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Could Facebook increase productivity in the workplace?

Posted by Joe McNamara on 18th November 2014

There’s a good deal of irony yet a certain romance about Facebook’s latest ‘secret’ project, which has recently been covered by the Financial Times, The Independent, The Daily Telegraph, Reuters and Mashable. That’s not the ironic bit – honest.

Facebook at Work is the social networking giant’s latest bid to grow its user base and squeeze every last second out of existing users. It would take on the form of a social enterprise network – designed to allow colleagues to collaborate in a fun, more intuitive way in the workplace than the incumbent mass of email office-based workers are subject to every day.

The irony I speak of is in the fact Facebook is actually banned from a fair few offices under the assumption that it decreases employee productivity. Last year, 1 in 5 employees from US companies claimed to be denied Facebook access at work. That seems like a pretty naff idea, and Facebook-sceptics will see this as a backdoor way of clawing back their 9-5 users. But are there not potential advantages of letting Facebook into the workplace?

Leave it to the experts

According to a MarketWatch report published in July 2014 the enterprise social software market is forecast to grow from $4.77 billion to $8.14 billion in 2019. I’m pretty sure Facebook’s entry to the market would influence that forecast somewhat, but clearly there is a huge opportunity for the company that really cracks the enterprise social network model.

It’s an appealing proposition after all to office-based workers that often receive a thousand emails a day, find it difficult to get teams in one place, room or even on a call at the same time and spend lots of time working from their mobiles while on the move.

I highly doubt Facebook will be directly tackling LinkedIn’s professional networking model and fancy that Mr Zuckerberg has his sights set more on taking market share from Microsoft-owned Yammer and the somewhat disjointed, hardly intuitive Google Drive package.

If this is the case, despite getting a lot of stick, Facebook is probably the best company for the job. Facebook Groups are already a perfectly useable way of collaborating with a team – sharing documents, ideas and schedules. It certainly needs a clean up to become a viable alternative to fully-fledged enterprise social networks, but is it really even that far away from the likes of Yammer?

One of the main advantages Facebook has is its ability to design and make a decent mobile app that users can use on the move. The whole idea of cloud-based collaboration platforms is that they are accessible from any device at any time – but the first sign of clunkiness will turn time-poor professionals off immediately.

As the Financial Times reports – Facebook has a few trust barriers to overcome before a select few critics will let it anywhere near the workplace. But from a usability standpoint I look forward to seeing how this one develops.

Joe McNamara