GlaxoSmithKline shuts down Yammer, gets started on Workplace by Facebook

Jessica Twentyman Profile picture for user jtwentyman November 15, 2018
The British pharmaceuticals multinational has had a rethink when it comes to getting its employees communicating and collaborating.

At UK-based multinational pharmaceuticals company GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), when it comes to getting employees interacting with each other, Yammer is out and Workplace by Facebook is in.

GSK, which once ran one of the largest, most active Yammer networks in the world and was considered a flagship customer for the enterprise social networking service, has had a rethink. Following a pilot of Workplace by Facebook earlier this year, in which 3,000 employees got involved, GSK completed a full launch of the platform to 120,000 employees and contract workers worldwide in July. As Jen Baxter, vice president of strategy delivery and performance in the office of the CEO and CFO at GSK, explains:

We made a decision to make Workplace our primary communications channel for employees. That means we’ve switched off Yammer in order to focus on Workplace and [switching it off] was a key part of our adoption approach.

The background to this change, Baxter adds, is the April 2017 arrival at GSK of new CEO Emma Walmsley.

Before she started in the role, she went around the company and asked people: ‘What should we keep doing and what should we change?’ And one of the things that she heard most strongly on the change side was that it’s just hard to get stuff done.

That’s ‘stuff’ like filing travel and expenses reports, and getting orders and vendors approved in the procurement of everything from laboratory equipment to office stationery. So the main goal for GSK in adopting Workplace by Facebook, as Baxter explains it, is to use it as the starting-off point for these kind of work-related tasks.

For now, however, the initial focus is less on getting ‘sticky’ business processes moving again, and more on the collaboration and social aspects that Workplace by Facebook provides, in part to encourage its take-up among the GSK workforce.

Interesting choice

Workplace by Facebook is an interesting choice for GSK. It’s a newcomer to the market for enterprise collaboration platforms, compared to competitors such as Jive, Yammer, Microsoft Teams, Slack - but it’s one that has already made some headway.

A year after its official launch in October 2016, Facebook announced that Workplace was being used at 30,000 organizations worldwide. Since then, no further updates have been given. While many of these organizations will only comprise a handful of people, some big-name brands have signed up, too: not just GSK, but also retail giant Walmart, oil company Chevron and coffee-shop chain Starbucks, as well as GSK competitor, AstraZeneca.

Increasingly, influential enterprise customers (including GSK) will want the platform to provide wider and deeper integration with third-party software, in order to support more complex business workflows. This will be a big priority for Facebook if it wants to keep pace with their ambitions. (For more on this, see the recent report by my colleague Jon Reed, who recently attended the inaugural Workplace leadership event, called Flow, in Menlo Park, California.)

For now, GSK has been more comfortable with a phased approach, says Baxter, adding that what she’s seen other companies do with Workplace, in terms of supporting internal business workflows, has provided some real food for thought. Her colleague Katie Virdi, director of strategy delivery and performance, meanwhile, sheds some light on what this phased approach looks like so far:

First, we’ve focused on how Workplace can help us to better connect, to create communities, both within the organizational structures that GSK has already, but also around shared interests and passions. Then, we’re focusing on how do we make Workplace central to how we do our jobs day-to-day from a collaboration perspective. It’s only after this that we’ll move onto the next leg of the journey: how can we use this platform to automate and simplify business processes?

This is a pretty standard adoption strategy, says Julien Codorniou, vice president for Workplace by Facebook.

It’s normal - I think it’s how we see most companies start, especially companies the size and calibre of GSK. You start by creating a network of employees, you make sure everyone’s connected and then you can turn that network and community into a platform for other applications and services. This is when you start integrating Workplace to Office 365, to Dropbox, to ServiceNow, to Salesforce. That’s how Workplace becomes a productivity platform as well as a collaboration platform.

Adding value

That said, GSK is already getting significant value from its implementation, Virdi insists - for example, in helping employees to adjust to other new tech launches in the workplace:

Through this [Workplace] launch, we’ve formed a really strong partnership with our tech colleagues and one of the things we’ve seen is employees setting up groups in Workplace around other new technologies that need to launch inside GSK. So we might have an upgrade to the Office 365 suite and the tech team would proactively set up a group, answer questions there, provide useful video clips showing how to get something done and so on. That’s not something that we’ve driven. It’s something they’ve proactively created and developed to make getting IT help and advice out there easier.

Similarly, Workplace is being used for sharing within project teams, adds Baxter, and for internal communications and employee reward and recognition activities.

But what about the quarrels and misunderstandings that can make ‘normal’ Facebook a divisive place - does GSK have a specific usage policy to prevent online battles from breaking out? No, says Baxter: while there are broad guidelines for how to use Workplace, there’s no specific policy on behaviour on the platform, as this is adequately covered by the company’s more general code of conduct for employees:

We certainly had some decisions to make upfront about how closely do we monitor Workplace and do we step in if someone says something inappropriate. We had a lot of worries about what would happen, but our experience has been that it happens very rarely.

My take

It will be interesting to see how this project continues to develop - and to what extent GSK is able to meet its business process optimization goals using Workplace. Much will depend on Facebook’s ongoing mission to expand the range of integrations it offers, as well as introduce new native features and functions.

Another issue is how successful Facebook is likely to be in signing up enterprise customers of a similar calibre to GSK in future. Following its disclosure of a security breach impacting millions of users on 28 September, it has been at pains to alleviate the concerns of business customers and has announced plans to move Workplace to its own, separate web domain.

Then, of course, there’s the thorny problem of general trust in Facebook as a company. At the time of writing, a New York Times article, Delay, Deny and Deflect: How Facebook’s Leaders Fought Through Crisis, is being widely shared and read online. It rips into Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg for their response to the various scandals that have engulfed the company in the past year, from Russian meddling to data sharing to hate speech. There’s no doubt that the Facebook brand has been tarnished - with potential implications both for the company’s enterprise collaboration ambitions and the procurement decisions of would-be business customers.


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