Facebook just signed a big 20,000-person contract for its business software product
- Farmers Insurance has brought all 20,000 of its employees on to Workplace by Facebook.
- Workplace by Facebook is a private version of the social network for businesses.
- Employees love it because it's so much like the consumer Facebook, Farmers Insurance tells Business Insider. It's required little training.
- Farmers Insurance employees are using it to form private special-interest groups on their own initiative.
Facebook just scored a big victory with the announcement that Farmers Insurance is bringing all 20,000 of its American workers onto Workplace by Facebook - a private version of the social network, exclusively for business.
Suzie Elliott, chief human-resources officer at Farmers Insurance, tells Business Insider that Workplace is already getting put to good use: As Hurricane Harvey raged last year, the company's Texas-based agents were able to use the software to update each other, and Farmers' corporate management, of each new development in the catastrophe.
Elliott says that would have been impractical, if not impossible, via email or any other solution. And they did it without any guidance from Farmers Insurance heaquarters in California. On their own initiative, the local agents created a private group on Workplace to coordinate the response.
"There's no way we could have done better than they could" at coordinating the response, Elliott said.
Workplace by Facebook officially launched in late 2016, as a competitor to Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts, and the $5.1 billion startup Slack. Since then, Workplace by Facebook has seen some momentum in the market, with the company claiming that teams within 30,000 organizations are using it today, including Starbucks.
A big reason for the appeal, says Elliott, is that Workplace by Facebook is, essentially, just a version of Facebook that only employees can access. She says that Farmers Insurance employees needed a minimum of training, if they needed any at all, and they were off to the races.
"We really didn't give them much guidance," Elliott says. "They took it and ran with it."
Because of that familiarity, says Elliott, it didn't take any pushing at all from Farmers' corporate overlords to get employees using it.
"The benefit of it was, when we went live, it was a massive hit," said Elliott.
While the company officially opened Workplace up to its employees in November, that was only after a pilot program that took the better part of a year, she says. The company had previously used Yammer, a Microsoft product, for social networking. However, Yammer never really caught on with employees, says Elliott, and wasn't widely used.
"Once you've had Workplace, you can't imagine [using] Yammer," said Elliott.
By contrast, Elliott says employees have really taken to Workplace by Facebook - just like you can create a private group on regular Facebook, Workplace lets users form special-interest groups. Elliott says Farmers Insurance employees have formed several, calling out a group for employees with disabilities as one of the most active so far.
Other key Facebook features are present in Workplace, too: Because Workplace by Facebook supports live video, the company is experimenting with using it to deliver company-wide speeches. That's a cost and time savings compared with their old way, where they'd literally fly or bus employees in from across the country, Elliott says.
Adopting Workplace by Facebook was a little bit of a culture shock, Elliott says. At first, some higher-ups in the company were a little hestitant about giving employees the ability to post things that the whole company could see, without any kind of vetting process.
Indeed, there have been a few issues, she says. For instance, they had to politely tell some employees that it wasn't appropriate to post for-sale ads to the company-wide Workplace by Facebook.
Another funny thing, she says, is that the familiarity of the Workplace by Facebook experience has changed the tone of discourse in the company: People talk more informally with each other, and adopt a more casual tone.
But, she says, she thinks the benefits far outweigh any possible downsides. Ultimately, to her, it's about trust. She says they trust employees to underwrite insurance claims, hire people, fire people, and give raises. She thinks she can trust them to use Workplace by Facebook responsibily.
"At the end of the day, we employ adults. And they're pretty smart adults," Elliott says.
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