Two years ago, Facebook launched Workplace—a business collaboration service, based on Facebook, which originated as an in-house tool used by the company’s own employees. Since then, there hasn’t been a moment when Facebook wasn’t in the news. But Workplace has had a low profile.
Today, Facebook is holding Flow, a Workplace conference, at a hotel near Facebook HQ in Menlo Park, California. The product news it’s announcing isn’t massive. For example, Workplace is getting a feature that lets companies flag specific posts as important, so they don’t get algorithmically downplayed; a do-not-disturb option for its Chat service; and a version of Facebook’s Safety Check, which lets people mark themselves as safe during a local crisis. The conference seems to be as much about letting Workplace customers (and prospective ones) bond as detailing the service’s current capabilities or laying out the future vision.
Facebook is also being cagey about how quickly Workplace is growing. It says that 30,000 organizations use it—the same figure it was quoting a year ago—and doesn’t state what that means in terms of individual users. But those 30,000 customers include some big names, including Walmart, the world’s largest private employer, as well as Campbell’s Soup, Delta, Starbucks, and others. And it’s announcing more customers at its conference, such as Astra Zeneca, Chevron, Telefonica, and Securitas.
One thing a lot of these companies have in common, other than being large, is that they have lots of employees who don’t sit in front of a PC. Instead, they’ve got workers who are up and about and access Workplace on a phone. Julien Codorniou, the Facebook VP in charge of Workplace, told me that this use-case scenario turned out to be more powerful than Facebook initially realized. And the the fact that Workplace has found traction outside the bubble—rather than as, say, a Slack archrival—might help explain why it hasn’t attracted that much attention.
Many organizations that adopt Workplace “want to connect everyone in the company, not just the knowledge workers,” Codorniou explains. “Especially people who have never had email before, who never had a desk, and Workplace does that really well.”
How about the fact that much of the overarching news about Facebook since Workplace’s launch has involved stories which—in one way or another—involve the company failing to keep tight control over the data on its platform? I asked Codorniou whether that gave pause to the sort of large potential customers that obsess over the security of their corporate data.
“The impact has not been significant to Workplace,” he says. “We sell to IT teams, usually. And they understood very well that Workplace and Facebook are completely separate. You don’t log into Workplace with Facebook—you log in with the same login and password you’d use on your email or Salesforce.”
Ultimately, Workplace is never going to rival Facebook’s core business—targeting ads at 2 billion consumers—as a primary focus for the company. But if drama elsewhere in the business hasn’t been a drag on Workplace, it might be a sign that the service has found a niche—albeit a potentially sizable one—worth pursuing.