The end of Workplace by Meta: how serious is it?

Meta (formerly Facebook) has announced the end of Workplace, its enterprise social network launched in 2016 to compete with Microsoft Teams and Slack. I’ve seen a lot of reactions to this announcement, particularly regrets about the fact that collaborating has never been so important, and that it reflects the low level of interest among businesses in this area.

I do think that the end of Workplace sends out a certain message, but not necessarily the one you might think.

What is Workplace?

Launched in 2016, Workplace was Facebook’s attempt to enter the market for internal enterprise communication tools and, even before that, to conquer new territory in the business by talking to internal functions and no longer just marketing.

I was lucky enough to be able to deploy it in my company at an early stage, when Facebook was offering this to a few hand-picked early adopters when it was called Facebook at Work, and you can read my feedback from the time here.

A more than positive experience, as long as you use the tool for what it can do and don’t try to twist it into something it’s not.

Why is META shutting down Workplace?

The service will therefore stop on August 31, 2025, the time for current customers to change their plans and possibly migrate their data to another market platform.

The main reason given for this is META’s need to concentrate on the development of solutions it considers to be priorities for the future, such as AI and the Metaverse. We accept this, even if I don’t think that Workplace was a capital-intensive solution, even if it did have its own specific functionalities in relation to mass-market Facebook.

The underlying reason is that it was a Trojan horse to enter a new market, talk to new interlocutors, find its place on every employee’s workstation and ultimately go toe-to-toe with Microsoft or Slack, since acquired by Salesforce.

My reading is that the product has been a real success, but not enough to meet the company’s expectations.

In fact, Workplace has won over a large number of businesses, and not just medium-sized companies as might have been thought at the outset. Renault, SNCF, Delta Airlines,, Danone, Spotify, Walmart, Nestlé and many more have adopted the product.

But this success was only a token one: very often, its use was confined to a department or business unit where the product had been introduced at the instigation of an open-minded manager.

In the end, we’re talking about 7 million users, which is a good result in itself, but a far cry from the 280 million users of Microsoft Teams and the 18 million of Slack. And when you’re called Facebook, you either dominate a market or you leave it.

No one knows how successful Workplace would have been if Facebook had launched it when the market was being shaped, between 2005 and 2015 (Teams arrived in 2017 but benefited from Microsoft’s installed base even though the product was extremely well thought out). But this was a little too early for the age of the company, and it has to be admitted that the pure players of the time all ended up disappearing, like Jive, BlueKiwi or Yammer, which died at Microsoft, and even Google, which launched Google Apps in 2007. But the search giant has “only” 6M business customers (and few major accounts) and has never really understood how to address the subject of social collaboration.

Making this gamble was a brave move for Facebook, which wasn’t yet called META, in a market globally dominated by Microsoft for lack of combatants, and where even IBM was throwing in the towel (its collaboration software portfolio mainly stemming from its Lotus buyout was sold to HCL Technologies in December 2018), there may have been a bigger space to conquer, but the arrival of Teams settled the market once and for all.

A bad sign for collaboration?

Is the discontinuation of Workplace a sign that businesses are losing interest in collaboration? Not at all, for three reasons.

Firstly, because the businesses that didn’t opt for Workplace chose something else, so the offer exists and is widely deployed in businesses, with even niche players continuing to coexist successfully with the behemoths, such as Talkspirit or Jamespot in France, which have weathered the various waves of market consolidation and are doing well today. But their vocation was not to be hegemonic, so their objectives and strategy were decided accordingly.

Secondly, according to my criteria, Workplace was not a collaboration tool in the true sense of the word. It was a social communications tool, used to put information in motion, create conversations and connect people, but it wasn’t a tool that really allowed you to organize and do things from a business perspective. Of course, over time, it opened up to Microsoft 365 in particular, but that wasn’t enough, and from my extensive experience in collaborative tools, I can tell you that the longevity of such a tool depends on its ability to create exchanges around business tool data. That’s why I told you that Workplace should be taken for what it is: an unrivalled tool for creating engagement and putting information in motion, but the work was happening elsewhere.

And finally, because tools don’t make collaboration happen, and are rarely self-supporting (which, in a way, Workplace was, given that everyone knew how to use Facebook). Collaboration is a culture, it’s a way of doing things and then only tools, and my personal experience is that businesses that started with tools have always failed before picking themselves up again.

It’s not because collaborative tools are everywhere that people are using them to work better, and to my great dismay, that’s what I can only observe today. The question is no longer, as it was when I was in this sector, to convince people of the merits of deploying this or that solution: collaborative tools are deployed and are everywhere. But starting from this premise and seeing them as a commodity, businesses have stopped asking themselves how to use them properly, and what I’m seeing in terms of usage is pure disaster in a large number of cases, without anyone being bothered.

In short, it’s not just one more tool on the market, or one less, that shows that businesses are more or less interested in collaboration. They know it’s important, but they have largely deployed tools and let their employees do whatever they want with them, without measuring the extent to which this could ultimately penalize them in terms of performance.

I’ll come back to this subject later, but a year ago I explained that collaborative tools and the digital workplace were undermining business performance, and I think things have only got worse since then.

La leçon à retenir de la fin de META

Perhaps the only lesson to be learned from the Workplace experience, apart from the fact that even a tool that is very familiar to the general public is difficult to establish in the work environment and change its center of gravity, lies in the choice of its providers.

Indeed, while Workplace may not have been the success its creators had hoped for, it enjoyed a high level of user sympathy, which is far from the case for most products on the market. A product can be well-designed and effective, but there’s always something a little irrational (or not so irrational) about the fact that its users really like it.

And so, the businesses that have put their trust in META are forced to move on to another product with a designated destination: Workvivo (acquired by Zoom in 2023), the only product for which a migration service is offered.

A solution quite similar to Workplace at first glance and, above all, with a very similar DNA. And if, personally, I’ve always been resistant to Zoom because of the company’s total disregard for personal data, Workvivo benefits from a “European” DNA on this point (it’s an Irish company).

But for the customer who has put his trust in META, the pill can be hard to swallow: you put your trust in a new player, you help him establish his credibility because you believe in him, and then one day he says “thank you for everything and goodbye”.

When a business launches out into a new market sector and customers place their trust in it, it’s a gamble on both sides. And sometimes the gamble is won on one side but not on the other, which means that in the end it’s lost or almost lost (the customers will have progressed on their learning curve) on both sides.

And you’re always taking a risk when you choose a supplier, however well-established, who decides to enter a sector that isn’t his own. In the event of failure or even half-success, he won’t hang on as if his life depended on it, but instead may decide to pull out overnight.

It’s in this sense that trusting what is no more and no less than a B2B2C advertising network for a purely internal B2B need was a gamble.

This isn’t unique to the software industry: talk to Orange Bank customers, for example.

This is not a criticism, but an observation: when you take a gamble on a business that is itself taking a gamble, you increase the risks, and I have no doubt that Workplace’s durability has been assessed and the choices made accordingly.

In my opinion, this is the main lesson to be learned: choosing a new player can be a winning bet, especially if you’re the first to bet on someone who’s going to disrupt a market. But if this activity isn’t vital to them, and they’ve set themselves lofty targets, they may abandon you overnight. And the bigger a business is, the more activities it has, the less problematic it is to stop one of them.

This is not a criticism, but an observation about rational business decisions. You just have to be aware of it.

Bottom line

META’s discontinuation of Workplace is in no way a bad sign in terms of the importance given by businesses to collaboration, it’s simply a sign that META has realized that it will never become a leader and has preferred to refocus its investments on areas closer to its DNA.

That’s not to say that, despite the supposed importance given to the subject, businesses aren’t doing just about anything when it comes to collaboration, but that’s another subject we’ll be talking about shortly.

It’s just a sad loss for those who loved this product.

Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler
Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler

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