Facebook ramps up remote work service as pandemic shuts offices

Facebook on Thursday bulked up the Workplace version of its social network that helps employees get their jobs done remotely, investing in a trend it believes will outlast the pandemic.

Workplace is taking advantage of innovations in other parts of Facebook, adding virtual “rooms” where as many as 50 people can drop in for video chats and integrating services from its Portal smart screens and Oculus virtual reality.

“The progress we’re making is laying the foundation for our vision for the future of work,” vice president Julien Codorniou and mixed-reality enterprise director Maria Fernandez Guajardo said in a post detailing Workplace enhancements.

“Advances in technology mean remote and flexible work is possible at a scale it wasn’t before.”

Workplace Rooms were pitched in the blog post as “an easy way to host both planned and spontaneous video meetings from your desktop, mobile or the Workplace app on Portal.”

Workplace has more than five million paid users, an increase of some two million from late last year, according to the company.

Workplace additions include a new way to engage viewers during live broadcasts with tactics such as taking polls or fielding questions.

Since Workplace began testing Oculus for Business last year companies have taken to using it for training and virtual events.

Oculus was made generally available as a Workplace tool on Thursday.

Worldwide spending on commercial virtual reality  is expected to grow to $7.1 billion this year, up $4.5 billion in 2019, according to IDC estimates cited by Facebook.

Facebook has seen a sharp jump in usage during the global pandemic as people around the world turn to its family of apps to socialize and communicate.

Chief executive Mark Zuckerberg last month vowed to keep pouring money into social networking “needs” revealed by the crisis despite uncertainty about the impact of the health emergency on the economy and its business.