Facebook's Workplace, now at 30,000 orgs, adds Chat desktop apps and group video chat

Ingrid Lunden
It's been once year since Workplace, Facebook's social network designed specifically for businesses and other organizations, came out of beta to take on the likes of Slack, Atlassian, Microsoft and others in the world of enterprise collaboration.

It's been once year since Workplace, Facebook's social network designed specifically for businesses and other organizations, came out of beta to take on the likes of Slack, Atlassian, Microsoft and others in the world of enterprise collaboration. Now, with 30,000 organizations using Workplace across some 1 million groups (more than double the figures Facebook published April), Facebook is stepping on the gas again.

Today the company is releasing a desktop app for Workplace Chat, with new features like screen sharing and, in coming months, group video chat, which will let people create virtual "rooms" of up to 50 people for interactive video conferences. Previously, the video features in Workplace were limited to live video broadcasts and one-to-one video converstations.

Alongside the new apps and features, Facebook is also updating the overall design of Workplace to simplify the interface and make it consistent across Android, iOS and desktop.

While Workplace has positioned itself as the collaboration platform for everyone in your organizations -- not just those who are so-called "knowledge workers" who are at desks most of the day -- the new desktop apps -- for both PC and Mac -- are a hat tip to the fact that there are a lot of those desk-sitters using Workplace, too.

The two apps have been in beta for a little while, as spotted by my colleague Josh earlier this month. What was not known was Facebook's plans to put Google Hangouts -- as well as Meet, the enterprise version of Hangouts that Google launched in February -- in its crosshairs by adding in group video conversations.

When Josh spotted the beta of the Chat desktop app with screen sharing, Facebook said the app was made in response to what users were most requesting.

But just as important, another key reason is engagement. By adding in more features like screen sharing, desktop apps and group video chat, people are more likely to stay in Facebook's app rather than going elsewhere for those features.

(And there are many places to go -- not least of which is Slack, which just yesterday updated its own screen sharing feature with the ability to edit on other people's screens -- which had been a big feature of Screenhero, the startup it acquired to build it. Other competitors, ironically, include Facebook Messenger, which added in group video conversations with up to 50 guests last December.)

Engagement on Workplace is key, since Facebook charges for Workplace not by seat -- a typical pricing metric for enterprise services -- but by monthly active user (based on number of users, and the features you want, the charged tiers range between $1 and $3 per MAU).

This not only aligns Workplace with its consumer service, but it also, in the words of Julien Codorniou, VP of Workplace, puts his company's feet to the fire to make sure people actually use it.

"If you don’t use it, you don’t pay," he said in an interview. "That shows the confidence we have and puts pressure on us to build a good product."

Workplace hit a big scaling milestone last month when it signed up Walmart, the world's biggest employer with 2.2 million employees, as a customer. But while Facebook has made a lot of progress in terms of signing up new users, it's been somewhat slower in terms of how it has built out the product overall.

One of the key defining characteristics of Slack, as a point of comparison, has been how the chat app has positioned itself as a collaboration platform, by making it very easy to integrate many other apps to interact with them, and bring in data from them, into your Slack conversations. Facebook has not been as aggressive in building out that aspect of its business, with the primary integrations being with the biggest services, Box, Microsoft, Dropbox and Quip/Salesforce. But my guess is that this is not near the end of what Facebook plans to do, with its sights set not just on helping people communicate what they are working on to each other, but to actually help them get that work done. That could see Facebook tapping more into the work it has done with bots and AI to take on some an employee's workload.

"We want to build Workplace like we built Facebook," Codorniou said. "We [first] put everyone on the same network and connect them... when that happens it goes from communication to automation."