A Sober Look at Facebook at Work. Can it Work?

There’s been a raucous clamourfrom the technology pundits this past week around the impending launch of Facebook’s enterprise application which brings key elements of it’s consumer product to the corporation. All proclaim with great solemnity that it will change the way we work and communicate at work. That the death of email is nigh and we will usher in a golden age of productivity for knowledge workers. Utopia in the workplace is near at hand. Or is it? I think we need a sober second look, don’t you?

The Tragedy of the Commons
I’ve touched on this before and it’s a current blemish on LinkedIn’s well considered goal of being business content focused. This is when a few, or many, use a technology in a way they like and feel is right, but is not the intent of the technology inventors. Alexander Bell invented the telephone to share opera music, instead we used it to talk to each other. Pretty much all technologies suffer the Tragedy of the Commons in some way. It’s a good bet this happens to any social network for the enterprise, including Facebook at Work.

When 60,000 Companies Come Knocking
Apparently around 60,000+ companies knocked on Facebook’s door to be in the beta trial for the at Work product. Apparently Royal Bank of Scotland has 10,000 employees using it. But what this says louder than anything is that enterprise communications and knowledge sharing tools still really aren’t working. IBM has been playing this game for decades with Lotus Notes and now new products. Microsoft through SharePoint and numerous others. None seem to have met the expectations marketers have set. Can Facebook at Work achieve the Holy Grail of corporate communications? There’s certainly a lot who hope so.

Email is Alive and Kicking. And Screaming Loudly.
Some pundits are ringing the death bell for email, declaring the digital grim reaper is looming. The evidence would suggest otherwise. There is a dearth of new development happening with email. Microsoft is still placing great emphasis on Outlook and on the OSX platform new tools like Airmail and MailPilot are turning email apps into decent productivity tools. Google’ Inbox continues to evolve on these lines too. Email apps are now integrating with project management, task management and note-taking tools. Email is rapidly turning into a “hub app” and people are adopting these features rapidly. In some ways, email is going through a bit of a revival.

Of Slack, Slackers and Hackers
Then of course there is Slack, a much beloved productivity tool of startups and some enterprise companies. Alongside it are tools like Podio, Trello and many, many others. Large corporations are starting to look to deploy these tools within their vaunted digital hallways. That will add to the mess of a new social networking app

The Unagile Want for Agility
Enterprise corporations are starting to absorb into their corporate lingo words like “agile development” and “design thinking” and so are looking to adopt the digital tools and approaches of the growth hackers, the Millennials and entrepreneurs disrupting them madly like Slack and Trello among others. Facebook at Work isn’t really compatible to this way of thinking from what I’ve seen.

Can We Add Another Layer of Information Tools?
In the end, the question really comes down to the ability and need for yet another stab at an information software layer on already cumbersome enterprise software demands. The IT departments must be reaching for a bottle of Scotch to drown in already. A distinct advantage to Facebook at Work is that it seems to borrow much UX from the consumer version, making it less onerous for training employees. But as it sits within the enterprise that means more storage, more hardware and more bandwidth demand and more security nightmares. With 60,000 companies apparently howling at Facebook’s gates to try it, perhaps the enterprise is ready? Perhaps it also speaks to the dismal failures of social networking apps littering the floor of the IT department.

Will Facebook at Work change the way we work? Probably not, it’s just another communications tool to bolt onto the many others in the corporation. Email is far from dead

What do you think? Will Facebook at Work be a smashing hit or spectacular failure? Or perhaps just trundle along?

Article by Giles Crouch