Workplace VP Julien Codorniou on Facebook's enterprise-wide appeal and roadmap

Profile picture for user pwainewright By Phil Wainewright November 19, 2020
Workplace from Facebook is building an impressive list of large customers - can it become their core platform for enterprise digital teamwork?

Julien Codorniou VP Workplace from Facebook
Julien Codorniou, VP of Workplace (via Facebook)

Facebook's Workplace collaboration app has demonstrated the breadth of its appeal in the enterprise market, with an impressive set of logos among its largest customers. But can it also offer the same depth of functionality as other digital teamwork platforms? We spoke to Julien Codorniou, Vice President of Workplace from Facebook, to find out more about the typical pattern of adoption in large enterprises and where he sees it headed.

When you think of Facebook, you think of the social networking platform that connects almost three billion active users. But the company wants the business market to also think about Workplace, which this year has grown to five million active users, from three million last October and two million in February last year. Many of those users are in large companies, such as BT whose 80,000-seat rollout we recently covered, as well as Nestlé, GSK, AstraZeneca, Walmart, Starbucks, Petco and others. As Codorniou puts it:

That's what we're good at — connecting organizations of that size.

The universality of Facebook is one of the unique selling points of Workplace to such organizations. Its familiar ease-of-use helps it reach beyond office workers to people who have traditionally been less connected — everyone from warehouse staff and maintenance teams to store associates and delivery drivers. Codorniou explains:

We connect people who never had IT before, people who've never had email, they've never had a desk, never had a PC. That's what we do. I think we do it well — this is what we're famous for.

This year's pandemic-prompted lockdown has accelerated the need to connect people digitally — with the notable side-effect that these formerly disconnected frontline workers have unexpectedly found themselves as closely in touch with top management as their deskbound colleagues. "Suddenly it creates a level playing field, where everyone is equally connected and informed," says Codorniou, and this upends the existing power balance between those in HQ and those on the frontline. Previously those frontline workers would have turned to Facebook's consumer tools as a workaround to connect within their own teams. Now their employers are rolling out Workplace as the official enterprise collaboration platform and suddenly they feel included. Codorniou relishes the role Workplace plays here:

This is why we get up in the morning, it's to be able to serve these people who never had anything before — who are probably using Whatsapp or Facebook Groups to communicate with their colleagues — and now, they feel zero distance between them on the frontline and the HQ.

It's an important differentiator against rival teamwork tools, which he argues are designed for office-based workers and not the wider workforce:

What I really love about our mission is that we try to do that for everyone in the company. For me, [Microsoft] Teams and Slack, it's software for the 1%, for people who can afford it and people who can understand how it works. With Workplace we try to do that for everyone.

Does Workplace have what it takes?

But does ease-of-use mean that Workplace has to sacrifice some of the more complex capabilities of those other platforms? In diginomica's analysis of how enterprises use digital teamwork tools, we see messaging as just one of four separate patterns that have to be supported within the digital collaborative canvas that connects teams across the enterprise. For example, some team processes revolve around content creation and editing, or task and project completion. Others connect into enterprise applications. Does Workplace have the ability to connect into other these tools to support the full range of end-to-end processes those teams are going to need?

Unsurprisingly, Codorniou says yes — although this is something that customers typically start to explore later on rather than when they first roll out Workplace. He explains:

In the first few months, or the first year, of going Workplace, it becomes a platform that connects everyone. But then, once you have that network with all your employees on it — with the mobile app on it, using videos, using groups, using chat — then it becomes a platform for other applications, for productivity. This is when you see people using bots on top of Workplace, or this is when you see people connecting Workplace to G Suite or Office 365. This is really when you go from communication to automation.

It's a sequencing. When people buy Workplace, it's for the communication platform. The reason why they stay, and the reason why they use it more every day, is for the automation.

Hence Facebook is partnering with a growing list of enterprise application vendors to build those integrations into Workplace. Connecting to other apps is the key to Workplace supporting the smaller teams where people collaborate to get work done, in addition to its broader role as an enterprise-wide communication platform. As Codorniou puts it:

It's the place to talk about the job, it becomes the place to get the job done.

This week ServiceNow became the latest vendor to announce a Workplace integration. Gretchen Alarcon, VP and GM of HR Service Delivery at ServiceNow, told us the aim is to bring ServiceNow into the flow of work within Workplace:

One of the things that is very important is to make sure that we're meeting employees where they are. Workplace from Facebook is where the employees are going to be working, so adding ServiceNow into that capability means that now they don't have to exit the flow of work in order to ask their important questions and get answers.

Facebook is ready to partner "with everyone," says Codorniou, so long as the user experience is truly consumer grade. He explains:

What CIOs expect from us is to be plug-and-play easily to connect with these applications, and to provide an experience that is so integrated and so good that you feel it's almost the same application.

Rolling out Workplace in the enterprise

IT and admins have to put in the hard work behind the scenes to deliver a seamless experience. As BT found, just setting up groups in the right way requires careful planning. User roles, access rights and single sign-on all need attention. Codorniou sums up:

We have to make sure that people feel at home, that it is plug-and-play for the users. It's not happening by itself. It requires a lot of change management and customer success investment.

HR often becomes involved because the impact on employee engagement can be quite significant. At French beauty firm Clarins, employee retention went up 6% in the six months after rolling out Workplace. Codorniou elaborates:

It makes a big difference. You catch the signals, information travels fast, and you keep people more engaged and you keep them happier and longer in the company. This is where IT connects with HR. The choice of an IT tool has an impact on the most important HR metrics.

The experience of COVID-19, when staying connected has only been possible through the use of digital tools, has opened many business leaders' eyes to the power of a platform like Workplace, he believes:

All of these things became must-haves for our customers, and also the need to go from communication to automation — more integrations, more bots ... I think it deepened the adoption of Workplace, and it took Workplace from communication to automation and proper productivity ...

Making sure that everybody feels equally connected, informed, empowered, augmented by technology is what will make or break winners and losers of the COVID situation.

I really see these three teams, especially IT and HR, in the same room all the time making decisions. I don't think that happened that often before the current situation we are under — and certainly [not] before Workplace.

My take

Shut out of the office, enterprises have turned to digital tools as their main channel for collaboration this year. This has often exposed a lack of maturity in how they are using the tools. It has also illustrated the case for building a unified collaborative canvas for digital teamwork across the enterprise. This will typically be made up of a patchwork of different components, but with one or two core platforms that bring everything together.

Can Workplace be one of those core platforms? It doesn't have the enterprise pedigree of more established players. But it clearly has the ambition, and it's clear from my conversation with Codorniou that it understands what it has to do to fulfil that role. With adoption such a key factor in the success of such platforms, it also has the reach across the workforce that others struggle to achieve. That makes it a serious contender and one that enterprises should certainly be considering as they build out that collaborative canvas.