Kirsty Marrins: How Workplace by Facebook is improving charities' internal communications

The new tool breaks down silos and allows people to come together, writes our columnist

Facebook introduced Workplace by Facebook, formerly known as Facebook at Work, on 10 October. Essentially it’s an internal communications tool that acts just like Facebook, with groups, trending stories, reactions, live video, voice calling and a newsfeed as well as some additional features such as a dashboard with analytics and integrations with single sign-on.

Its aim is to break down silos because people are more productive when they are able to come together (regardless of title, department or where they are in the world) and this collaboration makes organisations stronger. It is advert-free and works separately from your personal Facebook account. There is also a Workplace App for when you’re on the go.

Facebook started testing this product in Europe, Asia-Pacific and the Americas about a year ago with select organisations such as Starbucks, and charities including Oxfam, Save the Children and the RNIB. Clive Gardiner, group head of digital and content at the RNIB, says: "For the first time, all RNIB employees can collaborate, participate and share ideas. We’ve never had this level of flexibility and accessibility for our blind and partially sighted staff. Workplace has unified different parts of the organisation, cutting through hierarchy."

Dianna Langley, digital workplace manager at Oxfam, is already starting to see the fruits of collaboration after opening up its trial to most of the charity's worldwide staff in August.

"The fact that the platform is heavily based on ‘normal’ Facebook made the barriers to adoption much lower than other similar tools," she says. "Most of the help queries we receive focus on the best way to get the most out of this kind of tool, not on the basics of its operation.

"Until now, successive iterations of our intranet have been strongly focused on documents and their management. But with the addition of Workplace to this traditional idea, we have enhanced the ‘people’ element of our collaboration. People, with their networks of relationships – which are not restricted to current roles and locations – do not fit neatly into the boxes and hierarchies that documents do. Workplace gives us a way to increase and utilise these valuable people networks."

One of the keys to its success will be the fact that the majority of staff who use it will already be familiar with how it works. Just as the regular newsfeed has an algorithm, Workplace adapts based on user’s groups, likes and connections. It also allows designated people’s posts to be "seen first", so that you don’t miss important updates from your team or manager. Langley believes this is one of its best features.

"Each user sees tailor-made information that is unique to them and their multidimensional work life," she says. "However, as an organisation, we can still push critical updates and announcements to the top of their newsfeed when necessary."

For Save the Children, one of the best features is the language translation tool. Nicci Gregg, global digital strategy manager at Save the Children, says: "One of the main benefits we have seen in just three weeks is how people around the world are now able to connect much more easily. The translation feature has been amazing for us and it is humanising colleagues with profile pictures and personal profiles instead of a name at the end of an email. For Save the Children, this is so important: we have employees all over the world, speaking different languages and working in field offices with different levels of connectivity. Workplace and its high-performing mobile app has created new networks and connections on an impressive scale. In addition, our leadership team has been able to connect with staff on a new social level and staff have taken very well to this."

In my opinion, one of Facebook’s best features is its groups function, where like-minded people can share knowledge, ask questions and seek advice – and you don’t have to be Facebook friends. Gregg agrees: "Workplace Is all about groups. Once users learn what groups are and how to use them, they become amazing for networking and hosting conversations. It's just what we wanted: a place to share knowledge. Groups provide a discussion space for our employees and create openness and transparency across our ways of working."

Workplace is free for charities but before you get started Langley advises charities to test how it will work: "We found it works best for us when used in conjunction with other more formal document management tools to create a comprehensive digital ecosystem."

Workplace will be launching a new feature in the coming weeks, which will allow you to set up multi-organisation groups, meaning various charities can be in a secure group together to collaborate.

Kirsty Marrins is a digital communications consultant and a trustee of the Small Charities Coalition

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