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Facebook at Work: A good idea?

Facebook launched its new corporate connectivity app called Facebook at Work. Early critics wonder if it's all it's cracked up to be.

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    Facebook announced its new Facebook at Work app on Wednesday, January 14, 2015. Critics wonder if it will help or hinder productivity in the workplace.
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Logging into Facebook at work may not only become less taboo, but also become an important means of workplace communication.

On Wednesday, Facebook launched its first iteration of Work to a small group of users to test the app before its public launch, tentatively taking place later this year. The site looks like Facebook and acts like Facebook, minus the ads and user data tracking. Will this new platform aid in corporate connectivity or harm employees’ productivity?

With the newness of the product, there are still a lot of questions to be answered. The company has yet to work out a price point; currently, no ads are gaining revenue, which means it may plan to revert to a subscription revenue model. It also does not support any in-app documents, such as those provided by Google Docs. And with studies showing Facebook may know you better than some of your closest friends and family, early critics wonder if it is really a platform trustworthy for sharing trade secrets and confidential documents.

Lars Rasmussen, the engineering director of Facebook, is confident in the app’s future success. Facebook’s own employees have been using Work for the past decade to collaborate, plan meetings, share documents, and communicate news across the company. Rasmussen feels that the public’s familiarity with Facebook—a feature similarly purposed apps lack—will help push the app to the next level, and that it comes at a time when people are craving new ways to stay connected and engaged in the workplace.

“I can say that the challenges of making work more efficient is something that has been on my mind for a long time, and I come to it with a lot of passion and the knowledge of a failure of doing this at a different company,” Rasmussen said, referring to the time he spent working on Google Wave. With a lot of experience under his belt, Rasmussen thinks the positive effects of Facebook will compliment work in a professional environment.

Studies have shown that using Facebook at work may not be a bad thing, and in fact may increase productivity. In one study, workers were divided into three groups: no breaks, breaks but no Internet, and breaks including Facebook time. The Facebook group was found to be 16 percent more productive than the no internet group, and nearly 40 percent more effective than the group with no breaks.

“We have found that using Facebook as a work tool makes our work day [at Facebook] more efficient,” Rasmussen told WIRED in an interview. “You can get more stuff done with Facebook than any other tool that we know of, and we’d like to make that available to the whole world.” With 1.35 billion active users, Facebook is off to a good start. 

Facebook is entering a market that already has options for increasing social connectivity at work, such as LinkedIn, Salesforce’s Chatter, Microsoft’s Yammer, and Slack. Employers may feel that there are plenty of other platform options than the traditionally personal social networking site. The new Work app, however, addresses this by enabling users to set up accounts totally separate from their personal accounts, with the option of linking the two for the sake of ease. The Work app also has a different color scheme, making it easier to discern from personal Facebook. This may give employees—and employers who worry about productivity—the best of both worlds.

“Some people are less comfortable than others using their personal Facebook in the work context,” said Rasmussen to WIRED. “With Facebook at Work, you get the option of completely separating the two.”

The details of when this app will go public are unclear, but if Facebook can figure out how to best navigate the professional landscape, you may be devoting another eight hours to your Facebook page everyday. 

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