As technology has evolved, so has the way we talk at work. Internal communications have perhaps borne the brunt of this change, with business chat apps replacing email and water cooler chatter in many offices. Though these apps are designed for professional use, their fun features and convenient format can attract misuse and abuse.
Before you go all-in on business chat apps as a communication solution, it’s worthwhile to consider this technology’s pros and cons. Additionally, if you’re already using an app, curb its use for nonwork purposes with these tips.
The Benefits of Chat Apps
For quick back-and-forth messaging, business chat apps offer some advantages over email: You don’t have to search for a message, ensure the right people are copied on the reply, or navigate multiple responses in separate tabs or windows.
Using email for long conversations, spanning several days or months, is also tedious; you may have to scroll through a lengthy chain, scan over previous replies, or search for attachments and other important pieces of data buried within the conversation. Worse yet, 22% of employees admit that at least half of their work emails don’t even apply to them.
Chat apps, on the other hand, work like text messages. Not only are replies presented in easy-to-follow threads but these apps also provide ways to filter conversations, sort by hashtags, and even send simple files. You also get reactions in real time—emoji and all.
They can be downloaded for use on computers or mobile devices, offering road-warriors easy access to their coworkers wherever they go. Business chat apps can also be completely internal; by living on your company’s intranet, these conversations can be more secure from outside hackers.
The Drawbacks of Chat Apps
The very features that make chat apps popular are also what make this technology so easy to abuse. Imagine getting a message from a coworker about lunch: You reply that tacos are fine, then get up to grab a print job. When you sit back down, you barely glance at your printout because you get sucked into a conversation about everything from why tacos are phenomenal to your plans for the weekend. Had this exchange happened over email, it likely would have been a one-and-done order instead of a long conversation.
The instant gratification of chat apps is difficult to resist. And as it turns out, our brains may be wired to love this immediate feedback, with many mobile app users reporting feeling happy or productive when using their devices. The flip side, however, is that 57% of users admitted to feeling distracted by technology. This poor concentration can easily occur with workplace messaging apps—which you certainly don’t want.
With the average worker switching among 10 different apps an hour, adding another one to the mix may disrupt productivity. If you do decide a messaging app is essential, keep in mind that each message can eat away at an employee’s focus. Though most people can recover lost time from distractions by working faster to compensate, they may experience stress and frustration from as little as 20 minutes of disruption.
Combating Business Chat App Misuse
Part of fostering a healthy work environment is encouraging a balance between technology and personal interaction. You can do this by discouraging the use of the workplace chat tool for anything but necessary communications.
Fostering an attitude of accountability may help. Ask employees often, “Does this add to the conversation?” or, “Is this better said in person?” Part of mastering the art of chat involves education around tech, social etiquette, and how these tools are designed. Consider hosting training sessions on the different features of this technology, such as how to mute conversations and save important messages, so the app helps—and doesn’t hinder—your employees.
Finally, ensure boundaries are created and respected. If chat follows your workers home, it may lead to burnout or absenteeism. Consider making chat apps unavailable for download on personal mobile devices. If this isn’t feasible, try calling people out in a nonaggressive manner. For instance, if you see someone active on Slack at 9 p.m. who should be resting up, encourage them to sign off and leave the rest for tomorrow.
Chat apps have a rightful spot in the workplace so long as they’re used for the right reasons. Set an example with your chat behavior and act as a moderator if necessary. While you don’t need to put the kibosh on every nonwork discussion, if you see one going off the rails, simply say it’s time to get back to work.
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