by Becky Olson
With virtual and multi-location companies on the rise, there is a growing abundance of team integration tools hitting the marketplace. Among the newest is Workplace by Facebook. Workplace is intended to give companies their own social network, fully dedicated to work-related content with only colleagues as connections. (Check out their video tour here.)
In addition to a Newsfeed filled with company posts, Workplace features a number of customizable groups, from “Industry News” to “Project Updates,” where team members can share content publicly with the entire company or privately among subsets within the firm. Other communication offerings include chats, video and audio calling, similar to features offered within personal Facebook accounts.
To help our growing virtual team feel more connected in real time, we decided to give Workplace a try. With a few weeks under our belts, we wanted to share a candid review of our experience so you can determine if Workplace by Facebook may be the right fit for your company.
Easy set up
Perhaps because we’re a small and nimble team, we were able to activate our Workplace account within a day after I participated in an informational/tutorial webinar. I must note, when I requested to receive a trial account, I was only given one date and time to participate in the mandatory webinar, which luckily worked for me. Facebook clearly wants companies to succeed with this because I received a number of subsequent emails prompting me to activate. To launch the tool, I uploaded team member contact details, set up our custom groups and added company logos and visuals (similar to setting up a personal Facebook account). From there, the team received an email invitation to join the online community. I imagine the rollout is much more difficult for larger companies with layers of necessary legal/HR approvals.
While not free like a personal Facebook account, monthly rates range from a modest $1 to $3 per active user based on company size – which is less than other project management/collaboration tools. They also offer a free three-month trial.
It does serve as an “online water cooler”
This is actually one of the elements we hoped to achieve in an online collaboration tool. Working remotely, we wanted a centralized place to share ideas, articles and project updates. These are done through posts to relevant groups, which also appear in members’ Newsfeeds. We routinely shared articles we found helpful and knew we could log on to find them again if needed. (However, this is also something that could be accomplished by sending an email or sharing in a secret company Facebook group.)
It contributed to fewer emails*
Emails about ideas, articles and project updates were reduced because colleagues shifted to posting them on Workplace. *I include the asterisk because unless you adjust your notification settings within Workplace by Facebook, you will receive an email every time someone adds a post or adjusts a group setting.
It’s accessible via mobile
Facebook offers a Workplace-specific app so you can keep up with content while on the go. Like personal Facebook, it prefers you download yet another app for Workplace chat access, which isn’t ideal.
Helpful, responsive customer service
Facebook has a dedicated Workplace-specific customer service team to help make the rollout easy on users. One way they aid users is by looping those who participated in the introductory webinar into a help-focused group on Workplace. There, Facebook frequently posts suggestions on how to successfully roll out and use the tool. The customer service team has also been highly responsive to my various questions via email. Though, as I’ll get to shortly, I don’t always find their answers to be particularly helpful or what I want to hear.
Yes, it’s nice to be able to send someone a chat, or to call them via voice or FaceTime through the computer, but arguably this could also be done via a cell phone and texting.
It doesn’t integrate with personal Facebook.
One of my biggest complaints about Workplace is that it requires you to open a separate browser tab. Despite my initial assumption, it doesn’t operate within your personal Facebook account. I completely understand they want users to feel comfortable about the separation so that they don’t have to share about their personal lives with colleagues, but that defeated the efficiency purpose to me (knowing people log on to their personal accounts repeatedly throughout the day). In our case, we are all friends on Facebook anyway, so it’s odd to have to communicate in a separate medium about a client update only to switch over to personal Facebook to comment on a cute photo. It feels clunky – with me already monitoring Outlook and other accounts on separate tabs.
It’s not a project management/collaboration tool at all
Drawn in by the cool updates I saw the trial company share in the video tour, I thought this would be a great place for us to centralize updates and next steps on various programs. However, Workplace offers no task or project management application to flag all those great ideas, articles and project updates being shared. It nearly became someone’s full time job to read every single post and comment to make sure that no ideas or next steps were missed, only to have to jot them down in a notebook or re-enter them in a true task management tool (think Basecamp or Asana). Here’s where I didn’t love the customer service response I got from Facebook. In a forum, I could see I was one of a number of people inquiring about this issue. The only reply – still three months after the initial user inquiry – is that they appreciate the feedback and will relay it to the development team. There are no status updates on when a formal solution may be offered, but in the meantime they’ve suggested creating “Events” to give team members due dates for tasks.
As long as we’re paying…
Because Workplace is not free and doesn’t offer all we need as an agency, it seems like the monthly fees should be invested in a tool that provides a more robust suite of solutions.
About those talk tools
As a growing team, we’re also looking to build our relationships by talking more regularly as a group via video. I assumed since this is a collaborative work tool Facebook would offer group video calling, not just individual video calling. I was mistaken. These conversations only occur one-on-one, requiring you to shift over to another third party tool if you wish to include more than one person.
Customization = time suck
I customized our Workplace with a company logo and a couple of cover images. Each group – and we have many – should ideally have its own unique image. Eventually, I gave up. No big deal but of course it would look nicer if we had fancy images everywhere.
In our short time using this tool, I can say with fair confidence we will keep looking after the trial expires. I’m disappointed because I really wanted to like this and settle on something that would work for our team. Facebook is great at many, many things, but as I’ve come to appreciate, you don’t always have to be everything to everyone.
Through Workplace, Facebook is trying to compete with the Saleforces, Slacks and Basecamps of the world. Unfortunately, it’s just not there yet. I don’t doubt that with more time, Facebook will work through these kinks and take to heart user feedback that appears to be shared over and over again.
If all that’s needed is a place to gather, share general updates and FYI content without much follow-through required, it works. But, as can happen when teams become motivated and inspired, great conversations can arise – ideally leading to next steps. This is where Workplace is lacking.
Right now, there are still too many different tabs and tools for employees to have to toggle through (email, Workplace, task management tool, etc.). For a paid tool, albeit economical, it seems to make more sense for us to try one that offers more of the functionality we need in one place.