Can Workplace by Facebook Compete with Slack?

By Kobe Lai

With higher demand for corporate communications platforms than ever before, Workplace by Facebook needs to hold its own and remain competitive. 

As COVID-19 forces businesses to adjust to remote working, more companies are taking to enterprise connectivity platforms in a bid to raise productivity.

One such platform is Workplace, launched by Facebook in 2016. Initially named ‘Facebook at Work,’ it was inspired by how Facebook co-workers stayed connected using an internal version of its consumer platform. With the aim of bringing together all workers within an organization, the platform prioritizes ease-of-use, by implementing the best features of Facebook, and a simple setup process. 

However, Workplace faces competition from incumbents in the enterprise communication market–most notably, Slack. Slack is another communications system, marketing itself to rid the old-school style of inboxes and emails within a company itself, pitching the idea of internal shared messages instead. 

As Slack currently hosts over 12 million daily active users, it will be difficult for Facebook to gain the market share that they anticipate from the present economic crisis. Slack, an early player in the market, became a market leader by launching its product when an efficient communications system was needed. Nicknamed “the Email Killer”, Slack’s fun and simplistic design meant word-of-mouth fuelled its initial natural growth rate. (Clever advertising also helped Slack grow its user base)

As companies move toward permanent work-from-home or flexible work arrangements, Workplace has the opportunity to compete in an expanding market. But whether it has an edge against the likes of Slack will depend on the below factors. 

Pricing

Workplace and Slack both offer versions of its platform for free, but with limited features. For Workplace, a free subscription allows unlimited messages but does not include third-party integrations, while Slack has a 10,000 message limit and allows 10 app integrations with its free plan.

Medium to large-sized firms are more likely to use their paid versions, which unlocks all features. Workplace charges each user US$3 per month; Slack charges each ‘Standard’ user $6.67 per month, and each ‘Plus’ user $12.50 per month (same as ‘Standard’ but with guaranteed uptime and advanced identity management).

Although a Slack subscription is more pricey, chances are that an office worker will be indifferent to the cost if the platform is to his/her preference, making it a rather insignificant factor.

User interface (UI)

The first thing you will notice when using Workplace is that its core UI is identical to Facebook, which leads to its key advantage: familiarity. It includes personal pages and posts, a news feed and live video function. Anyone that has used the consumer social network will have no problem navigating the platform, facilitating the adoption of Workplace for businesses

Learning how to use Slack might require more effort due to its unique layout, consisting of channels. Channels are team conversations where all messages are shared, with different channels for different departments or projects. Slack also lags behind in voice and video calling, offering conference calls for up to 15 participants, whereas the newly introduced Workplace Rooms allows up to 50 users.

Although both platforms offer both public and private chat functions, notifications are much more complex on Slack, with more options for channel-specific settings, keyword alerts, and the DND (do not disturb) mode. 

One of Slack’s biggest drawbacks is file sharing, with the free plan offering only 5GB of storage and the paid plan offering 20GB of storage. On the contrary, Workplace offers unlimited storage for all media, but only under the restrictions of 100MB maximum file size. Additionally, Workplace lacks a single hub for uploaded media, while Slack does not.

Slack, however, can redeem itself in the areas of task management and integrations (access to apps like G Suite, Office 365 within Slack). Though Workplace can access task management with a third-party app, Slack can integrate with third-party apps without leaving the team chat or the platform, making it more suitable for team arrangements. What’s more, Slack boasts over 1,500 integrations, compared to Workplace’s 60 or so (as of February 2019). It stands out by making itself “a software that makes other software more useful”.

Workplace and Slack both have their pros and cons, but from a neutral standpoint it is hard to argue for one trumping the other. 

Security concerns

When deciding what platform to use for their business, entrepreneurs will also be looking at the history of the platform’s parent company. The fact that Workplace was created by the same company that leaked the personal information of 50 million users in 2018 means that past debacles could sway potential customers away.

Although Workplace emphasizes it is a different platform from Facebook, there is still a long way to go before its credibility is recovered and corporations may stray away from their services for this reason.

Business is booming

In spite of its tainted reputation, Workplace has notable users such as Walmart, Nestlé, and Starbucks, corporation giants that have a blue-collar worker majority. As many of them are not even given corporate addresses, Workplace acts as their communication hub.

Moreover, Workplace has seen a rapid increase in the number of  its paid users, driven by the coronavirus pandemic. As of May 2020, the number of paid users has increased to 5 million, compared to 3 million in October. 

Different enterprises and corporations will choose a communication hub or project management platform according to their preferences (or even use more than one at the same time), but one thing is for sure–Workplace by Facebook can definitely compete against the big guns.

 

 

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