This week’s official launch of Facebook Workplace means you might find yourself actually asking workers to log on for once. However, with this comes significant ramifications for how businesses manage employee communications— and the legalities that go with it. Here’s what you need to know.
You might have already read about Facebook Workplace, the new social media platform for companies. The platform jumps into the workplace communication fray this week, competing against heavy-hitters such as Microsoft’s Yammer and popular app Slack.
After several months of beta testing at companies such as Club Med, Starbucks and Fairfax Media, the platform launched globally into the marketplace on Tuesday. The way it works is that Facebook charges a monthly fee to companies to use its platforms, in which employees will sign up for a work Facebook account separate to their personal one.
Facebook Workplace offers many of the functionalities its competitors provide, albeit with the advantage that its operating system is already familiar to 1.71 billion users. That’s not what matters here, though: it’s the symbolism of the social media giant’s foray into workplaces that has tongues wagging.
At Fairfax, one employee equated the company’s new product to George Orwell’s 1984, a book that paints a stark image of citizens under constant surveillance.
And at The New Yorker, writer Anna Wiener mused that “there are reasons to feel nervous about being too much oneself in corporate-run online spaces, and not just because plenty can go awry when sending emojis to the person who determines your salary.”
In the opinion of lawyer Bianca Mazzarella of McDonald Murholme, Facebook Workplace runs the risk of encountering some of the same fraught issues as similar workplace social products. One example that comes to mind is the use of Slack for inter-office gossip, something that was later used as evidence in a court case against digital media entity Gawker. This case in particular highlights how issues of privacy and professionalism can become fraught when it comes to the proper and improper use of workplace social platforms.
“It’s blurring the professionalism of how we think about work,” explains Mazzarella. “Because the platform does primarily promote informal communications between colleagues, there could be issues whereby employees are sharing inappropriate photos with their colleagues, or cyberbullying could go on.”
It’s the very nature of workplace social media – which can feel similar to personal communication – that makes it a danger, she says. People inadvertently default to more informal methods of communication and mindsets in terms of how they relate to their colleagues.
“I would say having parameters and policies in place to use the platforms and educating employees about the correct procedure” is the first point of order, Mazzarella recommends. She also says that you should inform people about correct conduct, such as noting that any comments in relation to employment communicated through the platform will not be considered a formal complaint or statement.
This, she explains, protects the employer from the employee saying things like, “Well I raised this complaint and you never investigated it,” which could result in a general protections claim with the Fair Work Commission.
“I think technology’s moving quite fast and perhaps the law at the moment isn’t keeping up with it,” she says. “The issue is that when these cases come to court, there is certainly not much precedent at this time and that is where grey areas arise.”