Workplace by Facebook Takes Aim at Competition

Last week Facebook publicly released their new enterprise collaboration platform, Workplace. Referred to as Facebook at Work while in
beta, Workplace is the newest entrant into a growing lineup of platforms intended to help teams communicate better, more frequently and more completely.

But what exactly does Workplace provide for enterprise users? And is it really any different than all of the other platforms available?

Facebook Workplace for Global CollaborationWhat is Workplace?

The short version of that answer is Workplace is a collaboration platform. But just like the other residents in that space, that really doesn’t
mean much out of the context of the application.

Like other collaboration platforms, Facebook’s intention with Workplace is to give teams an alternative to email and meetings; a place where they can discuss projects, ask questions, get answers and connect with other team members via chat, messages and live video. Most of those things are already features Facebook provides for their 1.71 billion user audience on their public platform. But Workplace is different.

Is it Secret? Is it Safe?

To begin with, Workplace isn’t public. In fact, it’s very not public. Access is restricted to your company alone (although, as we’ll see in a moment, there is functionality that allows you to work with other companies). Workplace is a completely different platform from Facebook, which means there is little possibility of accidentally posting your company secrets for all of your friends to see. This is part of the reason that Workplace took so long to come to market – despite the family resemblance, the platform was built from the ground up to be separate from Facebook.

Workplace even looks different than its public sibling, with more muted colors. There are also no ads on Workplace, which makes all of us using Facebook more than a little jealous.

This separation from the public platform and differentiation in look and feel answers a big concern by a lot of companies – namely, you don’t need to worry about your employees using Workplace as a cover for spending their days on Facebook.


Peeking Behind the Curtain

Despite being a completely different platform, Workplace leverages a lot of the same features found in Facebook. So those familiar with the social media tool will find a lot here that feels like home.

Workplace has a Newsfeed, chat messaging, and live video. You can also make voice and video calls to others in your organization through the platform. Reactions, such as liking a post, were also brought over from Facebook.

No enterprise is an island, and Workplace takes that into account. Not only can people in your organization create groups around a specific subject – like a project or product – they can also share those groups with other companies outside of your organization that are also using Workplace. This makes collaboration with partners and vendors much easier.

Being a multinational enterprise themselves, Facebook recognizes the global nature of business. To facilitate work groups that can span miles and languages, Workplace has automatic translation built in to the application.


How Does It Compare?

So let’s get down to the real question – why should you consider Facebook’s Workplace product when there are so many existing platforms that are well established in the space? As with all enterprise applications, it comes down to what your needs are – each of the tools is the best choice in different circumstances.

But here are a few places where Facebook can be (favorably) compared  directly to a couple of the biggest gorillas in the room – Slack and Saleforce’s Chatter.

Slack vs Workplace

Leaving aside for a moment the discussion of price and subscription model, the biggest difference between Slack and Workplace is the integration of apps and services. At the moment, Slack allows for the integration of outside applications (on a limited basis for the free model, unlimited for paid subscriptions). This includes integrations for project management apps like Trello, application performance like New Relic and even a host of Zoho apps, like Subscriptions, Events and Invoices.

Workplace, on the other hand, has no such integrations. But there are plans to change that. Workplace is already talking to Deloitte, Okta and TBWA regarding integrations. The plans are to partner with outside apps for the areas where Workplace is lacking capabilities and features, such as document storage and collaborative editing. Basically, Workplace doesn’t want to re-invent the wheel. They just want to give it power steering.

Chatter vs Workplace

The comparison between Workplace and Chatter is an interesting one. Chatter, as part of the Salesforce platform, is one of the longest standing and most mature of the collaboration platforms. Because of this, Chatter is hard to beat – the features are well designed and vetted, the integrations already exist and there is an entire marketplace of Salesforce add-ons available.

But where Facebook comes out on top in this comparison is exactly where they planned to. Because Workplace uses the same functionalities and features as the public platform, there are few people in the world who don’t already know how to use it. Almost no training is required.

Between being an interface already so familiar to many and having mobile applications available for Workplace at launch, it’s a no-brainer for use by employees who aren’t desk jockeys.  Field agents, maintenance staff and even retail employees can rapidly come up to speed and participate in the corporate conversation without taking hours away from their work to learn a new system.


The Biggest Difference – Cost

The differentiator that Facebook is really counting on is price. It’s pretty clear that Facebook would rather have you using Workplace than worry about making a profit at the moment.

Their subscription model, after the 30-day free trial, is only $3 per active user for up to 1,000 users. From there and up to 10,000 users, the rate drops to $2. At 10,001 and above, the price is only $1 a user. For educational institutions and non-profits, Workplace is free.

The active user piece is of note, as well. To qualify as an active user, and for Workplace to bill you for that user, they must have logged in at least once during the month. The intent is to keep Workplace on their toes. If the platform doesn’t work, no one will log in and use it. If that happens, well, Facebook doesn’t get paid.

This subscription rate and structure is substantially different than either Slack or Chatter.

In Slack’s case, they operate on a freemium model. Restricted accounts are free, but for paid accounts, the prices are higher than Workplace. For a standard account, Slack is $8 per active user, and $15 if you want features like SSO and uptime SLAs.

Pricing for Chatter isn’t quite as upfront as that of Workplace. With Chatter, you can get a company of up to 5,000 people on the platform by purchasing a single CRM license, which according to their website starts at $25 per user a month for up to 5 users. With that you get something equivalent to Workplace – messaging, status updates, activity feeds, plus things like file sharing. But to get the full suite, including the integrated apps, reporting and so forth, it’s $15 per user.

If you have a small team that will access the CRM features, Chatter might be more attractive than Workplace for your organization. But for smaller teams that won’t use the CRM features, the price plus the training needed to use the platform to its fullest may be higher than you’re willing to pay.


As we said earlier, your organization’s needs will drive the choice of collaboration platform best suited to you. But with Workplace entering the market, expect to see some jockeying for position from even the bigger names in the space. Once a heavy hitter like Facebook steps on to the field, all bets are off.



*None of the comments or comparisons in this column should be deemed a recommendation of a specific product or service.