£0.82) for any additional employees after the first 1,000. For that price, customers get what Codorniou called "two products in one - a news feed and work chat".
Slack, meanwhile, charges $6.67 (£5.44) per user for its "Standard" service and $12.50 (£10.20) for its "Plus" package. The company also offers a free version for companies to try out the product, but services such as unlimited message storage and group phone calls are not included.
All Workplace companies receive a free three-month trial period with no commitment required, and it's completely free for non-profits and educational institutions. The price is based on engagement, so companies are only charged for active users.