Facebook Rolls Out Workplace Chat Tool

Facebook Rolls Out Workplace Chat Tool Facebook Inc. is used by a quarter of the world’s population to keep tabs on friends every month. Now, the 12-year-old social network is seeking similar dominance in the corporate world.

On Monday, Facebook announced the commercial launch of Workplace by Facebook, its enterprise tool for companies that allows workers to chat and collaborate with each other. The tool was called Facebook at Work while it was in testing for nearly two years.

Facebook said it would start charging a monthly fee, ranging from $1 to $3 for every active user, giving it a new source of revenue besides advertising.

Facebook faces dozens of rivals in the business-messaging market eager to displace email as a primary work communication tool, including Slack Technologies Inc., Microsoft Corp.’s Yammer offered through Office 365, and Jive from Jive Software Inc. of Palo Alto, Calif.

“E-mail is good and has its place, but none of us like that endless email chain of reply all, reply all, reply all,” Nicola Mendelsohn, Facebook’s vice president for Europe, Middle East and Africa, said Monday at a London news conference. Facebook’s London office is the home base of the Workplace team that developed the tool.

Even though it is a newcomer to the category, Facebook could be a serious threat to incumbents because so many workers already use its website and mobile app in their personal lives.

“Everyone knows Facebook, so adoption will be really fast,” said Christine Moorman, a professor at the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University.

That was the case for telecommunications company Telenor ASA, which rolled out Facebook’s software to its 35,000 employees world-wide in March. Telenor is among the companies that have been testing Facebook’s program.

One Workplace feature allows employees from different companies to create groups and chat using the enterprise software.

Facebook also forged new partnerships with others such as enterprise cloud company Box Inc., which allows Workplace users to share documents from their Box accounts.

“Facebook has a significant chance of being a highly used enterprise software,” said Aaron Levie, chief executive and co-founder of Box. “The energy and momentum they have in the consumer space, I think they can bring to the enterprise.”

Facebook at Work was launched as a pilot project in January 2015. Roughly 1,000 companies, including the Royal Bank of Scotland, have been testing the service, up from 450 six months ago, Facebook said Monday.

The enterprise service is modeled after Facebook’s internal corporate network. Like the ubiquitous social product, it opens to a news feed with posts ranked based on an algorithm that takes into account a user’s previous activity on the corporate account. Users can chat in groups or privately, and post and watch live videos as well as share documents.

Workplace has enterprise-grade security and administration tools and a more sober gray color palette than the company’s signature blue, according to Facebook documents describing the product. There aren’t any ads.

Customers aren’t required to have a personal Facebook account to use Workplace and employers can’t use the tool to see what employees do on their personal accounts. Companies get data on their employees’ activity, including how many messages and posts they send.

Still, some customers might worry that encouraging employees to use Facebook might make them less productive, Ms. Moorman said. “They’ll probably have to reassure their customers that there will be something that keeps people from just dealing with their personal stuff at work,” she added.

Companies have been slow to adopt social-media tools for their employees because workers need to be trained to use new software. Enterprise social networks tend to be dominated by a small group of superusers, but about half the employees don’t use it at all, according to some consultants.

Facebook didn’t charge for the service during the pilot phase, but now plans to levy a fee for every employee who uses the service at least once a month. This is the first time Facebook has charged a fee for its services. The company will charge $3 for each of the first 1,000 employees, $2 for each of the next 9,000 and $1 for each one after that. This would mean a $46,000 monthly fee for Telenor if all of its 35,000 employees used Facebook’s service each month.

Facebook declined to say how many employees were using the service.

Slack offers a free version of its messaging service alongside two beefed-up packages that respectively cost $6.67 and $12.50 per monthly user.
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