Facebook opens Workplace Chat to multi-company groups

Facebook opens Workplace Chat to multi-company groups

Workplace launched in 2016 following a lengthy beta trial

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Facebook has unveiled updates to its Workplace social collaboration app, including the ability to communicate with external organisations using its chat client.

Workplace launched in 2016 following a lengthy beta trial during which it was called Facebook at Work. Its customer base has since grown to more than 30,000 businesses.

At Facebook’s first user conference for Workplace – Flow – the company announced that Workplace Chat, the enterprise equivalent of its consumer-focused Messenger tool, now supports communication between multi-company groups.

The feature debuted two years ago as one of the first major additions to Workplace, allowing users to interact with external partners, suppliers and agencies within the application. However, Workplace Chat only enabled communication between direct colleagues.

Now, up to 50 participants can interact via text, voice and video in one-to-one and group conversations.

“It will help our customers be more productive on Workplace with the companies they work with every day, such as a vendor, an agency, a legal firm,” said Julien Codorniou, vice president for Workplace at Facebook.

The feature is designed to help drive cross-organisational collaboration, said Angela Ashenden, a principal analyst at CCS Insight, though it requires both sides to have deployed Workplace.

“We have had the [multi-company] groups capability in Workplace for a while. The fact that they are adding chat, voice and video makes that a more real collaboration environment.

Among the other chat features unveiled on Tuesday is pinned threads. It should make it easier for users to keep track of conversations, Codorniou said, with the ability to “pin” up to 15 important messages at the top of the chat app.

In addition, a “do not disturb” mode lets users turn off app alerts and notify colleagues when a user is busy or away, and a new “replies” features enables direct responses to an individual message within a broader Workplace Chat conversation.

Safety Check arrives at work

Facebook also plans to bring one of the popular features from its consumer platform to Workplace. Safety Check, which has been used by millions to alert friends and family of their whereabouts during a crisis such as a natural disaster, is available for customers as an open beta trial.

Safety Check for Workplace lets organisations identify which staffers are affected during a crisis, provides multiple methods of notification – such as via the Workplace Chat Bot – and allows employee responses to be monitored from a dashboard that’s updated in real-time.

It is the most requested feature for Workplace, said Codorniou.

“It is a great way to know within minutes, not hours or days, who is safe and who needs help, and to be able to move fast and make decisions when you are in a situation of crisis,” he said.

Alan Lepofksy, vice president and principal analyst at Constellation Research, said that forming strong relationships among colleagues is vital as organisations adopt social technologies.

"This extends beyond just answering work-related questions, to making everyone feel trusted, respected and cared for," Lepofksy added. "We’ve seen time and time again how important this is in our consumer networks, it will be nice to see this extended to our working lives."

Ashenden said it makes sense to replicate a popular feature in the company’s consumer software.

“People will be familiar [with Safety Check], so for those already actively using Workplace that will be a natural extension to the way they use [the app],” she said.

Though Safety Check was one of the big feature announcements touted by Facebook, Ashenden said it’s unlikely to have a major impact on those considering Workplace deployments.

"It is a nice to have, it is a nice add-on, but […] I can't see it being a way to really draw people into the product,” she said.

Facebook touts new enterprise customers

Although Facebook did not reveal updated user figures for Workplace, a raft of large customer deals were announced during Flow. One of the largest is Swedish security services firm Securitas, which has 300,000 registered users, while pharma giant GlaxoSmithKline has 160,000.

Other new customers include Vodafone, AstraZeneca, Australian bank NAB, and Kering, which owns high-end fashion labels Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent.

"Workplace is not growing one user at a time, or one team at a time," said Codorniou. “Instead, we are growing one company at a time. And when we say a company, it is literally everyone who is in the company."

Facebook, however, doesn’t break out figures for active usage of the platform.

While Workplace has been rolled out widely at numerous large organisations, regular use is an indication of the real impact of a deployment.

Businesses have struggled to achieve widespread employee adoption of enterprise social networks in the past, but Ashenden said there are encouraging signs that Workplace is having more success: Some customers have more than 60 per cent of their workforce accessing the app on a weekly basis.

“Those are good figures, particularly in an enterprise social network,” she said. “If you can get more than 10 per cent of your organisation using the product on a weekly basis, that has been considered good in the past.

“So I think they have gotten much greater penetration than social networking platforms have previously,” Ashenden said.

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