Looking to compete in the enterprise networking space, Facebook is rolling out Facebook at Work for employers.
So far, more than 300 companies have signed on, including the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) which is rolling out the service to its workforce of 100,000 — including 30,000 by the end of March.
“We were looking at an innovative way to make our staff more productive and also work better with our customers, and we felt that by using a common tool like Facebook, which people use in their everyday lives, in the office environment, it would improve the connectiveness of all our staff, reduce emails that staff have go back and forth and that should improve the experience overall for staff and customers,” said Naresh Vyas, head of solutions at RBS in San Francisco.
Facebook at Work looks and feels similar to the consumer version. By creating work profiles, employees can post photos, create groups and events and send private messages.
“The look and feel is pretty much identical to the regular Facebook. That’s the beauty of using Facebook is that there’s no additional training required — all the usability and enhancement that Facebook continuously makes on their consumer platform would be applicable in our Facebook at Work,” said Vyas.
While there are other enterprise social networks around, such as Yammer, one of the drawbacks is people either don’t see their immediate value or they need to be forced to use them, according to Boyd Neil, senior vice-president of digital and social communications at Hill & Knowlton Strategies in Toronto.
“I’ve been working with intranets for 15 years and the big issue is getting people to use them, to see the particular value of them,” he said. “This (new product) perhaps makes it easier in that it’s based on the Facebook platform.”
“For a global company, you can see that any kind of enterprise software like this can be useful,” said Neil.
RBS has found staff are able to work more efficiently together, answer customer questions faster, update colleagues on their work in a more engaging way and source a wider range of ideas for ongoing projects.
“The primary use is for communication, so senior leaders who post something on their timeline or their wall or in a particular group and everyone in the department or who subscribes to it gets to see the post instantly, and people can comment and reply. You can ‘like’ something that someone says, so it gives much better engagement between employees and leadership,” said Vyas.
Employees can also download the platform to their phones and tablets so they can keep track of work when they are on the move.
“The workplace has changed and employers want to change with it; and we strongly believe that a more collaborative workplace is a more productive one — a strong organization is one where news travels quickly,” said Vanessa Chan, spokesperson for Facebook at Work in San Francisco.
“In addition, as employees spend more time on mobile devices, it’s important that they are able to collaborate both inside and outside the office, around the world on all devices. Facebook at Work helps with this.”
Ninety per cent of RBS employees are active on a multi-basis and mobile activation is very high at around 80 per cent, said Vyas.
“We’re seeing more employees spending time on mobile devices which is another big benefit.”
The platform allows employees to collaborate in real time, message each other on Work Chat, and share updates, news and multimedia with colleagues, just as they do with friends on the Facebook platform.
“Facebook at Work is a great tool for keeping employees excited, and through tools like auto-translate, able to communicate with coworkers globally, that they may not have before,” said Chan.
RBS is able to separate profiles into groups or departments, so people communicate with the people they work with most often. And the only major difference between normal Facebook and Facebook at Work is employees don’t make friend requests but instead “follow” people.
“Like consumer Facebook, the News Feed surfaces content that is relevant to you... content is primarily groups-based, so people receive content in News Feed from the groups they subscribe to and are active in,” said Chan.
This is a big benefit, said Neil.
“The algorithm will steadily filter all the chatter that’s going on in your company so that it’s only giving you stuff that’s relevant to you, your work, your particular business area.”
And the platform does not link people’s personal and business accounts.
“Facebook at Work is completely separate from your personal Facebook experience. You can use Facebook at Work regardless of whether you have a private account or not,” said Chan.
“There are separate websites and a separate app for Facebook at Work. Your personal updates will not be included in Facebook at Work and nothing from your Facebook at Work account will show up within your personal Facebook.”
RBS has no concerns about security or confidentiality, said Vyas.
“Any information you share on RBS Facebook at Work is not accessible through any other means.”
But Neil — who also teaches at several colleges — has his doubts when it comes to takeup by employees. While some have suggested Facebook’s enterprise product will appeal to millennials in particular, he is not so sure.
“You have to balance it with their skepticism,” said Neil.
“They’re less interested in Facebook now than they are in Instagram and Snapchat, for example, and they turn up their nose a little bit at Facebook. I mean, all of them have Facebook profiles and all of them use it but when you take a vote in the class about what is their dominant platform for use, its Instagram or Snapchat.”
Another issue is trust, he said.
“Do (employees) trust that their employer is not going to use the information that they exchange on an intranet or on a team platform, and are there privacy concerns? That’s always a big one, it’s always a factor that blocks active uptake of this kind of employer-controlled platform.
“And Facebook, as you know, has already had privacy concerns as a platform in your personal use, so I wonder if people are going to transfer that mistrust of Facebook on a personal level to mistrust of Facebook at Work?”
Some companies are also concerned about exchanging work product outside of their own internal networks in using services such as Dropbox or Google Drive, he said.
“Will employers feel comfortable — even if it’s claimed that it’s on your own computer system on your own network... that any exchange of work product on Facebook at Work will be counter to their IT policies which say, ‘All work product has to be housed or exchanged on their own internal networks?’”
RBS is using the service primarily for communications and is not looking to replace its internal document depositories, said Vyas.
“All the data on Facebook at Work belongs to RBS, it’s not used for any other purpose than the bank’s purposes, so… unlike their retail version of Facebook, there’s no advertisements, there’s no mining of the data for any use by Facebook,” he said.
“In addition… all that security Facebook has been using in their existing environment applies to Facebook at Work so we’re very, very confident in the security of the platform.”
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