The majority of Facebook’s revenue comes from advertising, but the company is expanding its ad-free services for businesses through its Workplace and Oculus VR offerings.

This week Facebook hosted an event at its Sydney headquarters for its workplace collaboration and communication platform, which now has more than 2 million paid users globally since launching in October 2016.

In Australia its customers include Hoyts, NAB, Bunnings, Taronga Zoo, Coca-Cola Amatil, Nestle and The Iconic.

Workplace accounts are set up separately to Facebook accounts and don’t feature any advertising. Instead companies pay a monthly fee per active user. There are two pricing models – Standard (free) and Premium ($3 USD/monthly active user). Educational institutions and non-profits can access Workplace Premium for free under its Workplace for Good program.

Customers speaking at the event told stories of adoption rates of 80 per cent or higher, in part driven by ease of use and the familiar with user interface.

Liz McNamara, Group Director, Public Affairs, Communications, Sustainability, Coca Cola Amatil, said the ASX-listed company launched Workplace for 14,000 staff across six countries and multiple businesses just 27 days after deciding to adopt the technology.

Within six months 80 per cent of staff accounts were activated across the business.

McNamara noted, when leadership engaged with the platform it was an effective way to connect the c-suite with frontline staff.

“Every time you every time you click ‘like’ on a display in Woolworths in Adelaide that sales rep has an added sense of purpose and pride in what they’re doing every day,” she said.

Another local Workplace customer is Ambulance Victoria, the emergency services provider which has more than  6,500 staff and volunteers who work 24/7 across the state.

Lauren Przedworski,  Digital & Marketing Communications Specialist, Ambulance Victoria, said they adopted the platform to adapt to a changing workforce whose services are increasingly in demand. That means they were spending more time out on the road and less time behind their desks to access information about their jobs.

“How do we talk to people who are always on the road and can’t be behind the computer?” she asked.

“When we did an internal survey, less than one third of our people were happy with how we communicated with them, which is phenomenally low. That’s eventually going to affect our output, because people who aren’t engaged won’t perform as well.”

Now the emergency services provider uses Workplace to live stream events, share clinical content and get feedback quickly.

Virtual Reality in Enterprise

During the event Jason Juma-Ross, director, telco, tech and entertainment, Facebook, highlighted applications for VR in an enterprise environment.

Facebook has three VR headsets, the lightweight Oculus Go, Oculus Quest which retails for US$399 and the high-end gaming device Oculus Rift S.

In May the company launched the business edition of Oculus Go and Oculus Quest which are being piloted in businesses like Walmart and DHL.

Juma-Ross said there is an “enormous amount of interest from our corporate clients” in using VR for immersive training.

For example Facebook shipped 17,000 Oculus headsets to Walmart last year — four headsets for every Walmart supercentre and two for every neighborhood market discount store — to enable an immersive training program.

According to Juma-Ross, when compared to traditional training methods, there was a 40 per cent reduction in training time and a 70 per cent improvement in performance for employees that were trained by the VR methodology.

“There’s a whole series of really interesting use cases that are emerging,” he said.

Juma-Ross said Facebook has been conducting a two year process of R&D and industry consultation to determine how to adapt a gaming, entertainment and media device to an enterprise-level technology that drives value for businesses.

It’s biggest learnings were they need for centralise control for systems administrators and ensure enterprise grade security.

Facebook is launching a new software suite later this year designed to turn the VR pilots into full scale deployments. It will feature a web based administration portal which will provide visibility over the devices in the organisation and enable them to be controlled and managed from a central location.

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