Facebook is about to find out if its new enterprise-focused collaboration tool can thread the needle between social tool and social disturbance in the office.
The company on Monday took the wraps off Workplace, formerly known as Facebook at Work, a version of its social network that is focused on keeping co-workers connected and working, rather than sharing pictures of last weekend's apple picking adventure or new puppies.
According to Facebook, more than 1,000 companies around the world – mainly in India, the U.S., Norway, the U.K., and France – have been testing Workplace, which is now available to any company or organization.
Facebook is offering a three-month free trial and then charging a price based on the number of active monthly users, ranging from $1 to $3 per month per user. Nonprofit groups and educational organizations can use it for free. The service is ad free and separate from user's personal Facebook accounts.
"At Facebook, we've had an internal version of our app to help run our company for many years," the company wrote in a blog post. "We've seen that just as Facebook keeps you connected to friends and family, it can do the same with coworkers."
Workplace, according to Facebook, will help employees who are increasingly on the go or working outside of a typical office setting.
Much like the original Facebook, the world's largest social network, Workplace will have features like News Feed, Groups, Live chats, search and trending posts.
That means co-workers can share ideas in Group or over live chats. They also can watch their boss's presentation via Facebook Live.
However, Workplace has its own features, such as an analytical dashboard and Multi-Company Groups, which allows people from different companies to work together.
"The workplace is about more than just communicating between desks within the walls of an office," the company wrote in the blog. "Some people spend their entire workday on the go, on their mobile phone. Others spend all day out in the field, or on the road."
Companies including Starbucks, Campbells, ClubMed, Book.com and Columbia Sportswear Company are using Workplace, Facebook said.
The question now is whether there's a major market for a social collaboration and communication tool like Workplace.
Some industry analysts don't see it as a sure thing.
"What works on Facebook, won't necessarily work on Workplace for a variety of reasons," said Jeff Kagan, an independent industry analyst. "Companies don't want to have their workers get lost in social networks on work time, and their fear is that this is the first step in that direction. There could be a need for this if Facebook can thread the needle correctly."
Judith Hurwitz, an analyst with Hurwitz & Associates, agreed that making deep inroads into the enterprise won't be easy for Facebook.
"Very sophisticated security is mandatory," she said. "I am not sure that [Facebook] has put an emphasis on this. Obviously, the pricing model is established to get a massive amount of signups, but the question is, what is next? How do you manage users? How do you prevent a former employee from remaining on the network? How do you make sure that information on this environment meets regulatory requirements? There are a lot of questions."
There also needs to be built-in protection for individual company users and for corporate data, the analysts said, plus a space for private work groups and for sharing private documents.
Enterprises want more interaction and collaboration among employees, particularly those in far-flung geographies or working from home, said Dan Olds, an analyst with OrionX.
Many make do with tried-and-true technologies, like Skype, email, instant messaging and the good old telephone.
However, if Facebook is offering something that is better, easier and secure, companies may be willing to make the switch.
"This could turn into a big business for Facebook if they can answer the security and privacy concerns, but they'll have to do that before they see large and mid-sized companies sign up," Olds said.
This story, "Will Facebook Workplace help or sideline workers?" was originally published by Computerworld.