Over the last few months, Facebook has been relentlessly pushing its Workplace by Facebook platform, expanding the app’s feature list while ramping up its marketing. Its most recent PR blitz occurred this past June, as Facebook unveiled the company’s new Workplace for Good program, touting free access to Workplace Premium for nonprofits and educational institutions among other feel-good initiatives.
But is there any muscle behind the hype? What does Workplace by Facebook offer that similar apps don’t, and is it a good tool for accounting firms? We dug through site reviews, user reviews, news articles, press releases, and Mark Zuckerberg’s diamond-plated back-alley dumpster to find the answer.
Is this really better than Slack?
Business social network. Virtual communications hub. Remote productivity app.
There are a lot of ways to describe Workplace by Facebook, but none of them sound particularly different than competitors like Slack and Skype for Business. We looked to the official site to find some answers, but most of what we found was just corporate-talk twaddle.
“We designed Workplace to help people in businesses connect and discover new ways of working.”
That’s a quote from Simon Cross, product manager of Workplace by Facebook, taken from an introductory video on the Workplace website.
And if that generic, cliche-soaked pitch doesn’t get you excited about the possibilities of this revolutionary, next-generation, synergy-accelerating, paradigm-shifting, [insert business-speak adjective here] technology, perhaps nothing will.
We recently put together our list of top five virtual communication apps, and Workplace by Facebook didn’t make the cut. But that’s not necessarily because it sucks–it’s more because none of our clients use it, so we didn’t have access to any objective opinions.
In fact, the only Accountingfly client we were able to dig up who used Workplace by Facebook was Jay Kimelman, founder and CIO of The Digital CPA, and he didn’t have much to say about it.
“We tried Workplace. It has a very familiar platform and is user-friendly. But we decided to stay with Slack as it connects to virtually every other app we use,” Kimelman says.
OK, so what the #%^& is Workplace by Facebook?
It’s best described as “Facebook for businesses,” but exactly what that means depends on who you ask.
Here’s the official list of the app’s features, although new capabilities may have been added by the time you read this. You can decide for yourself if there’s anything here you can’t get with Slack:
- Live video streaming
- Voice and video calls (desktop and mobile)
- Workplace and Work Chat apps (iOS/Android)
- Unlimited file, photo, and video storage
- Unlimited team and project groups
- Integration with file storage providers
- Desktop Notifier for Windows
- Secure collaboration between companies
Paid version ($3/user/month):
- All the same features as the free version, obvi
- Directory of pre-built integrations (whatever that is)
- Administrative controls to manage your community
- Monitoring tools for IT teams
- APIs for custom integrations and bots
- Integrations with e-discovery and compliance providers
- Single sign-on (SSO), Active Directory support
- Integration with G Suite, Okta, Windows Azure AD, and more
- 1:1 email support for administrators
Workplace is especially pushing its “groups” feature, which allows you to create private sub-networks for specific departments or teams. Groups can include members from other businesses, such as your clients or accountants at a partner firm.
Is Workplace by Facebook any good?
Let’s see what some of the experts are saying.
Workplace by Facebook is exactly what you expect it to be. It’s Facebook if your employer restricted membership to only your coworkers and bosses. … It seems to win people over because it’s so familiar to the original Facebook experience. Workplace has nearly identical tools for sharing information, joining groups, organizing events, and so forth, but its best use is as a team messaging and communication app.
While it has yet to give the app an official score, CNET lauded Workplace by Facebook in May 2018 for adding integrations with Microsoft SharePoint, Atlassian, SurveyMonkey, Dropbox, and Box. Facebook has announced that the latest version of the platform will feature more than 50 new integrations in all.
What do users have to say about Workplace by Facebook?
“I love that it is exactly like Facebook if it were only in groups.”
“Communication has never been better in our office. We can post things to different groups, get answers to questions quickly, and … keep each other updated on changes (and) issues.”
And here’s a negative user quote, which does a nice job of summing up the platform’s shortcomings:
“‘Chat’ function is missing basic features like status–available/offline/busy–and the ability to group contacts. It is also not secure, so we are unable to share files through chat. The screen share option is only available one-on-one and after a video call is initiated. There is no integration with email or calendars … It’s mandatory to follow certain executives, and my newsfeed is full of posts from random people that I have never and will never interact with. No one in my department uses this website.”
It should be noted that this review was written back in March 2018, and later in the review, the user concedes that the program “has potential.”
While we don’t use Workplace at Accountingfly, our independent analysis of it isn’t much different than the general consensus: again, it’s Facebook, but for business. If that sounds like something that would benefit your firm, go for it. If not, your employees probably won’t get much use out of it. It doesn’t do much that Slack can’t, but it does have a friendlier, more familiar interface that some users may enjoy and that might spark greater camaraderie and collaboration.
Does Workplace by Facebook have any value specific to accounting firms?
The short answer is: not really.
The Workplace by Facebook website features customer case studies covering a wide array of industries, but so far no accounting firms have been spotlighted. The closest thing we could find was one for Yoma Bank, a commercial bank in Myanmar. But that review has nothing to do with finance–it’s about helping a company communicate when most of its employees have no access to email.
As far as we can tell, there are no accounting-specific benefits to Workplace by Facebook. But that doesn’t mean its communication and collaboration tools can’t help you grow your firm.
Workplace by Facebook in a nutshell
This is Workplace by Facebook in a nutshell: “Ahh, help me, I’m an application trapped in a nutshell!” (No, we aren’t above stealing jokes from Austin Powers.)
And this is a summary of our findings on Workplace by Facebook: Right now, it’s a mixed bag. If a “business social network” sounds appealing to you, it’s the best one out there. And your employees will be very comfortable using it, assuming they’re familiar with good ol’ regular Facebook.
As far as communication and productivity go, there isn’t much unique about it. But Facebook is adding new features at a rapid clip, so it’s worth keeping your eye on. Right now it’s nothing special, but a year from now it could be the business app accounting firms can’t live without.
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