Meta’s Workplace will integrate with WhatsApp later this year to expand communication with front-line employees

Workplace, the app owned and originally built by Facebook (now Meta) as a version of the social network for enterprise employees to communicate with each other, has signed up upwards of 7 million users, finding traction in particular among multinational organizations with a mix of front-line, deskless and desk-based workers, as a way for management to stay connected to all of them, and for those employees to chat about work with each other.

Now, it is gearing up to add more functionality to enhance that usefulness: Workplace will soon be adding an integration with WhatsApp, the popular messaging app with billions of users and also owned by Meta, so that Workplace customers can cross-post announcements and share other data with employees using the messaging app.

WhatsApp functionality is expected to go live sometime later this year.

It sounds like messaging communication will be part of that initial launch, but the company is also working on ways of integrating other kinds of Workplace productivity functionality into WhatsApp, such as integrating Shift Cover — a way for shift workers to swap shifts with each other and keep managers and their planning systems in the loop, which was initially launched on Workplace back in November 2020.

Ujjwal Singh, the head of Workplace, would not be specific about the exact timing, explaining that they are still “working through the details” of how it will function, with some decisions still being made, the focus being how best to leverage what is in its DNA as a consumer app as an enterprise service.

Image Credits: Meta

“This is something we’d been working on for a while,” he said in an interview, noting that even though the two have been a part of the same stable under Facebook, the different business announcements that WhatsApp has been making, for example expanding the WhatsApp API last year, needed to be in place first. It’s also been working with customers to build the feature. “We want to be careful about what goes out to a consumer app. We wanted to do this in a way that was safe for companies to use.”

The move to bring more business usage to WhatsApp and more functionality into Workplace are both a long time coming but fit with the broader strategies for both products, and with Meta’s strategy as a whole.

On the Meta front, the company has been on a years-long mission to bring its various apps closer together both as customer-facing services and at the back end. That strategy has included integrating Messenger with Instagram’s messaging feature so that consumers could communicate across the apps; and it’s also had a business/commercial focus, giving companies that use WhatsApp for Business the ability to initiate contacts on, say, Facebook, and continue conversations more directly over WhatsApp. Those efforts have not been uncontroversial, although gradually they have been rolled out nevertheless.

This brings not just more activity to the different platforms, but creates more reasons to sway businesses to advertise, use premium products like WhatsApp for Business, and generally carry out more commercial activities across Meta. They are also potentially building out a bigger use case for Meta as more than just a consumer product that is based around advertising across its apps.

Workplace started out in its early days as essentially Facebook’s answer to the rise of Slack: Why let an upstart eat our enterprise lunch, the thinking went, when so many people are already using Facebook for non-work interactions (and some work ones), and our own employees have proven that it’s possible to use Facebook for work chit-chat and planning?

Longer term, it seems that this original thesis didn’t quite carry out as Facebook had thought it would: Initially it brought in a number of integrations, similar to those you might find on Slack, to position Workplace as a useful productivity hub, and to that it added a lot of native functionality around collaboration and communication for knowledge workers. But more recently, it seems to have shifted focus somewhat.

First of all, products like Slack and Teams from Microsoft continued to stick around and grow their reputations — a shift that Workplace has followed by working more closely with those platforms. (Most recently, with a Teams integration for video and other features.) Second of all, it’s found a new wave of users among those who are “deskless”, front-line and other customer-facing workers who are not sitting at computers all day, but on the go, with mobile phones being their primary way of interacting with their managers, colleagues and organizations overall.

“A lot of front-line workers outside the U.S. are using consumer tools like WhatsApp to get work done,” Singh said. “We have data that says using WhatsApp for shift management is just part of it. The data shows that frontline workers feel disconnected from executives making decisions, and so that is the key point of this integration.” He’s referring here to new research the company is also releasing today that supports how Workplace is developing. It found that just over half (54%) of front-line workers said they felt connected to their organization’s HQ — one reason why it sees an opportunity to build out Workplace, and WhatsApp as a way to bridge that gap. 

Longer term, this WhatsApp integration and the wider shift that the company is making to serve deskless workers are positioning Workplace among a new wave of apps like Blink and Yoobic targeting front-line employees and their specific requirements and functions in the workplace. It will be interesting to see whether Facebook chooses to remain a simple messaging and communications tool in that mix or whether it starts to build more features to cater specifically to those users. It’s a crowded field, with others also vying for customers in this space, including When I Work — which last year raised $200 million; Homebase, which raised $71 million; Workiz, which focuses on home services pros; WorkWhile; Crew (which Square acquired last year); and Justworks (which in September 2021 filed to go public).