Is Workplace by Facebook changing the game? My experience so far.

Having worked on a few deployments of Facebook’s new Workplace platform now, including Danone last year, and more recently across companies like pladis (another FMCG — McVities, Godiva, Ulker..) and last week launching at financial services group Weatherbys, I am often being asked what it’s all about. So, I thought it was time to build upon thoughts I shared in an earlier interview and share my experience so far.

Formerly known as Facebook at Work as a beta platform, Workplace by Facebook launched officially in October 2016

Adoption. Facebook talk of 80% + regular active users. Is this realistic?

I get asked this a lot. Since the early days of ‘enterprise social’ platforms it has always been a challenge to achieve the all important ‘critical mass’ of adoption, irrespective of technology. My personal mission has always been to connect as many people as possible across organisations. Some platforms have made life easier than others, but generally speaking there have been key factors that need to be in place to achieve success.

I learnt this the easy way on one of my earliest projects (at Bupa in late 2008 with Jive). I was lucky to be dealt a hand of aces. There was a combination of heavyweight strategic corporate requirement (a strategy predicated on collaboration and cross-selling across recently acquired business units), which brought with it senior leader endorsement and backing, and a freedom to break rules. Technology-wise we had arguably the best technology at the time for our requirements. But even with all these planets aligned, my three years on that project gave me a deep understanding of the effort and passion required to get these things off the ground. Of course back then it was still early days. A lot of work was required to engage stakeholders and essentially sell in (very) new ways of working around the world.

So when the Workplace by Facebook team first mentioned to me that we should be aiming for over 80% active users on Workplace at Danone I thought they were perhaps a little naive, underestimating the ‘corporate treacle’ we were going to get stuck in, and the behaviour change mountain we would have to climb. But as we rolled out, we did indeed see these levels of adoption, in fact often higher in some business units. And critically it was sustained active usage, not a flash in the pan. Since then we’ve been able to go in with similar levels of confidence (and a similar approach) elsewhere, and with the same results. Similarly, the RBS case study at Smile Expo showed 70% active via mobile.

But it’s not about the technology, it’s about the culture right?

Well, yes, but Workplace makes it easy to achieve these high adoption levels and there are some simple reasons for this which I’ll try to list below. And it’s not just the familiarity of the user experience you might be assuming, although that is obviously a key factor.

1. Senior Leader buy-in and endorsement

As mentioned above, any change initiative needs senior leaders to buy in, and to demonstrate the right behaviours themselves. One thing I have definitely noticed with Workplace deployments is that most senior people just ‘get it’. And indeed want it and actually get excited about it. We are entering a very different world to the days of reverse mentoring, and working hard to earn their support. The rising tide of relevant digital behaviours outside work means that many business leaders are more than ready now, very used to connecting and sharing with their friends and family on Facebook. It’s become an easy sell. Hear it from Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson if you haven’t already.

In a nutshell, this is a horse leaders are willing to back. And don’t underestimate the importance of that.

2. Catering to global and local requirements, use cases and outcomes, all via one ‘off-the-shelf’ platform

Often these initiatives start globally, with a desire to connect as One Company on One Platform.

That means you need to cater to often massively different local requirements to gain the local traction that will deliver the global (organisation-wide) outcomes we all want.

A platform needs to be flexible enough for any team, project or initiative in a business to be able to apply it to pretty much any scenario, and simple enough that it can deliver value quickly. That’s a big ask. It needs therefore to be a simple Swiss army knife that caters to the most common use cases out of the box.

At the heart of Workplace are groups, all of which carry really powerful features like Live (very powerful for leadership updates), slick transparent polls, rich media sharing as you’d expect, and also useful things like Workplace Docs (very handy for anything from meeting minutes and cases studies to providing deeper web-page-like navigation). Smart newsfeed algorithms and recommendations, combined with integrated WorkChat (think Facebook Messenger for work, with HD video chat, multi person calling and more which can bring people back from WhatsApp and back into your company’s app) mean that you really can find a way to do pretty much anything comms and collaboration.

The beauty of Workplace groups is that the platform prompts users to think about purpose when they create each group. Might seem a small point, but often on other platforms where groups are just groups, and people don’t add a clear desription (often..) things can quickly get messy. Workplace groups do what they say on the tin, minimising the need for comms and education:

Workplace Group Types. Simple and intuitive, and apply to common use cases
  • Announcement groups are naturally owned by internal comms. It is extremely easy to set these up, give IC as much admin control as they want, pre-populate groups with target audience / stakeholder members. And they are off. Workplace Live, polls, events campaigns, immediate notifications delivered via mobile or any device… Bingo
  • Team and project groups that will likely enable 90%+ of the collaboration on your platform, often in closed groups. And that’s ok, because it’s what people want, and it means they are using the platform and therefore available to be communicated with in Announcement Groups and more open areas.
  • Open Discussion groups lend themselves naturally to communities of practice, Product Categories, ideation on pretty much anything. Very often we see people creating a private team group alongside an open forum for wider engagement with colleagues and this works well. Again the integration of communications and collaboration on one platform means they support each other
  • Social Groups. Often I’ve seen concerns that this being a Facebook product means that we’ll just get flooded with cat pictures etc but experience shows that social groups tend to support approx 6% of all platform activity. People get that this is a work platform, and of course all sorts of serendipitous stuff happens when people grow their colleague network through these groups
  • Multi-Company groups which are only going to get more valuable as more companies, partners and agencies get their own Workplaces. Which they probably will, especially as they can experiment now with a free version.

3. Change management / internal ownership

Post launch ownership and community management resource have always been a challenge. Generally IC, IS/IT or HR don’t want to fork out for extra resource (despite the obvious value it brings, I would still always recommend it).

With Workplace in-house community management resource impact is minimised through a combination of it being easy for people to use, and the clever ways algorithms surface relevant content, groups and people and minimise noise.

Similarly champions are easy to recruit. Again, it’s an easy sell, people tend to just want to get involved and get going. Pilots only frustrate and generally should be avoided if possible. The main negative coming from pilots I’ve seen is that people couldn’t connect org-wide. You basically need to just go for it once you’ve picked the platform.

4. Integrations

This is an area where people have been quick to point out that this is a stand alone platform. Actually I’m seeing most customers see it as the centre of their employee digital experience, with subsequent linking and integration with other enterprise apps. Facebook responded pretty fast earlier this year with One Drive (and other file sharing solutions) integration, and now there are partner developers jumping on the opportunity to connect with pretty much anything.

I had the chance to go to the first Workplace partner summit in Menlo Park in April this year and met many of the partners out there (from around the world). You want bots, integrations, analytics tools… it is all progressing very fast. And people are rightly very excited about bots and how they can automate some of the more mundane work we do, freeing us up for better things.

So, is Workplace changing the game?

Well, you won’t be surprised to hear me say that, yes, I certainly think it is, for the reasons I set out above.

It still takes strategy, planning and leadership to get Workplace embedded successfully, but the odds of success have not just changed the game, they’ve made the game that much more enjoyable for those of us excited by connecting the world inside our organisations.