Why we switched from Slack to Workplace by Facebook

About 8 months ago, we were using Slack quite extensively, pretty much like 99% of tech startups. I was a member of about 10 separate Slack teams: one for Clevy, one for my former school, one for a friend’s company where I occasionally lend some help, and quite a few other ones (products I use, friends, coworking space, etc.).

By now you all know what Slack has to offer so I won’t get into that. Everybody uses it, it has tons of integrations with just about anything in the form of slackbots and slash commands, there is a mobile app and it also works on desktop and in the browser. But I’m quite sure the majority of you are still unaware of Workplace by Facebook, or at least haven’t had a chance to try it. And with the release of the desktop Workchat application announced recently, it makes sense to talk about it a little bit.

Before I begin, here are some disclaimers and general information to help with reading this post:

  • at Clevy, we are a team of about 10 people, all between 20–32, all of us very tech-savvy. We might not be representative of your population, or maybe we are…
  • before creating Clevy, I used to work at Danone, one of the largest early adopters of Workplace (a cool story about that at the end of this post). I used to be an admin for the Danone Workplace account, with several tens of thousands of Danone employees using workplace daily.
  • Clevy is a bot platform, which means that the ability to use all sorts of bots on any communication platform is in our blood (and sometimes tears).
  • We are an official Workplace product partner, but this is not paid advertisement of any sort — nobody is reviewing this before I post it, I’m just sharing my own personal and honest opinion :-)

Completeness of vision

Workplace is just like regular facebook in almost all possible ways — but private to you and your team. It means that you get a personal wall, pictures, events, groups, live video, screen sharing, audio and video calls… basically, a little, closed facebook, with your logo in the top left corner.

This means that you get the same tool you already know, with the same features, except in a smaller, closed environment, at work. Onboarding is extremely intuitive (basically non-existent if you already opened facebook before).

While with Slack you have to add a lot of things if you want more than just a glorified chat app, in Workplace everything is builtin from scratch. You get everything you possibly need for your internal communication and much more. Pick Workplace and be done, basically. Did I mention it is very inexpensive?

Focus

In all honesty, what bothered me the most with Slack was FOMO. You easily get hooked on the endless notifications. It’s easy enough to mute, but I had the sensation that you just spend your whole day on slack, and not doing the things you have to do. The Giphys and Webhooks and Threads and Jokes all get in the way of your focus, there is always a new notification, by someone from some team.

The way around that is simply to turn off notifications on some channels. But then, you don’t get notified, and you actually miss everything there. So that’s really a binary choice, not much in between.

Workplace is… quieter. The only people talking to you there are your team (not 12 different teams, including the 5 communities for the products you use). So even though you can still have a #general channel in workchat, I feel that I spend less time on it, mainly because there are several ways to share content with your team, and it’s not all real-time chat. It can be a post in a group, that generates a discussion in the comments. It can also be in Workchat directly if the content is ephemeral. You can create as many channels or groups as you need on the go, and kill them rapidly once they are not needed anymore. What I found is that chat channel messages have a short lifespan, and group posts have a longer lifespan.

The hierarchy lies in the content you share, not the people you share it with. Workplace/workchat is primarily content-focused instead of flow-focused.

I found myself opening Slack a LOT less since we started using Workplace, and it boosted my productivity as I also found that the content posted by my team on workplace was also more focused. There’s still some natural randomness and general office silliness, but the general feeling is that there is simply a better (in all ways) signal-to-noise ratio on workplace compared to any of my Slack groups.

I still have my other Slack teams, but I only open the app once or twice a day, and that’s usually enough to not miss out on anything important.

Reducing hierarchical distances

This one must be my favorite point. It applies more to larger companies than small startups I guess, as there usually is not much hierarchy going on in startups anyway. Here are 2 stories from back when I was working at Danone HQ in Paris.

  • In late 2015, back when Workplace was still in beta, and not rolled out to the whole of Danone yet, I came back home one evening. I listened to a podcast on my way back, which gave me an idea for something. I posted it on some idea group at about 9PM, and 15 mins later I had a first comment from the group CIO saying “Love it, let’s do this”.
    A few months later the idea was live, and is to this day still a thing.
  1. I’m a fan of rock climbing, and as a matter of fact, so is the group CEO, Emmanuel Faber. One day, I simply suggested that we had a Danoners climbing event at Fontainebleau (one of the world’s most famous climbing spots) — he simply showed up, and that was that. We still go climbing together from time to time, he kicks my ass every time but it’s still fun. I wouldn’t have ever sent him a direct email to invite him to Fontainebleau, but being able to communicate openly to the whole world makes for interesting surprises like that.

So while this doesn’t strictly show that Workplace is better than Slack, the fact is that Slack only offers one pace of communication, one level of discussion (I know that threads are a thing, but come on… it doesn’t replace good old posts/comments for more precise discussion on a particular subject). It’s easy to miss out on things, and the average lifespan of any item is basically the time it stays on a regular screen. Also, it’s quite unlikely that I would be in a conversation channel directly with these much higher-ranked people, and if I were it would probably be a #general type of channel, where I’m pretty sure most people simply turn off their notifications (or just don’t read everything, because simply too much happens there).

Search

If you have been using Slack in an active community, you know it is not made for coming back later and finding stuff. What Workplace gets right is the separation of concerns between the day to day conversations (one to one or group chats) and the more involved discussions about a specific question or topic (posts and comments in a group).

In Workplace, finding existing information, while still not perfect, works better than finding information in Slack, simply because even when we find the information in Slack, we still have to scroll up/down and read a lot just for context.

Or you can ask Clevy about that information but that’s another story…

Search in Workplace is still not perfect. It omits certain fields, and information is still missing sometimes. But the general experience resembles that of a regular search engine; for every result you immediately have access to the full context. I simply find it to work much better than Slack’s search function.

MCGs

This one is f***ing genius. MCG stands for Multi Company Group. I can’t even properly explain the power of this feature. You have your workplace for your team/company, and inside of that you also have dedicated groups for discussing with other companies. It can be partners, customers or entirely different companies anywhere in the world, with whom you can extremely easily exchange on any topic you want in a safe place. It’s not a different team: it’s a group directly embedded into your workplace space. If they also have workplace, the same groups also appear on their own workplace.

You can’t imagine how much value it creates.

We usually setup one MCG per customer/partner, and we are also members or administrators of broader MCGs. Slack kind of offers the same functionality with single-channel users that you can invite to your team (or you can also create a dedicated team for your communication with your customer), but it feels less powerful. Again, Slack kind of requires real-time to really work — it’s more or less a written live discussion platform. Workplace offers more of an “open conversation” feel with the use of groups, posts, comments…

Building integrations

We are a Workplace product partner, building bots. We’ve built bots on Slack before. While building bots/integrations/apps for Slack is not necessarily complicated, I can assure you that it is even simpler on Workplace. We expect a lot of good integrations coming up on Workplace — for now the landscape is mostly third-party integrations (between Workplace and other products such as GSuite, BlueJeans, etc.), custom bot agencies, and simple/dumb use-case bots (“wish-a-birthday-bot” and such).

The Workplace Team

We also have one MCG directly with Workplace folks. You could expect the members of that group to be some low-ranked sales reps, but not at all. We have among others the lead engineer who works on the very features that are important to us, the director of Workplace for the whole region, and the person in charge of partnerships.

Their average response time is usually around a few minutes whenever we ask anything. But it’s not just asking, it’s also simply sharing: if we had a success or they had a success, we’re simply happy to share it and have a virtual drink together!

Julien Lesaicherre is Director EMEA of Workplace

It’s really a fun way to do business. Love that :-)

What I thought I would miss but in fact I don’t

  • The chat desktop app. There is one now. It’s a simple electron-based application (not unlike Slack), but it does the job quite well.
  • The general WTF. Everybody stays focused but happy. We still share random stuff, but it simply just doesn’t get out of hand — I’m sure you all know what I mean if you’ve been in a large Slack team. Somebody shares a joke, we all laugh together one good time, and continue with our lives. It simply feels more “Pro”.
  • Giphy. Everybody’s favorite Slack integration is natively included in Workplace and workchat, but with one major difference: you can pick your gif, it’s not random. I like that :-)

What I’m still missing on Workplace

  • Mainly, some business integrations. We still have a Slack team for some business integrations that we need. For example, as a tech guy, I need instant notifications for live crashes of our platform so I can fix them quickly as they happen. I could go back to email, but, you know… that’s kind of besides the point. So our Bugsnag bot is still in Slack, and so is our Pipedrive bot. Perhaps those two companies will have direct integrations to workplace at some point, and then we’ll completely be able to leave Slack. You can also note that there are direct integrations with a few things like GSuite, Box…
  • It’s impossible to modify/remove messages after sending them in Workchat. I can’t really put the finger on why I really need/want that feature (I should pay attention to what I write in the first place), but it just doesn’t feel right…

It’s still day one for Workplace so I’m not worried.

I would love to hear what you think in the comments!

Clevy is an AI company based in Paris, France. We’re hiring! If you found this article interesting, clap, share or comment below! You may also enjoy learning more about Clevy here.