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Facebook’s Workplace embraces video, touts new users amid pandemic

Workplace, Facebook’s enterprise collaboration offering, got a variety of new features this week designed to strengthen the platform and help users better collaborate during the ongoing pandemic.

As for Workplace, Facebook said the app now has more than 5 million paid users – with 2 million added since October 2019. That pace of growth is in line with reports from other collaboration and videoconferencing companies, which have rapidly gained new users this year during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Launched in late 2016, Workplace offers companies a collaboration platform that mirrors many of the features offered by Facebook, including groups, a news feed and live video capabilities – repurposed to fit the needs of business users. This week’s announcements focused on improving how users can collaborate via video through integrations with Facebook’s Portal and Oculus features.

Continued growth among collaborative tool makers is likely to continue, according to Angela Ashenden, principal analyst at CCS Insight. Even as some workers return to the office, she said, social distancing will remain a top priority, requiring many to continue to work from home.

“This is going to be the picture for the next couple of years most likely, so remote work will remain a major part of working life,” she said.

Julien Codorniou, vice president of Workplace, said that while the COVID-19 pandemic heated up demand for collaborative work platforms, he was still surprised by the number of companies that were caught off guard. Like Ashenden, he said enterprises have now recognized the importance of keping their employees “connected, informed, engaged and productive.”

Reflecting that stance internally, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced that the social media company will permanently embrace remote working, even after current lockdowns lift. He told Facebook employees Thursday that the company would be “aggressively opening up remote hiring” and he expects about half the workforce to work remotely over the next five to 10 years.

Facebook workers have until Jan. 1, 2021 to decide on their new work location.

The importance of videoconferencing

To help bolster a crowded market that includes the likes of Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Slack, Google Meet and other, Workplace is pushing toward easier-to-use, and more efficient videoconferencing.

Ashenden said the new Workplace features reflect the success its competitors have seen. “It does mark a major pivot for Workplace…, and it will be interesting to track how quickly this becomes a primary driver for Workplace investments,” she said.

Users can now set up ‘Workplace Rooms’ – essentially an enterprise version of Facebook’s Messenger Rooms launched last month. In these new rooms, teams can host planned and spontaneous video calls via the desktop, mobile or the Workplace app on Portal. Users can invite individuals without Workplace accounts to join these calls; use Portal TV for Workplace video calls;  set up a Workplace Room on Portal; and use Workplace Live on Portal.

The company also bolstered its Workplace Live offering, providing users with an improved production values, controls and interactivity. One notable feature: the ability to turn on live captioning and transcription, a service that operates in English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish.

With many companies having employees in different countries – and speaking different languages –the new feature should allow employees who work together but don’t speak the same language to better connect, Codorniou said, leading to more productivity.

Users who broadcast live via Workplace will also be able to host live Q&As and crowd-source questions from the audience.

VR capabilities

The Workplace changes include new virtual reality (VR) capabilities built around Facebook’s virtual reality division, Oculus. Though it began largely as a consumer product, VR is increasingly being used by companies for training and education; Workplace claims more than 400 Oculus business apps now exist and can be integrated with the platform.

Ashenden believes the biggest opening for VR adoption is now in the enterprise. “This market is really driving the development and direction of these devices, much more than, say, gaming is on the consumer side,” she said.

Microsoft has had some success with its HoloLens, making it logical for Workplace to give users the opportunity to more easily use Oculus. Workplace has also seen demand for the service from its customers.

“If you go to Walmart, they have Oculus devices in every store in the U.S. to teach employees how to organize the display of the shelves and to do security or emergency training sessions as well,” Codorniou said. “In pharmaceutical companies or companies like Johnson & Johnson, they use Oculus for 3D simulation, for designing new products and for teaching doctors how to operate.”

More broadly speaking, advances in collaboration and videoconferencing tools are here to stay, said Ashenden.

“This is how work will be now, it’s what people will expect from an employer, and it will also be viewed as a core component in providing business continuity going forward,” she said.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.



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Why HyperloopTT uses Facebook’s Workplace for team communications

With a scattered workforce largely employed on a part-time basis, Hyperloop Transportation Technologies faces some unusual challenges as it seeks to revolutionize mass transportation with a “crowd-powered” organization model.

One of the biggest challenges is making sure all of the company’s 800-plus team members can collaborate effectively on the design and launch of hyperloop technology.

“When we started out, we worked with different tools – some of the teams used Slack, others used Google Docs – and let everybody figure out what they liked the most,” said HyperloopTT’s founder and chairman, Dirk Ahlborn. “Now, for several years, we have consolidated everything and moved onto Workplace.”

The company, which was created in 2013, still uses Google Docs in conjunction with Workplace. But Slack is no longer a main tool for collaboration and communication.

A key reason for selecting Workplace is that it offers a combination of instant messaging, social and file-sharing capabilities. That combo has helped strengthened the sense of community among workers and enabled staffers to work together more effectively, said Ahlborn. 



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CERN bails on Facebook’s Workplace, cites cost

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with new information about CERN’s rationale for moving away from Facebook Workplace.

Research organization CERN will replace Facebook’s Workplace with an open source alternative after deciding not to move to a new free version of the collaboration software that would eliminate enterprise management features.

CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, first rolled out Workplace’s free Standard version in 2016.

The organization has since been testing the premium version of the enterprise social network with staff, including CERN’s HR and IT teams. About 1,000 staffers currently use Workplace, with around 150 active weekly users on the platform. 

Facebook initially waived the costs of Workplace Premium, but then unveiled new payment plans last July. CERN was told to either begin paying for the full service or move to the free “Essential” version of the app. That change would have ended access to single sign-on and other enterprise features, CERN said.

“Paying for such features, for a tool that was not part of our core offering for the CERN community and where the existing level of control of our data did not correspond to CERN’s needs, was not suitable. Therefore, we will end the trial of this platform,” the organization said in a blog post.

CERN now plans to use Mattermost, an open-source tool, for instant messaging; it will join several other internal communications tools already available to staffers. It requested that all content hosted on Facebook’s servers be removed.

CERN had initially said it planned to ditch Workplace because moving to the Essential tier would result in the loss of control of its data, which it said would be sent to Facebook. That statement was changed on Friday, with that claim retracted.

According to Facebook, a customer retains control over their data. “A community admin manages the community and the company owns and controls the data. The community admin can modify, delete or export your data at any time.”

Facebook called CERN’s fears about data control “inaccurate” and argued that cost was the primary reason CERN opted for Mattermost.

 “Last year we announced an update to our pricing and packaging,” a Facebook spokesperson said. “As part of this we moved from two tier offerings (one free, one paid) to three (one free, two paid). CERN [was] originally on our Premium tier for free, and we asked them to either pay for the technology or downgrade to our free tier. They declined for cost reasons….”

Alongside the free tier, Workplace now has two paid plans: Workplace Enterprise, which costs $8 per user per month, and Workplace Advanced, at $4 per user per month. The latter has limits on certain features such as storage and the number of people who can join group calls.

On all three tiers, “Facebook acts as the data processor, and our customers act as the data controller,” the spokesperson said. “Our customers retain all rights, title and interest (including intellectual property rights) to their data.

“CERN saying that they were given a choice to pay or lose their administrative and data rights to Workplace is not accurate. They could join Workplace today on our Essential tier, which would allow them to use Workplace for free and retain the same admin and data rights.”

CERN declined to discuss the move to replace Workplace in more detail.

Concerns over Facebook’s use of data

There are 3 million paid Workplace customers, according to the most recent data on the app. That number includes deployments at large enterprise such as Nestle and the Royal Bank of Scotland. 

However, concerns have arisen in the past about how controversies around handling of data in Facebook’s consumer business might affect its enterprise operations. A survey by CCS Insight last year showed that 42% of employees felt their trust in Facebook had decreased in the last 12 months.

“…This is something we’ve seen become an increasing issue over the last couple of years following the Cambridge Analytica scandal,” Angela Ashenden, a principal analyst at CCS Insight, said before CERN changed its explanation for the move to Mattermost. 

“Overall, the Workplace team has done well to manage the impact of this on its enterprise business, but it’s inevitable that there will be some fallout as a result…,” she said.

Ashenden added that, while the Workplace free trial attracted a lot of interest from a range of companies and helped to kick-start its traction in the collaboration market, a move to a revenue model was inevitable, with most organizations accepting they have to pay for enterprise-grade security, governance and full control.

Raúl Castañón-Martínez, senior analyst at 451 Research, said it’s not unusual to see data management concerns among large organizations. 

“This highlights that … SaaS services like Workplace might not be a good fit for every company; this is further reinforced by the fact that CERN stated they are relying on services like Mattermost, which does provide companies with full control of their data.

“It is also notable that several members publicly stated that they did not trust Facebook in terms of data privacy,” he said. “While Facebook has stated that its enterprise solution functions as a separate entity to their consumer services, they could benefit from expanding their efforts to address these concerns.”

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.



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CERN bails on Facebook’s Workplace, cites cost and data management concerns

Research organization CERN will replace Facebook’s Workplace collaboration application with an open source alternative, citing concerns around the management of user data following changes to Workplace’s payment plan.

CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, began a free trial of the enterprise social network in 2016. It has since been testing the app with staff, including corporate HR and IT teams. Approximately 1,000 members of CERN’s staff have a Workplace account, with around 150 active weekly users on the platform. 

However “reactions were not always positive,” CERN said in a blog post this week. explaining the move. “Many people preferred not to use a tool from a company that they did not trust in terms of data privacy.”

While CERN had accessed the app as part of a free trial, it was told to either begin paying for the service or use a free version after Facebook announced new payment plans in July 2019. CERN said the move to a free version would remove admin rights and involve handing data to Facebook. 

“Losing control of our data was unacceptable, as was paying for a tool that was not part of our core offering for the CERN community; therefore, we will end the trial of this platform,” the organization said.

CERN now plans to use an open-source tool, Mattermost, for instant messaging, alongside several other internal communications tools already available for staffers. It has requested that all content hosted on Facebook’s servers be removed.

A Facebook spokesperson said the company is “sorry” about CERN’s decision: “Last October, we announced an update to our pricing and packaging. As part of this we started renewal conversations with some of our customers and we’re sorry CERN [is] no longer trialing Workplace. 

“We make it easy for Workplace customers to upgrade and downgrade based on their organization’s needs,” the spokesperson said. “Each pricing tier comes with different features and terms, all of which adhere to our strict security and privacy standards. We serve thousands of highly-regulated companies, like banks and governments, and have industry-standard security certifications like SOC2, SOC3, ISO27001 and ISO27018.

“We also offer our technology for free to global charities, educational institutions and emergency services organizations through our Workplace for Good program.” 

Workplace has two paid plans: the Workplace Enterprise tier costs $8 per user per month, while  Workplace Advanced, a paid option (at $4 per user per month), has limits on certain features such as storage and the number of people who can join group calls. It has a payment option aimed at frontline workers, which costs $1.50 per user per month. 

There are 3 million paid Workplace customers, according to the most recent data on the app. That number includes deployments at large enterprise such as Nestle and the Royal Bank of Scotland. 

However, concerns have arisen in the past about how controversies around handling of data in Facebook’s consumer business might affect its enterprise operations. A survey by CCS Insight last year showed that 42% of employees felt their trust in Facebook had decreased in the last 12 months.

“There are clearly trust concerns among CERN’s staff about using a tool developed and hosted by Facebook, and this is something we’ve seen become an increasing issue over the last couple of years following the Cambridge Analytica scandal,” said Angela Ashenden, a principal analyst at CCS Insight. 

“Overall, the Workplace team has done well to manage the impact of this on its enterprise business, but it’s inevitable that there will be some fallout as a result, as we’ve seen here.”

She added that, while the Workplace free trial attracted a lot of interest from a range of companies and helped to kick-start its traction in the collaboration market, a move to a revenue model was inevitable, with most organizations accepting they have to pay for enterprise-grade security, governance and full control.

Raúl Castañón-Martínez, senior analyst at 451 Research, said that CERN’s decision points to data management concerns among large organizations.  “It is notable that CERN explained that their decision was based on not having control of their data, even after they discontinued their use of Workplace,” he said. 

“This highlights that … SaaS services like Workplace might not be a good fit for every company; this is further reinforced by the fact that CERN stated they are relying on services like Mattermost, which does provide companies with full control of their data.

“It is also notable that several members publicly stated that they did not trust Facebook in terms of data privacy. While Facebook has stated that its enterprise solution functions as a separate entity to their consumer services, they could benefit from expanding their efforts to address these concerns.”

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.



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CERN bails on Facebook’s Workplace, cites data management concerns

Research organization CERN will replace Facebook’s Workplace collaboration application with an open source alternative, citing concerns around the management of user data following changes to Workplace’s payment plan.

CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, began a free trial of the enterprise social network in 2016. It has since been testing the app with staff, including corporate HR and IT teams. Approximately 1,000 members of CERN’s staff have a Workplace account, with around 150 active weekly users on the platform. 

However “reactions were not always positive,” CERN said in a blog post this week. explaining the move. “Many people preferred not to use a tool from a company that they did not trust in terms of data privacy.”

While CERN had accessed the app as part of a free trial, it was told to either begin paying for the service or use a free version after Facebook announced new payment plans in July 2019. CERN said the move to a free version would remove admin rights and involve handing data to Facebook. 

“Losing control of our data was unacceptable, as was paying for a tool that was not part of our core offering for the CERN community; therefore, we will end the trial of this platform,” the organization said.

CERN now plans to use an open-source tool, Mattermost, for instant messaging, alongside several other internal communications tools already available for staffers. It has requested that all content hosted on Facebook’s servers be removed.

A Facebook spokesperson said the company is “sorry” about CERN’s decision: “Last October, we announced an update to our pricing and packaging. As part of this we started renewal conversations with some of our customers and we’re sorry CERN [is] no longer trialing Workplace. 

“We make it easy for Workplace customers to upgrade and downgrade based on their organization’s needs,” the spokesperson said. “Each pricing tier comes with different features and terms, all of which adhere to our strict security and privacy standards. We serve thousands of highly-regulated companies, like banks and governments, and have industry-standard security certifications like SOC2, SOC3, ISO27001 and ISO27018.

“We also offer our technology for free to global charities, educational institutions and emergency services organizations through our Workplace for Good program.” 

Workplace has two paid plans: the Workplace Enterprise tier costs $8 per user per month, while  Workplace Advanced, a paid option (at $4 per user per month), has limits on certain features such as storage and the number of people who can join group calls. It has a payment option aimed at frontline workers, which costs $1.50 per user per month. 

There are 3 million paid Workplace customers, according to the most recent data on the app. That number includes deployments at large enterprise such as Nestle and the Royal Bank of Scotland. 

However, concerns have arisen in the past about how controversies around handling of data in Facebook’s consumer business might affect its enterprise operations. A survey by CCS Insight last year showed that 42% of employees felt their trust in Facebook had decreased in the last 12 months.

“There are clearly trust concerns among CERN’s staff about using a tool developed and hosted by Facebook, and this is something we’ve seen become an increasing issue over the last couple of years following the Cambridge Analytica scandal,” said Angela Ashenden, a principal analyst at CCS Insight. 

“Overall, the Workplace team has done well to manage the impact of this on its enterprise business, but it’s inevitable that there will be some fallout as a result, as we’ve seen here.”

She added that, while the Workplace free trial attracted a lot of interest from a range of companies and helped to kick-start its traction in the collaboration market, a move to a revenue model was inevitable, with most organizations accepting they have to pay for enterprise-grade security, governance and full control.

Raúl Castañón-Martínez, senior analyst at 451 Research, said that CERN’s decision points to data management concerns among large organizations.  “It is notable that CERN explained that their decision was based on not having control of their data, even after they discontinued their use of Workplace,” he said. 

“This highlights that … SaaS services like Workplace might not be a good fit for every company; this is further reinforced by the fact that CERN stated they are relying on services like Mattermost, which does provide companies with full control of their data.

“It is also notable that several members publicly stated that they did not trust Facebook in terms of data privacy. While Facebook has stated that its enterprise solution functions as a separate entity to their consumer services, they could benefit from expanding their efforts to address these concerns.”

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.



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