Interview Of The Week

Interview Of The Week: Julien Codorniou

Facebook, an exhibitor at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona Feb. 28-March 1, is aggressively expanding into the market for enterprise social networking and collaboration applications through Workplace by Facebook. This collaboration tool allows co-workers to communicate and share project-related messages, documents, videos and other content over a web interface or mobile app. Workplace now serves more than 30,000 corporations and organizations, which have formed more than one million work groups. Users include global phone companies like Telenor, Spotify, Telefonica, Deliveroo and India’s Airtel. The Innovator recently interviewed Julien Codorniou, vice-president of Workplace by Facebook, about how its mobile-first enterprise collaboration platform is changing the way people work.

Q: When did Facebook launch Workplace and why?

JC: Workplace launched in October of 2016, so less than 18 months ago. It is based on a system that we built for ourselves and used internally for many years. A few companies asked us if they could use it so we granted them access and then based on that success we decided to package it and launch it officially. The vision is that it is possible to change the way companies work by connecting everyone from the CEO down to the people on the front lines that were never connected before — people who never had a desk, a company email or a computer. Every CEO we meet tells us that everybody in the next generation is coming to work with different expectations about how to communicate so we knew that if we could increase connectivity via our platform — which uses an interface most people are already familiar with — we could increase productivity, boost employee engagement and help retention.

Q: So is Workplace more of a communications tool or a collaboration tool?

JC: It’s both. It is a communications platform and it is an automation platform — Workplace connects with industry business tools, along with custom integrations like bots, to help businesses get more done.

Q: It’s a crowded market — what does Facebook offer that other services like Microsoft’s Yammer or IBM Connections don’t? Workplace’s functionality also overlaps that of team collaboration tools such as Slack, Microsoft Teams and Atlassian Stride. What do you see as your key differentiators?

JC: The fact that nearly two billion people know how to use Facebook means that they also know how to use Workplace. This means that no training is needed for employees, which is important for non-technical populations. Workplace, like Facebook, is also mobile-first, so it’s built for the way people work now. We believe that Workplace is a product that every company — regardless of size, industry and geography — can use and benefit from.

For big companies we have developed an ecosystem of partners to help with onboarding that includes Deloitte, Slalom and PwC, because even if technical training is not necessary, giving everyone in the company a voice can sometimes necessitate some change management. The fact that we connect to other applications that many companies use, like Box, Microsoft Office, ServiceNow, Okta and G-Suite, really resonates as well. Our pricing is also a plus. Companies pay $3 per active user per month — if someone is not using it the company does not pay — and there are no long-term contracts. We are also adding features all the time to make Workplace better and faster. All of these things together explain our traction in the marketplace. We more than doubled the number of Workplace users last year.

Q: Can you give us some examples of how companies are using Workplace?

JC: Our customers include Starbucks, Walmart, Heineken, AirAsia,, Spotify and telecom operators like Telenor. More than 75% of employees at Telenor are using Workplace by Facebook on a weekly basis. It has already replaced most internal emails and the company newsletter. Now teams within the company, like marketing, are using small groups, chat and video calling, to get things done. Equally, it works for large groups — the CEO of Telenor uses Workplace to do live sessions, in HD, on his mobile phone to communicate with everyone in the company, which has effectively replaced the company’s intranet. Workplace is the platform that people use from the minute they wake up in the morning to go to discover content, communicate and get things done. It soon becomes the home page of the company.

Q: Do most people access Workplace through their computers or via mobile phones?

JC: The vast majority use Workplace on their mobile. Many of the employees connected at companies like Walmart, Danone, Heineken previously didn’t have email addresses. Now, these employees use Workplace on mobile devices, but it works for people like CEOs or managers, who use their mobiles to access it between meetings.

Q: What about some of the young high-growth companies that are using your service, like Spotify? What are the advantages of using Workplace for them?

JC: The platform is helpful for companies that are trying to scale their culture and rapidly integrate new employees.

Q: What about the SME market, as Europe is mainly made up of these type of companies?

JC We are starting to address the SME market now, making it easier than ever before for them to sign up and get up and running quickly. We decided to first go after large corporate customers because it is easier to branch out from big corporates to startups and SMEs than the other way around.

Q: Is Workplace evolving from being a platform to a kind of ecosystem?

JC: We are seeing a lot of startups building apps on top of Workplace. One is called Safety Officer, by Service Rocket, which is a safety check app that helps a company determine quickly who is safe and who is not in times of crisis. Since the entire company is on the same platform it makes it easy to reach everyone quickly. Other startups are creating Workplace bots for things like inventory management, shift management or to do employee surveys. I foresee a growing quantity and diversity of bots on Workplace that will be built by other companies and not by us.

Q: Facebook has been receiving a lot of negative press recently for its role in spreading fake news, creating questions around abuse and trust. Is this an issue for Workplace customers?

JC: Workplace is a software-as-a-service startup that is completely separate from consumer Facebook. When a company uses Workplace, it is that company that owns, and administers the account data, not us or Facebook. This allows the company to control and monitor what appears in their News Feed and across Workplace for their employees.

About the author

Jennifer L. Schenker

Jennifer L. Schenker, an award-winning journalist, has been covering the global tech industry from Europe since 1985, working full-time, at various points in her career for the Wall Street Journal Europe, Time Magazine, International Herald Tribune, Red Herring and BusinessWeek. She is currently the editor-in-chief of The Innovator, an English-language global publication about the digital transformation of business. Jennifer was voted one of the 50 most inspiring women in technology in Europe in 2015 and 2016 and was named by Forbes Magazine in 2018 as one of the 30 women leaders disrupting tech in France. She has been a World Economic Forum Tech Pioneers judge for 20 years. She lives in Paris and has dual U.S. and French citizenship.