Facebook for Business: Liking Your Way to Digital Transformation
Facebook Workplace attempts to productize digital transformation for non-digital companies. How will they like it?
People are any company’s most valuable asset, yet so often corporate focus is directed elsewhere. In 2015, only 32% of US employees considered themselves “engaged at work” while the majority (50.8%) of employees were “not engaged,” and 17.2% were “actively disengaged.” Employers recognize this is a critical issue: 87% of organizations cite culture and engagement as one of their top challenges–engagement isn’t just an HR problem, it is now a business problem. 
Ask any executive today for their “digital” or “mobile” strategy and they’ll be able to rattle off a multi-point plan punctuated with synergistic jargon yet the majority of companies have yet to turn this inward to the way their own company operates internally. And this lack of strategy is costly: the companies with organizational culture that enables collaboration perform nearly 2x better than the general market.  This digital transformation of operating models is so critical, the World Economic Forum cited it as their top recommendation coming out of their 2015 meetings. 
Facebook is widely recognized as one of the best employers, topping Business Insider’s , Glassdoor’s , and Forbes’  lists of best places to work multiple years running. But beyond fabulous perks, Facebook employees cite open communication  and empowerment to independently do their jobs  as key drivers of impact and satisfaction.
Can Facebook Productize Its Culture?
Since their inception, Facebook the company has relied on Facebook the product to facilitate their business operations. Employees use internal Facebook groups to collaborate on projects, Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg use the platform to make company-wide announcements and to solicit feedback and Facebookers use Facebook messenger for more informal communication between co-workers. 
Recognizing how its communication platform enabled innovation within Facebook, Facebook is now trying to help other companies transform their internal operations to be digital. To do so, Facebook created Workplace, a suite of enterprise tools familiar to any Facebook user enabling real-time communication and collaboration. Workplace is separate from your personal Facebook account but it leverages the same familiar interface and features but in a corporate setting. Mark Zuckerberg says about the product: “[Workplace] is an app, but I think about it more as a way of running a company.” 
While enterprise social is a crowded space with Slack, Yammer, Hipchat and Jive clamoring for users, Facebook believes that Workplace has an edge: in addition to the interface already being familiar to 1.7 billion people worldwide, the product is a more holistic offering than its competitors. This enables Workplace to position itself as more than just a communication platform, but also an end-to-end internal digital solution. This familiar interface has also enabled Facebook to target a broader spectrum of workers than its competitors, who tend to go after office workers.  As a Facebook executive explained, “No training needed. It’s for everyone: from factory workers, to baristas in the coffeeshop, to the CEO.” 
Initial adopters have been satisfied. Here are a selection of comments:
- “It makes a company smaller and more human, just like Facebook does for the world in general.” – Nisaba Godrej, Executive Director, Godrej Consumer Products, India 
- “I think Facebook lets us communicate, discuss and solve problems that other solutions, such as email, simply can’t. Email, in our experience, is hierarchical.It tends to be used for broadcasting, for cascading information [and isn’t] for discussion or feedback. When provided with a tool which changes that dynamic, people are choosing to tap into things [they wouldn’t have with email]. Facebook at Work allows people to naturally come together into groups [in] a non-hierarchical way.” – Kevin Hanley, head of design at RBS 
Is Facebooking All Day Enough?
The digital transformation of business operations is crucial for companies to be able to continue to be competitive in a changing workplace. While Facebook Workplace has grand ambitions and a proven track record at Facebook the company, it has yet to be proven elsewhere. Additional questions Facebook needs to consider as it rolls out Workplace:
- Is a digital product enough to transform a company’s operating model? While Facebook’s operations are clearly optimized for digital workplace, is getting 200,000 bank employees on an app enough to change the company culture and the way it operates?
- Are there other components of Facebook’s operating model that aren’t captured in Workplace? Facebook employees often cite perks, face-to-face meetings and company art as enablers of innovation. Are these captured in the Workplace offering? If not, how can they be translated into product features?
- Can Facebook change its own operations to be successful at enterprise sales? Facebook’s salesforce historically has sold an almost monopoly product–just about every digital marketer needs to buy ads on Facebook. How will it be able to compete in a more crowded space with a fundamentally different revenue model?
Facebook is betting that its Workplace model will be the future of collaboration, helping digitally transform the way other companies do business. Only time will show whether or not Facebook can actually be friends with business.
Student comments on Facebook for Business: Liking Your Way to Digital Transformation
I worked at Facebook before coming to HBS and absolutely loved using it in work situations. The groups we used for different projects and teams became living conversations around different projects. While my personal experience doesn’t really jive with Hanley’s quote (emails and Facebook groups are only as hierarchical as the people looped in them, IMO), I did find Facebook was a way better way to sort and access information from concurrent teams, projects, and conversations.
As far as the culture is concerned, on the one hand, I definitely felt like the groups were a great way for us to remain involved in each other’s work lives (e.g. commenting on slides / videos of teammates presenting at industry events) and as a result people had a better sense for what teammates were up to and how the team was doing.
On the other hand, I don’t think Workplace is the nearly the full package of Facebook’s culture. Facebook’s company values are inculcated with a depth and consistency (via multiple orientations, flying all employees to HQ, making company values criteria for 360 reviews, etc) that I’ve not seen elsewhere. Honestly, I don’t know how you’d even begin to start exporting that. Much of Facebook’s culture stems from Zuck, who has the voting power, growth, and margins to create that culture in ways that very few individuals in the business world can at the companies they lead.
Thanks for sharing! What an interesting extension of Facebook into the workplace. My biggest question here is Facebook’s ability to sell this product given their lack of experience selling B2B software. Currently, Facebook is so seen as a consumer product that actually drains productivity in the workplace (some offices even have a blocker on Facebook) that I’m worried they lack the traction with enterprises to have this product taken seriously. Additionally, their salesforce is trained to sell advertising, not to sell a product offering – so they will have to build up that capability within their organization as well.
It is interesting to see how Facebook, a digital platform, can undertake the digitization challenge to further innovate in that space.
In terms of effectiveness of the Workplace for other companies, besides the argument that the platform might be missing key components of Facebook culture, I don’t see why companies would go to Facebook for such services while there are plenty of other firms specialized in workplace optimization solutions. I don’t think familiarity with the platform’s look & feel is essential here.
Great post- I was wondering if you ever came across anything in your research about employee fatigue with the Facebook interface? Do employees find that when they use the same interface day in and day out, that they begin to hate the program? I imagine the enterprise version would be kept completely separate from the regular user interface, but how does one keep people from becoming unfocused and distracted (on Facebook) when they are using it for their corporate communication? I imagine it might be like working in a donut shop where you try all the donuts during your first week. After that point, at a few upset stomachs, you don’t care to try the donuts any more. Do you think any such saturation affect would occur with this tool?
I came across a medtech company in Singapore that instead of building one app for all hospital partners, customizes its interface, functions, and adds tools based on the company’s needs. Following on GVS’ comment, I wonder if Facebook Workplace will end up adopting a similar service to first the giants, then to smaller and smaller businesses. This is important because the culture and channels of a workplace is different from one place to another, added with international users trying to adopt this product. In the future, should Facebook Workplace be published as a platform for companies to design their own internal communication channel?
Also interested to learn more about the diagram you put on the top of the article!
Hi! This is a really interesting look into FB’s strategic advantages in the workplace vertical. I wonder whether Facebook for Work is actually at odds with Facebook’s core use case. At Facebook and many other Silicon Valley companies, employees liberally share information about their personal lives with each other. In these circumstances – extending Facebook into a work tool makes perfect sense! Everyone already has a Facebook, loaded with personal history, politics, interests, and photos. However, most of the American workforce is not so open with their colleagues, and prefer to leave “home at home.” I am worried that key criteria for FB Work adoption across the country relies on either a) Major cultural change in how people approach building work relationships or b) a major change in how they use Facebook. If they do “B,” I believe that means making profiles more private and sharing less personal information which negatively contribute to the same network effects that Facebook relies on to continue to grow as a platform.
Thanks for this wonderful post! I didn’t realize Facebook had created a workplace collaboration platform so this was really interesting. While I was at PwC, we implemented a customized version of Jive called Spark and while it was a great way to create internal groups and connect with colleagues around the world, I found it wasn’t integrated well into our daily work because we still used Lotus Notes Sametime for internal chats. So if Facebook can integrate all of that functionality together, there could be a major opportunity for Workplace to be adopted by large companies. But as Jordan mentioned, many employees will likely be weary of their personal profiles being integrated with workplace profiles so it will be important for Facebook to keep those separate.
I definitely like the realtime and persistence aspects of social-media platforms. The way most companies leverage email is definitely past its prime, but the open, ubiquitous, and cross-platform nature of email is what keeps it in the lead for companies. I would actually much prefer to see a more open version of Facebook for Work, potentially as a modernization of the email platform like HTML5 did for web design. For example, how would a company using this product collaborate with a partner company that does not? I don’t expect a single product to be able to solve all future communication needs for businesses. Maybe for companies developing internally that have open cultures like Facebook.