Workplace has an exciting new feature in the works and Coolr were given a sneaky peak.
Workplace groups bring people together. Whether it’s my team’s group where I chat about current projects, an All Company group where the CEO tells me about this quarter’s profits or the Office group where I find out what’s available in the canteen today. Groups are where I talk, where I share and where I meet.
I am a huge advocate of well-tailored and maintained groups, but they come with an overhead – and Facebook recognise this. They’ve given group admins tools to automate membership approval, while platform admins have access to People Sets and the Graph API to add and remove people.
But today we see something new and really quite interesting.
If you have Office 365 and you’re using Exchange Online, you will soon be able to leverage your existing Distribution Lists (DL). Select your London Office DL and Workplace will automatically create the group and add all the members to it. If you add someone to your DL that will automatically be added to the Workplace group. That’s pretty huge news!
So let’s stop talking and have a look at this new feature:
We’re welcomed by this new information screen. Currently only Exchange is supported, but don’t be surprised if GSuite comes along soon – and who knows, Facebook might even look at importing Slack groups. Now that would be ballsy!
Clicking “Get Started” triggers and oAuth logging box. As an admin of both Workplace and O365 I’m able to log into O365 and grant access to “Read all users’ full profiles” and “Read directory data”.
Now I get to select which of my DLs I want to sync with Workplace. The options include both traditional DLs and more modern Office 365 Groups (I’ve had to crop a few of our DLs out of this screenshot).
After clicking Continue, there’s a progress screen and then we’re brought to a summary of who will be added to which groups:
Here we see something that’s a potential problem for some organisations. I’m in my test environment (https://coolrtest.facebook.com) logged on as firstname.lastname@example.org. That Workplace account is using Facebook’s “Password” authentication, so as far as Workplace is concerned it is a fully stand-alone account.
In reality, that email address is an alias of my main email (email@example.com). All of the accounts in the distribution lists have *@wearecoolr.com as their primary email domain, but the Workplace instance is looking for users with @coolrtest.com as their email, and so it doesn’t match any of the users.
Remember that this is a test release. Workplace simply needs to query for all of the email aliases and loop around them to fix this issue. For now, this will trip up quite a lot of bigger companies or those organisations which have grown through acquisitions and mergers and therefore have numerous email domains in use.
So having changed the primary domain for my colleague, Samira, Workplace is now able to find her. I have the chance to set some values for the group such as the name, security and posting settings. Let’s go with the defaults:
We see a summary screen:
And then our group has been created and Samira has been added – Pretty cool!
I think this is exceptionally powerful for companies with a legacy of using email for information dissemination – which is most of us. Being able to reuse those DLs is going to be really powerful and save a lot of time when setting up a new Workplace instance. It also helps to ease the burden of managing environments which include both Office 365 and Workplace.
Personally, I would have liked to see users removed from the Workplace group when they’re removed from the DL. Given the language on the various screens, they’ve clearly made a product decision not to do so – it’s not just an oversight. It looks like Facebook are positioning this tool as something you would use to get Workplace up and running quickly, but I think the power here would be in keeping both systems in sync. I get that Facebook would like to see users’ Office 365 usage drop in preference of Workplace (and in my experience, that does happen organically), but many large organisations will run both alongside each other and this feature has the power to make that coexistence much easier.
Finally, I think this makes messaging/positioning a little bit awkward. I talk a lot about the benefits of Workplace Chat over email and it’s clear to see from the growth in Workplace Chat, MS Teams, Slack et all that a lot of people agree with me. I therefore find it a little bit tricky to suggest to organisations that they should manage their new groups via their legacy email infrastructure. That said, most organisations have invested time and money into those DLs and it makes sense to reuse that resource, even if they only do so during a transition/migration phase. While I welcome this as a huge time saver for my clients, I hope Facebook work on their messaging and continue to emphasise chat over email.