Facebook work collaboration tool makes sense, but could be another distraction, analysts say

The tool is in early-stage testing

Facebook is working on a collaboration tool for businesses called "Facebook at Work" in a bid to compete with similar tools from Google, LinkedIn and Microsoft.

The tool, which is in early-stage testing, is similar to the social network, a person familiar with it confirmed Monday.

It will essentially allow employees to collaborate via groups, messaging and the news feed, the source said, adding that no information from Facebook at Work will show up in users' personal accounts.

Facebook's push into the workplace has been rumored for some time and was reported on by TechCrunch back in June and by the Financial Times during the past weekend.

A Facebook spokeswoman declined to comment on the matter.

But Facebook is a bit late to the collaboration table and its tool could prove to be just one more distraction for people during work hours, analysts said.

"It makes total sense for Facebook to add an At Work element," said Frank Gillett, principal analyst and VP at Forrester. "Much, but not all, of people's work and personal lives are related, and it can be frustrating to have those siloed in separate online relationships. Helping individuals integrate and express their digital selves within one relationship will create greater engagement and loyalty."

Facebook at Work is probably not going to be for everyone though, he said. Initially, it will be for the people who are already comfortable blending their personal lives with their work lives, such as those in technology or public relations, he said. And compared to LinkedIn, at which this effort is aimed, Facebook is late, Gillet said.

Andre Spicer, professor of organizational behavior at the Cass Business School in London, agreed. "Facebook is moving into a very crowded space."

Facebook is associated with personal leisure time rather than the workplace, so there might be some barriers there, he said. On the other hand, people already spend huge amounts of time on Facebook in the office anyway, so that gives it a foothold.

"But generally speaking, using Facebook is not going to make people more productive at work, it will probably actually divert from [work] activity," he said.

Still there could be positive aspects. One of them is maintaining relationships with "weak ties," like old school friends who ended up in completely different industries. That could bring new perspectives to employees, he added.

Another positive aspect could be for companies that have a lot of virtual teams, such as consultants or salespeople. "Something like a social network would be a useful tool to allow people to participate with the organization in a kind of informal way," Spicer said.

On the negative side, Spicer and Gillett agreed that security could be an issue. There is a fundamental question on the tradeoff between business value and company security, they said.

"It does create potential security leak problems externally, but more importantly internally," Spicer said, adding that it will be harder to make sure that a certain piece of news is not exchanged between departments.

Another problem could be content hosting the content, Gillett said. Companies might not want to host business conversations on Facebook's servers. However, if Facebook at Work takes off, the company would likely offer some kind of integration of the platform into existing corporate IT infrastructures, Gillett added.

"I think this will further spur the discussion about privacy and the separation of work and personal [life]," Gillett said, adding that there is no simple answer. "The question is, how do technology companies like Facebook create software that gives each person, each company and each culture the choices that they want?"

Loek is Amsterdam Correspondent and covers online privacy, intellectual property, online payment issues as well as EU technology policy and regulation for the IDG News Service. Follow him on Twitter at @loekessers or email tips and comments to loek_essers@idg.com

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