Facebook announced a bold move to take over your workplace — and, not surprisingly, it’s called Workplace. If you need a quick conceptual image of how it works and what it does, imagine the Facebook we all know in a closed, tightly controlled system. It has all of the features of Facebook with your own company branding instead of baby pictures and Donald Trump jokes.
Because it’s a collaborative environment, a graphic designer in the firm can share their new brochure layout, and no one outside the firm could see it. (Workplace is not connected to the consumer version of the social network in any way.) The legal team can post an update on that lawsuit with a customer, and you could discuss it freely. Everyone can chat, share status updates about their day, participate in a group chat, chat over a video call, and even stream a live conference.
I’m impressed with how it works because I can envision companies ramping up quickly — perhaps at the fastest speed for any application ever released — and onboarding people into Workplace in record numbers. We already know the interface and what we can do. Learning to use Yammer or some other foreign application meant for business social networking is a pain, and there are advantages in being able to comment on a project update, share documents easily, and post pictures from the last company shindig minutes after everyone leaves.
As you might guess, my main interest in Workplace has to do with automations. A Facebook rep told me that Workplace does not allow chatbots yet, but there is a massive opportunity here once they open up the platform, which will be remarkably similar and familiar to the consumer platform (and may even use the exact same code base). Companies can use chatbots for countless activities without having to compete with a boatload of consumer-oriented apps. Developers can also hone in on a tighter market to boost productivity of office workers in tangible ways.
The most obvious “first chatbot” in Workplace could be an office assistant. This could be incredibly powerful for a smaller company. The bot could keep a record of who’s in the office, which meetings they are attending (with a tie-in to Outlook or Google Calendar), who’s attending a conference, or if anyone has important milestones coming up. I’d hope this assistant would have some amazing A.I. involved — you could type in a phrase like “where is John?” and get a quick rundown of his day. You could chat with the assistant to book a meeting room, order lunch, or lock the front door.
A recruitment bot would be valuable as well for companies of any size. One reason you might want to avoid the consumer version of Facebook for recruiting is that there is no guarantee of privacy. Even posting a job opening can lead to comments from people who hate your products and services for some reason. It’s incredibly hard to control. On a private and secure collaborative network, a recruitment bot could update everyone on new positions and the status of the interviewing process, check in with team members to see what they think of a candidate, and even handle some of the paperwork. I realize this could also get out of hand, and a new hire might be able to poke around and dig up some dirt, but the bot could also be designed to protect the discussion or even encrypt documents like a resume or a salary discussion.
I can envision many other chatbots for Workplace. A newsbot might let everyone know about developments in your market segment. You could use a polling bot to get opinions and feedback. Chatbots could be designed to help employees with shipping duties, and you could deploy one to help with HR issues. In my view, people are usually more willing to discuss issues with a secure and encrypted chatbot, especially if they don’t have to use their real name.
What will it take to allow chatbots in Workplace? My guess is that it is a matter of flipping a few switches and enabling the platform. I won’t suggest anyone start laying the groundwork for a Workplace bot quite yet, but then again — maybe a pencil sketch or two won’t hurt.