The Good, the Bad and the Not-So-Ugly Reality of Group Chat in the Workplace

Sep 25, 2018

Email may be the veteran of communication in the workplace, but rookie platforms for instantaneous group chat, such as Slack and Microsoft Teams, have changed how employees correspond at work. Digitally-savvy workers of all ages have started replacing email with these newer platforms. But does swapping out email for group chat really increase overall productivity? Maybe. Maybe not. But after taking a deeper look, group chats can improve workflows as long as they are used within an integrated system.

The good

As technology advances, our definition of “fast-paced” changes. Relying on lengthy, time-consuming emails in the midst of a looming deadline is no longer realistic. At the rate scenarios change, there is a place in the workplace for group chat tools to make simple decisions and receive clarification through instantaneous, stream-of-consciousness communication.

Group chat platforms also make it easier for remote workers to collaborate with their team. Because they’ve evolved into full suites with various plugins, workers have a centralized line of communication with all the resources they need in one spot. The risk of misinformation or delayed response time isn’t a concern for employees working from home or in other offices anymore.

The bad

Although group chat seemingly makes it easier to communicate, it also puts data organization at risk. According to an Igloo Software study, workers spend nearly 20% of the workweek looking for internal information or tracking down colleagues to help with tasks, while 32% of workers avoid sharing documents because they’re too hard to find. Chats allow for a lapse in communication when workers arrive late to the conversation and have to look back through multiple messages. Without structured communication and collaboration platforms, such as digital workplaces, organizations are at risk of employees overlooking important information.

In addition to unorganized communication, instantaneous messages also mean instant distractions. Considering the social, non-work features group chat offers, these programs drain productivity. With the average Slack user spending 10 hours per workday logged in, work can be interrupted reading and responding to messages. One old study revealed workers took an average of eight minutes to return to the task at hand after sending one chat message.

How can leaders expect all employees to embrace a new communication mode with ease? Productive workplaces allow people to customize tools and solutions to fit their work style, so forcing professionals accustomed to email to solely use group chat can damage morale. Teams should have the choice to communicate through the means that works best for all of their players, especially those workers who built their careers centered around email.

Centralization is an option

When choosing the most efficient form of communication among co-workers, centralizing long-form email type messages and short chats alongside the project or work being done is the best way to provide employees with the flexibility they demand, while eliminating the silos that are inherent with separate email and chat. So what does this look like in a real work context? Here are three quick examples of efficiencies that digital workplaces provide:

  • Project rooms — Project rooms provide a space for cross-functional teams to collaborate when working on a deliverable together. All communication related to the project is centralized alongside the documents, tasks and timelines associated with it. When new members are added to the project, they don’t have to sift through old chat messages or feel like they’re missing information from emails they can’t see. Digital workplaces also allow teams to integrate the preferred chat tool directly into the project room, so long-form information can be treated differently than quick conversational communication where the information doesn’t need to be maintained.
  • Social walls — A key player in building company culture is the social communication among employees, and using group chat is a fun way to share personal updates, gifs and funny stories. But using group chat for social purposes can cause distractions, so companies need to centralize these conversations in the right place that allows employees to choose when they want to participate without intrusive notifications.
  • Team spaces — Teams or departments need to communicate and collaborate on a broader scale to accomplish their tasks. Team spaces provide a smoother workflow by giving employees a place to share ideas, intake requests from the rest of the company or go over general policies.

Most modern chat tools provide for some of this; users can create channels as needed. These could be for specific team members, projects or as a place for social interaction. Images, files and the like can be sent over these channels, but retrieval can be difficult. While chat can’t sustain data-heavy or detail-intensive messaging, email can’t cater to the speed required by today’s professionals. Centralizing communication, documents, projects and workflow through a digital workplace ensures knowledge is maintained internally while also allowing workers to access their preferred communication tools.

Successful organizations create a company culture that integrates multiple communication platforms and that suits the needs of every employee. With tools like group chat becoming more popular, some think long-term chains of communication like email will soon retire. But what chat provides in its ability to keep up with the fast-paced work cycle, it lacks in its ability to sustain knowledge management. To maintain organizational order and increase efficiency, companies need a hybrid communication model – provided by an integrated digital workplace platform.

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