Meta's Workplace supersizes its user base with McDonald's deal

Workplace was originally conceived and built by Meta to be an enterprise version of its flagship Facebook app, and today it's announcing a new customer that speaks to that ambition of mass-market uptake. The company has inked a deal with McDonald's, the fast food giant, for its employees to use Workplace on their own phones to communicate with each other, access training, other corporate materials and more.

The deal is a global agreement, but the company is run on a franchise model, so outside of more strict mandates around menu items and the look and feel of a restaurant, when it comes to how franchises manage staff and work with third-party suppliers, this gets decided on a more localized basis. That means that while McDonald's, worldwide, employs almost 2 million people (just behind Walmart, which also uses Workplace) how many adopt the app and how that will translate to active, paying users remains to be seen.

So far, the company said that McDonald's workers in 11 markets -- Australia, New Zealand, Portugal, Slovakia, Poland and "various company-owned restaurants in the U.S." -- are already using it but declined to talk about how many across all of them. Christine Trodella, director of Reality Labs at Meta (who also oversees sales for Workplace), noted some specific take-up stats: It has 100,000 users already live in Australia (a few seconds of usage a month counts as an MAU); McDonald's workers who have downloaded Workplace in Spain are already sending 140,000 messages/month; and in Portugal, of those who have downloaded Workplace, 73% are using it on a weekly basis. Those are generally encouraging signs for an opt-in app among those who might not have had any product like this offered to them before.

Meta also has plans this year and next to add Canada, United Kingdom, Germany, Belgium, Saudi Arabia and Switzerland to that list.

The company publicly has said that it has 7 million users, but it has not updated that number in over a year (a source told us in January that it was likely closer to about 10 million at that point).

That Facebook is announcing McDonald's as a customer now is interesting for a couple of reasons.

McDonalds also happens to be a customer of at least one other service, Flip, that competes against Workplace to provide a communications app for frontline workers. (That deal covers Germany.)

But in addition to that, we'd actually heard more than six months ago that the two companies were working together on tests and pilots, but a source told us at the time that while Workplace was keen to broadcast that news, McDonald's was putting on the brakes.

Why? According to our sources, it was partly because McDonald's -- working hard to avoid its own negative PR skirmishes over health, cultural imperialism, being bad for small business and so on -- wanted to keep clear of any "reputation issues" and the bad news cycle Facebook (or Meta as it has now been rebranded) was facing around being too big or too bad of an influence.

“That shit doesn’t happen to other SaaS companies,” a source said about the delay and the reasons for it.

"I think of it less as a delay and more about what we want to talk about," said Trodella when I asked her about this delay in an interview, characterizing the delay as Meta's choice. "We wanted to share publicly the traction we are getting and the engagement and use cases. We wanted to wait."

In any case, as it was described to me, holding off on announcing the news was one of the details in what appeared to be a difficult (or more charitably, transitional) period for Workplace.

As we wrote earlier this year, that also included a number of talent departures, not least the two people running it -- Karandeep Anand (who was named chief product officer at Brex) and Julien Codorniou (who left to become a partner at London VC Felix Capital). Apparently a rejection of an offer from outside investors to spin out the division at a unicorn valuation, the whole division instead is getting recast into a bigger organizational structure involving the VR team and Portal teams (and putting forward a spokesperson with a job title referring to "Reality Labs" speaks to that too). Workplace is also adopting a different stance as a product, working more to integrate functionality from third-party apps like Teams from Microsoft instead of building natively. Meta itself is also looking to sell Workplace in a wider suite of services rather than a standalone product.

So the fact that this is getting announced now is notable, and perhaps a sign of Workplace getting to work once again.