What Facebook is plotting with its ESN

What has the latest Enterprise Social Network (ESN) on the block been up to since its official launch in October?

Could it really be the community glue that helps employees stick together? What’s the role of chatbots at work?

Tony Stewart, @TSDigi, Head of Digital at scarlettabbott was lucky enough to attend the ‘Discover Workplace’ event at Facebook’s office in Berlin recently.

He’s here to tell us what he heard about these topics, what IC pros need to know about Workplace and what’s coming up.

New to Workplace (formerly known as Facebook at Work)? See my previous blog posts to get up to speed including Introducing Workplace by Facebook, How a Brewery uses Facebook at Work and How RNIB uses Workplace.

I’m interested in their latest development, which allows you to map your org charts and find people in your company:

I’ll hand you over to Tony…

Already familiar with the tool, I wanted to see how well it’d been adopted since its October launch, find out more about its current feature list and hear about what’s coming in the future.

And I have to say, I liked what I saw!

A connected workplace is a smarter workplace

To kick off, Facebook spoke a little about some of their Workplace clients. Starbucks has been using Workplace’s Live Video feature to stream and create discussions, not just in town halls, but smaller leadership check-ins too.

And in a response to Workplace user feedback, you can now ‘Facebook live’ not just from mobile phones, but dedicated camera and sound equipment.

This means Workplace broadcasts can have that ‘shot from a mobile phone, super candid’ feel, or be as professional and slick as they need to be.

Connected communities

Sticking with Starbucks, Facebook also shared a great story about the effectiveness of connected communities. Caught off-guard by non-menu recipes requested by customers, store managers shared these off-piste coffee requests in a Workplace community.

By connecting as a group, they could formalise the most popular concoctions and share how they were made with other store managers, so they weren’t caught off guard by similar requests in their own stores!Collective communities are smarter communities too.

A private airline company asked employees across their Workplace community for innovative ideas to save on costs.

An Air Steward had noticed that when clients took flights and opened the complimentary bottle of champagne, they would only have one glass – cheers! – and the rest was wasted.

The Steward suggested in the community that instead the airline should stock only half-bottles on their flights, which in turn went on to save the company a considerable amount of cash!

Encouraging togetherness

We also heard from Julian Lürken from Hello Fresh, a food delivery startup founded here in Berlin, Germany.

As head of HR, Julian was tasked with culturally connecting a business that was growing quickly and losing some of its local workforce feel.

Workplace has since helped encourage togetherness through online conversations that are visible to all, wherever they are, events that are posted for employees to attend in the ‘real world’, townhall broadcasts that everyone can watch together, virtually, and during on-boarding, where employees are welcomed and are encouraged to share photos and updates of their first day.

Further reading via the All Things IC blog: Know your townhalls from your brown bags? See my internal comms glossary.

Much is made of Workplace being easy to use: “it’s just Facebook, and everyone can use Facebook”. And yes, people can generally navigate and click the right buttons and achieve what they set out to do in Facebook.

But how many times have you seen a very awkward overshare on your personal Facebook feed?

Julian mentioned how some people would post about their sickness / time off work, which really was more of a one-to-one conversation with a manager. They knew how to do it, but maybe didn’t have the right grasp online etiquette to know Workplace wasn’t a place for this.

Considered governance and showcasing best practice is still the way to go to get the most of an ESN, and Workplace is no exception.

Indeed, as is typical at these gatherings, someone asked Julian if employees didn’t find Workplace ‘distracting’ or a way to waste time. Julian argued quite rightly that distraction already exists in any workplace, and for many, takes the form of their personal mobile phone.

In his experience, people were not wasting time on a platform that was very visible to other employees. I made the point that this was a behavioural issue too, that’s unique to each employee; if an employee is already disengaged as to want to waste their time, they’d do it anyway, and the community, whatever platform it’s based on, really isn’t to blame.

What’s email?

An interesting aside: during the Q&A session we got talking about Workplace’s roots, where Facebook employees would use private Facebook groups to collaborate as they were simply used to interacting in the sway.

Someone in the room then mentioned that recently their business had to introduce email training – that is, train young people new to the business to use email, as they simply didn’t use it in their personal lives.

My take – it’s a bit like training someone who can operate a calculator to use an abacus…

Now we’re together, what’s next?

These are some great examples of how online communications and connectivity can really help support business culture, innovation and bringing dispersed workforces together, all possible through an accessible, reliable digital communications channel.

These stories are real-world examples of the impact a strong Enterprise Social Network (ESN) community can have on a business.

Yet I have to admit, this is all very similar to what Yammer, Jive and the traditional ESN have been saying, and supporting, in many businesses for many years; I definitely experienced a strong sense of deja vu!

But then, Workplace does allow businesses to do this with a real sense of flair, and the platform remains incredibly accessible for both employees and those Internal Communications / HR teams who also need to curate and share content.

Maybe the Discover Workplace event was more about communications and culture than collaboration; all the client examples they bought to the event focused on how the platform can bring employees together, support communications between departments and locales and promote business culture too.

Then what?

But once your people are connected, it’s now up to them to decide their own approach to getting work done. And with no shortage of document management, project management and ‘getting stuff done’ tools on the market already, it’s a smart move;

so long as Workplace can talk to all these apps and be the conversational glue that holds these diverse productivity platforms together.

Indeed, the Workplace folks demonstrated the new API at the session, showing how Workplace handled links ‘to’ documents rather than hosting them locally.

For example, the option to link to documents that sit in Dropbox or OneDrive was there, with some smart previewing of the document within the Workplace environment.

See a slide with a typo in the preview? Dive in and make a comment to feedback, just as you would comment on a Facebook hosted photo. Or if you have edit access to the document, you can click the link to fire up your web-based PowerPoint and make the amend right away. This looked like a slick way to work that didn’t mean taking documents out of where they live;

Workplace points you in the right direction, so you’re never more than a few clicks away from amending and changing content.

This is a smart approach; there is a tonne of great document management and creation platforms out there already. Rather than add to the list, Workplace has decided to make itself as compatible with them as it can.

Solid decision.

The Workplace of the future

Facebook has an incredibly large team of developers, and I see this as one of the platform’s biggest strengths. To see how they’ve turned feedback and requests from their launch clients into features you can already use and items on the roadmap is welcome and exciting.

Indeed, Facebook aren’t scared to try new things out too, with this development team also clearly free to experiment. This includes bots, which continue to be a really hot topic for businesses and Internal Communications teams.

Some of the developments we were shown included:

  • Pressbot – this bot scans the news about your company, and publishes these posts as links, with previews,into a dedicated group. Workplace members can join the group if they wish, and if they see an exciting piece of content – maybe a competitor has made a surprise product launch – employees can jump right on it and have discussions about what it means for them.
  • Appreciatebot – sharing praise on Workplace? This bot will ensure the manager of the person you’re praising sees it too. It also means that managers can get a collective sense of who in their teams are making the most impact on the work lives of other employees.
  • Moodbot – Feeling perky, stressed, successful or irritated? This bot will occasionally ask random employees about their mood, allowing businesses to take a mood pulse-check and explore trends across geographies,teams or other collectives. A useful tool after say a big town hall, during some difficult press coverage or a recent big win.

I should note, I’ve totally made these bot names up!

But what simple services they offer gives a great idea of how bots can help to support workplaces and Internal Communications goals, and how forward-thinking the Workplace team are when it comes to bringing employees together.

I’m looking forward to seeing more bots from these guys soon.

Your better Workplace

All in all, it was a good presentation. The platform itself is robust, well supported, is growing in the right direction and remains very accessible. It seems that the ‘why’ for Workplace is starting to emerge – a community glue that helps employees stick together and do that communication thing so essential for any given business.

By allowing this community glue to stick to other productivity apps will really be Facebook’s best bet in creating an essential product that supports not just communications and communities, but work and collaboration too.

With the promise of ESNs making a radical impact on communications and collaboration bounced around for years now, I’m excited that Workplace might be the platform that sees more IC teams and business stepping up, taking the plunge and exploring these exciting online ways to support employee engagement.

And of course, with our deep understanding and experience in all things digital internal communications and employee engagement, do get in touch with me and the team at scarlettabbott if you would like to explore what these platforms can do for your business too!

Post author: Tony Stewart @TSDigi

Thank you Tony. What do you think about what he’s written? Are you thinking about using Workplace?

If you’re using it, do you fancy writing a guest article to share your experiences with other All Things IC blog readers? I’ve guidelines to help you.

As ever, you’re welcome to comment below or Tweet me @AllthingsIC.

Find out more about chatbots on Workplace…

I’ve featured the platform a number of times on my blog in the past. Here’s where you can find out more:

See the Workplace website or follow them on Twitter @workplacebyFB to read the latest information and discover what’s in the pipeline.

Latest Workplace videos…

Learn more about internal communication

Want to learn more about internal communication? I’d love to help you.

Sign up for an All Things IC Masterclass, my one-day training courses in London.

Upcoming Masterclasses including Change Communication, Writing Skills, Internal Communication and Strategic Internal Communication. Find out more and save your place.

You can also hire me for 1-2-1 consultancy if you’d like help with your Enterprise Social Network.

Thank you for stopping by,


Rachel Miller.

First published on the All Things IC blog 20 July 2017.






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