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Facebook’s Workplace embraces video, touts new users amid pandemic

Facebook’s Workplace embraces video, touts new users amid pandemic

At the same time CEO Mark Zuckerberg unveiled a new remote work policy, Facebook moved to strengthen the collaboration capabilities in Workplace

Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook)

Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook)

Credit: Facebook

Workplace, Facebook’s enterprise collaboration offering, has received a variety of new features designed to strengthen the platform and help users better collaborate during the ongoing pandemic.

As for Workplace, Facebook said the app now has more than five million paid users – with two million added since October 2019. That pace of growth is in line with reports from other collaboration and videoconferencing companies, which have rapidly gained new users this year during the Covid-19 outbreak.

Launched in late 2016, Workplace offers companies a collaboration platform that mirrors many of the features offered by Facebook, including groups, a news feed and live video capabilities – repurposed to fit the needs of business users. This week’s announcements focused on improving how users can collaborate via video through integrations with Facebook’s Portal and Oculus features.

Continued growth among collaborative tool makers is likely to continue, according to Angela Ashenden, principal analyst at CCS Insight. Even as some workers return to the office, she said, social distancing will remain a top priority, requiring many to continue to work from home.

“This is going to be the picture for the next couple of years most likely, so remote work will remain a major part of working life,” she said.

Julien Codorniou, vice president of Workplace, said that while the Covid-19 pandemic heated up demand for collaborative work platforms, he was still surprised by the number of companies that were caught off guard. Like Ashenden, he said enterprises have now recognised the importance of keping their employees “connected, informed, engaged and productive.”

Reflecting that stance internally, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced that the social media company will permanently embrace remote working, even after current lockdowns lift.

He told Facebook employees Thursday that the company would be “aggressively opening up remote hiring” and he expects about half the workforce to work remotely over the next five to 10 years.

Facebook workers have until 1 January 2021 to decide on their new work location.

Importance of videoconferencing

To help bolster a crowded market that includes the likes of Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Slack, Google Meet and other, Workplace is pushing toward easier-to-use, and more efficient videoconferencing.

Credit: Facebook

Ashenden said the new Workplace features reflect the success its competitors have seen. “It does mark a major pivot for Workplace…, and it will be interesting to track how quickly this becomes a primary driver for Workplace investments,” she said.

Users can now set up ‘Workplace Rooms’ – essentially an enterprise version of Facebook’s Messenger Rooms launched last month. In these new rooms, teams can host planned and spontaneous video calls via the desktop, mobile or the Workplace app on Portal. Users can invite individuals without Workplace accounts to join these calls; use Portal TV for Workplace video calls;  set up a Workplace Room on Portal; and use Workplace Live on Portal.

The company also bolstered its Workplace Live offering, providing users with an improved production values, controls and interactivity. One notable feature: the ability to turn on live captioning and transcription, a service that operates in English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish.

With many companies having employees in different countries – and speaking different languages –the new feature should allow employees who work together but don’t speak the same language to better connect, Codorniou said, leading to more productivity.

Users who broadcast live via Workplace will also be able to host live Q&As and crowd-source questions from the audience.

VR capabilities

The Workplace changes include new virtual reality (VR) capabilities built around Facebook’s virtual reality division, Oculus. Though it began largely as a consumer product, VR is increasingly being used by companies for training and education; Workplace claims more than 400 Oculus business apps now exist and can be integrated with the platform.

Ashenden believes the biggest opening for VR adoption is now in the enterprise. “This market is really driving the development and direction of these devices, much more than, say, gaming is on the consumer side,” she said.

Microsoft has had some success with its HoloLens, making it logical for Workplace to give users the opportunity to more easily use Oculus. Workplace has also seen demand for the service from its customers.

“If you go to Walmart, they have Oculus devices in every store in the U.S. to teach employees how to organise the display of the shelves and to do security or emergency training sessions as well,” Codorniou said. “In pharmaceutical companies or companies like Johnson & Johnson, they use Oculus for 3D simulation, for designing new products and for teaching doctors how to operate.”

More broadly speaking, advances in collaboration and videoconferencing tools are here to stay, said Ashenden.

“This is how work will be now, it's what people will expect from an employer, and it will also be viewed as a core component in providing business continuity going forward,” she said.


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