The question of whether instant messaging and social media in the workplace are productivity killers or loyalty enhancers has been an intense topic of debate for the last several years.
As 2016 rolls in, Facebook, the social media heavyweight champion of the world, is going to put its mark on the topic. After having been in a closed beta mode throughout 2015, Facebook will debut its "Facebook at Work" enterprise service sometime in 2016.
Companies will sign up with the service and employees can then join their company's private Facebook at Work group. All the posting, messaging and scheduling features and tools will be essentially the same as what we're all used to in the regular edition of Facebook. However, there won't be any "cross talk or cross posting" between a person's private Facebook presence and his or her Facebook at Work presence.
What happens at work, stays at work.
Facebook at Work has the potential to solve some problems that have been annoying small business owners for a while now, not the least of which is that employees enjoy communicating via social media while they're on the job. Posting, communicating and responding to coworkers in a social media environment has become a way of life. With Facebook at Work, this can be done in a more controlled environment, for the protection of the company and the employees themselves.
This could help employers build employee loyalty and serve as a special welcome to the millions of Millennials that will be so important to our workforce in the upcoming years. In other words, Facebook at Work, may represent a natural and positive evolution in the workplace environment. After all, everyone will already know how to use its tools and features. It will feel like slipping into a comfortable pair of old sneakers.
I should mention that Facebook management isn't the only force working feverishly to bring a social element to the workplace. The startup Slack has established leadership in this area. It is officially a tech "unicorn" - a privately held company with a valuation of more than $1 billion. With that much interest - read "money" - in socializing the workplace, Facebook had to make a serious play, and with all of its experience and advantages, it's safe to bet that it has a good chance at eventually elbowing out or buying out Slack.
It's interesting to note that Slack is built around a multi-platform instant messaging service and Facebook has already adapted its instant message app (in its Android version) for Facebook at Work. The iOS version is due out soon.
Being able to instant message and send information between coworkers through Facebook at Work may prove to be its most valuable service. First, these are becoming the natural means of communication today and also, using a private social network for these communications will help diminish the role of email in small businesses.
Considering all the security risks that accompany email - even internal email - anything that reduces its presence in the workplace will be extremely valuable. One of the most dangerous security risks is when an email arrives that looks like it came from within your company, but is in fact a fraud. When communications are tied directly to a member of your Facebook at Work social media network, you have added assurance that it's legitimate.
Facebook has had some 300 companies - big and small - testing Facebook at Work over the last year. One good feature: no ads. It looks like it will start as a freemium and companies can pay for extra features if they choose.
Official information on the service is slim right now, but you can get some details in the Facebook Help Center.