Can Workplace by Facebook Help You Scale Employee Engagement?

Posted by Bill Cushard on November 03, 2016

Employee engagement requires a lot of work, especially for distributed organizations. There is almost nothing better for employee engagement than high-frequency face time between management and employees having open conversations around the mission of the company and each person’s contribution to it. For most organizations, that requires lots of travel, and no matter how much an executive team travels, there are still the other 360 days of the year when there is no executive visiting an office.

In other words, employee engagement requires scale. But how can organizations scale employee engagement?


Jim Whitehurst, CEO of Red Hat, lays out a method for scaling employee engagement in his new book, The Open Organization: Igniting Passion and Performance. The Open Organization is a story about how Red Hat applies principles of the open source software movement to create organizational cultures of highly engaged employees, and how Red Hat created an organization so open that even the CEO has to earn influence.

Imagine that.

In Chapter 3, Whitehurst covers the idea of scaling employee engagement by sharing how Red Hat had to put the right communications technology in place in order to allow employees at offices all over the world to contribute.

After all, the culture at Red Hat requires that everyone hold themselves accountable, and have personal responsibility, to contribute. As Red Hat grew and could not longer have all employees in one office, maintaining its open culture required putting communications technology in place. But as Whitehurst describes it, technology was not the solution. According to Whitehurst, ”Unless the company has the structure in place to let employees honestly talk to each other and their bosses, the tools won’t help."

To support his point, Whitehurst describes how Red Hat uses good-old-fashioned email distribution lists to facilitate conversations. “Participation is based on building that culture of accountability, not a set of tools.”

Then, Whitehurst lists the communications tools Red Hat uses so successfully:

  • announce-list
  • memo-list
  • topic- specific lists, such as cloud-strategy-list
  • Blogs
  • Wikis

As I read this section of the book, all I could think about was how each of the communications channels above (mostly the email lists) could be so much better as a Group in Workplace by Facebook

It's a mobile first world

Email lists are good because email works quite well on mobile devices: easy to access and read. One-at-a-time, anyway. When topics on email lists become popular, they can generate many messages. And as we all know, following a thread of multiple emails can get confusing.


People respond to each other with other people’s messages in between. You have to scroll down five messages to read the message that someone above was referencing. And don’t get me started on scrolling through all the useless and distracting email header, footer, meta data attached to each message.

Good grief.

If the same conversation occurred in a Workplace Group, on a mobile device, following the conversation becomes easy, even a pleasure. And one can reply directly to comments in the context of a specific topic. 

A picture says 1,000 words

Sometimes pictures in emails show up as attachments, not even embedded in the message. When I want to view a picture, I am asked if I want to open the file or save the file. And where do I want to save it? Then I might be asked what application I want to view the picture in. How many clicks is that, so far?

You know how much better viewing pictures is on a mobile device is using a Facebook newsfeed rather than email. It is the same experience in Workplace. As people communicate more with photos, so will the need to easily view and comment on them. Imagine the power of posting photos of a new store display at the end of a shift to show the next shift what to expect.

A picture is worth a thousand words.

Re: Re: Fwd: Re: Re: Re: Re: Fwd: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: What is this email about now? 

Whitehurst described how the email lists help people "keep conversations on point” by using separate channels. But as we have all experienced, topics on email chains with multiple people can change in an instant, new people brought in, and now the subject line has so many “Re:” and "Fwd:" characters that we do not even know what the subject of the conversation is anymore.  

In a Workplace Group, each topic stands on its own with comments relevant to that post only, which makes conversations much easier to follow.

Context, history, and on-boarding new employees?

Whitehurst makes an important point about how new employees benefit from these email lists, “Over time, new associates naturally figure out what type of content belongs where.”

Workplace Groups provide a similar benefit, plus the fact that conversation history remains in a group and is searchable. The draw back to using email lists for new people is that there is no history.

It’s not like new employees can read through everyone’s old email messages to get up to speed.

If conversations occur in Workplace Groups, new employees can scroll through old messages and read through the highlights, and even comment on them with questions to gain clarification and even reignite important topics.

There is a huge potential to speed up employee on-boarding and time-to-proficiency.

View only important topics that are trending, not every single message

Workplace also monitors the activity in Groups and shows a list of trending topics based on engagement. There is no way to know which conversations are worth following on an email distribution list. But there is in Workplace by watching the Trending Topics list.

Since not everyone needs to follow all conversations, people can simply select topics from the trending list. People can greatly reduce the hundreds of emails that can easily pile up in their inbox from email list conversations that go on and on.

Open organizations work

The Open Organization is one of the best books I have read in a while about how to build a better company. First of all, the book is credible. The culture at Red Hat has been consciously set up to be more open, collaborative, and engaging, and Red Hat’s long-term and consistent results are strong evidence that this approach works. Second of all, the stories are entertaining and make you want to keep reading, especially the story near the beginning of Whitehurst's interviews in Raleigh on a Sunday morning.


The reason Red Hat has been able to scale employee engagement is the culture they created. The communications tools they use simply enable that engagement. But culture comes first.

See Workplace in Action

If you would like to learn more about what is possible in Workplace and see the product in action, join one of our bi-weekly Jam Sessions.

Register Now

Topics: Open Source, Employee Engagement, Workplace by Facebook, Workplace, Future of Work, Red Hat, Scale employee engagement

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