Sitting at work all day scrolling through Facebook is almost definitely frowned upon by your bosses, but Facebook wants to change that with the launch of a new version of Facebook—specifically designed for work—called Workplace.
Facebook is ubiquitous. If it's not Mark Zuckerberg handing out "Free Basics" to developing countries, it's internet connectivity beamed down from giant, solar-powered drones. As of July 2016, the social network had 1.71 billion monthly users. Facebook is without doubt one of the most pervasive technological phenomenons of the 21st Century. Thing is, Facebook's hit a brick wall when it comes to growth. Everybody who would want to use Facebook, generally speaking, is already, or at least will be using Facebook very soon. So, to eke out the last embers of growth in a saturated market, Facebook has now, officially, entered your workplace.
Workplace by Facebook launched on Monday October 10 after almost two years of development and months of beta tests on early customers. The service is the social giant's new effort to infiltrate businesses around the world, and to rival office apps like Slack and Microsoft's Yammer. Essentially, it's a modified version of the Facebook we all know and love/hate. It's the same algorithms, the same news feeds, the same ability to share photos and documents and chat in groups or in private—only your bosses can see everything that happens and it's all controlled by your company's IT team. Workplace is on mobile, too, with standalone apps for Android and iOS meaning employees can access everything remotely, just like users would with the regular Facebook app.
Facebook, with Workplace, is hoping to revolutionise how companies want to work with employees by shedding the old ideals of emails and intranet. "It's for everyone, not just for one team, not just for five percent of the company, it's for everyone from the CEO to the factory workers to the baristas in the coffee shop," a Facebook spokesperson said at the London launch event this week, which Motherboard attended. "Even people who don't have a desk, even people who have never had a PC, even people who have never had an email."
The question is, to what extent will this horizontal workflow management clash with privacy concerns? If your team or company decides to implement Workplace, will signing up be compulsory? It would seem so, if Facebook has its way and truly lets your bosses ditch emails and intranet and all of the inner workings of PC-based bureaucracy. But then what?
The Facebook spokesperson at the launch event said it best when he was explaining how the chief information officer of an airline wanted to be able to see what his staff were doing in their personal, consumer versions of Facebook groups. "Every crew of every flight were using Facebook groups," the spokesperson said. "It's not necessarily what the CIO of the company wanted, because he wants to control who sees the information."
But the reason why many organisations will be attracted to Workplace, such as the familiarity employees will have with regular old Facebook, could also be its downfall. Employees will be accustomed to Facebook being a place for gossip, cat videos, and friends. So what's the decorum for Workplace by Facebook? While the two are completely different applications, old habits die hard. Who can you trust to speak to in private? Is my group being monitored for productivity? Do I have to befriend everyone in the company, and if I block someone's news feed, will my boss know I hate them?
Your workplace chats may well one day be used as evidence against you
It's also worth noting, as highlighted in the Gawker vs Hulk Hogan case, in which Gawker Media's HipChat conversations were subpoenaed for court, that your workplace chats may well one day be used as evidence against you. While data on Workplace belongs to the company using it, rather than Facebook, it's still wise to watch what you say with any office productivity app. Facebook did not immediately respond to Motherboard's request for comment on whether workplace chats would be susceptible to subpoenas.
Ultimately, Facebook is banking on the familiarity of the platform winning over customers. It's appears easy to use and offers all of the same features as regular Facebook. But in the end, only time will tell whether employees will ever be, or ever want to be, comfortable using Facebook as a work tool or not.
Get six of our favorite Motherboard stories every day by signing up for our newsletter.