Your guide to Facebook Workplace

Steve Cassidy finds out why shifting company communications onto Facebook could be a smart move

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We've tried Facebook before. It was hard to keep coming up with new content to post, and it didn't seem to benefit us much.

You're echoing the experience of many organisations who have tried using Facebook as a marketing tool. The fact is, while Facebook's potential for promotion and relationship-building can be formidable, it's not right for everyone. "Workplace by Facebook" is something quite different: simply put, it's a custom version of the Facebook environment for messaging between co-workers.

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This sounds like a terrible idea - won't people be distracted by chit-chat and memes when they're supposed to be working?

It must be admitted, the Workplace vision of what people get up to at work isn't universal. I certainly wouldn't suggest that a company of forestry workers or a brass band try to use Facebook on the job.

Yet, the evangelical slogans about embracing social media aren't entirely off base. If you trial Workplace and get nothing more from it than a chance to remind your staff to get on with their jobs, that's still better than souring the working environment with glowering intrusions to check up on what they're doing online.

It sounds like my employee communications will be running inside someone else's cloud. What about security and privacy?

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At the time of writing, Workplace offers a fairly simple framework providing virtual private meeting places for people who work in different businesses. The idea is to allow discussion of mutual projects without exposing other information and resources.

To be sure, it's hard to overlook Facebook's historic habit of eagerly rolling out new features and letting users do the field-testing. But there are good opportunities here. You can create and tear down a collaborative group more or less on a whim. It might exist for only an afternoon; it might also be that it has only one external member, advising a whole internal team (think legal matters, or health and safety). Adapting your mindset beyond the email model is a key part of getting the most from these consumer crossover platforms.

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At the end of the day, isn't this just another online chat system?

Facebook's communications credentials certainly started with simple chat, but have blossomed to include both audio and video connections. This means you can substitute Workplace for services such as Skype, WhatsApp and dedicated VoIP systems. Yes, there are some notable gaps in the feature set, like the absence of a POTS (analogue phone service) gateway such as Skype Out, or true multi-feed video conferencing for virtual meeting room creation. Still, Facebook brings other advantages - for example, Facebook Live sessions, which are not only streamed but stored for future reference.

What's more, like it or not, Facebook has tremendous member loyalty. For some people it's the first place they go in the morning, and the last at night. Harnessing that feel-good factor to foster both collaborative and productive relationships isn't a silly thing to be doing. If you can get employees to feel more positively about work, you've achieved something.

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That sounds good, but I'm still concerned about oversight. We have to own our own business-critical systems.

That's not an issue on Workplace. There are at least two defined classes of super-user, namely administrators, and "IT Teams". Administrators can define the entire environment, in terms of how existing Facebook accounts are allowed into the Workplace separate playpen, and how the Workplace system handles things such as single sign-on with mature Windows networks. What's more, Facebook provides one-on-one help for admins, so you can always get a guided support session and ask as many questions as you need. In short, whatever arrangement works for you ought to be attainable.

And how do we handle things such as oversight and legal compliance?

This is where that second group comes in. They're referred to in terms of IT, but they really act as compliance officers: these are the guys who make sure you're not breaking any laws or conditions of service, and keeping paper trails as required. Over the years, we've seen many collaboration platforms created by brilliant but inexperienced youths, which entirely lack the oversight features a business needs. Consequently, the fact that Workplace by Facebook doesn't fall into that trap is itself a definite recommendation.

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