An overwhelming inbox has to be amongst the top complaints in almost any workplace. At best, it’s a nuisance to step out of a meeting and find a lot of unread emails waiting for you that you now need to catch up on. At worst, important information gets missed, projects get delayed, and colleagues and clients get frustrated with slow communication.
Instant messaging has gone a long way in recent years to rectifying some of these issues, facilitating quick questions and urgent conversations and bypassing long email chains with the world and his second cousin CC’d in.
Add to this a global pandemic that’s physically kept us away from the office, and it’s no surprise that instant messaging in the workplace has grown in popularity. But is it all good news, or are there some considerations you need to bear in mind? We’ll start with the pros.
Advantages of instant messaging
So called ‘Zoom fatigue’ is affecting us all. Video calls have been a sufficient alternative to meetings during the pandemic, but it’s been 14 months and it’s still rare to have a call that runs smoothly. Everyone has a different platform of preference, and issues with muting, sound and video quality are rife. But more than this, setting a date and time when everyone is free, and waiting for guests to show up at different times all takes time out of your day. Even with email, there’s an expectation to craft a relatively formal message and add pleasantries.
One of the key instant messaging advantages on the other hand, is it couldn’t be easier to use. You can simply open your chat box and shoot off a quick message, often while on another call or in the middle of a different task.
Speeds up comms
Particularly now more of us are working remotely, often the biggest delays don’t come from a lack of bandwidth, but blockers in communication. As touched upon above, waiting several days for a catch-up call, or a few hours for a colleague to reply to an email inevitably slows down a task. Multiply this by multiple tasks across multiple team members, and productivity can really take a hit. Instant messaging gets you information and answers, well, instantly, and you can choose to chat with several people, or just one.
Easy to use
When it comes to project management or communications tools, how people use them tends to be more important than what people are using. For a system to be effective, everyone has to be using it, and using it consistently. A common mistake is bringing in new tools that sit on top of email and other apps, simply increasing your number of communication channels rather than streamlining them. This is often because people don’t fully understand how to use them properly.
Luckily, even the most technophobic employee should have no issues both setting up and using instant messaging functions, eliminating problems caused by slow adoption.
Instant messaging connects people worldwide without the additional costs associated with international phone calls.
Although popular apps like WhatsApp, Telegram and Signal are free to use, they aren’t suitable for business use, as not only are they not GDPR-compliant, it’s also more difficult to maintain records of conversations, which are crucial for transparency and accountability.
Nevertheless, there are apps specifically designed for professional messaging, that are still low cost. Guild is used by businesses who are looking for the advantages of instant messaging, whilst also fulfilling their legal responsibilities.
Organisations throughout the UK have adapted commendably to remote working, embracing new technology and processes to allow operations to continue to run smoothly. However, there are areas that inevitably suffer when teams no longer see each other in person, including company culture.
Personal relationships in the workplace are so important, and instant messaging can help to strengthen these bonds, facilitating informal chit chat that sits outside of emails and scheduled video calls; the kind of conversations that happen at the water cooler, or over lunch that bring people closer together and boost morale.
Disadvantages of instant messaging
As with any new platform, process, or tool you introduce to your business, it’s always worth considering the potential pitfalls to work out whether this is the right move for you. Here are a few challenges that can arise from the use of instant messaging for business:
Whether from work-related conversations or not, having numerous chat pop-ups appearing can be distracting when you’re trying to get your head down and work on a particular task, especially as unlike email, there’s an expectation to respond immediately, especially if someone has an urgent question.
In many ways however, this is much like being in the office, where people will naturally talk to or ask questions of people sitting within eyesight. A way around this might be to shut down instant messaging apps and emails for a few hours for those tasks that require a lot of concentration, or to alert colleagues beforehand and ask them only to contact you for urgent matters.
Unfortunately you can’t ever completely prevent the misuse of company technology, whether that’s something fairly benign like spending a little too long discussing weekend plans, or something more serious like harassment or bullying. What you can do is ensure you select a platform suitable for business use, like Guild, that allows you to correctly hold records of all conversations for HR and legal purposes.
Too many communication channels
When teams have conversations across a variety of platforms, such as phone, video calls, project management tools, email, and instant messaging, it can be difficult to revisit information if it’s not all in one place. Sometimes businesses introduce instant messaging as a way to keep email levels down, but it can end up being simply another place to check for notifications.
To avoid this, it’s important to set clear rules around usage. Who should be using which platforms? Is everyone correctly trained and comfortable using them? Which conversations should happen via email and which can happen via IM? Setting the ground rules, and reminding people of them periodically can prevent this from becoming an issue.
When assessing any instant messaging advantages and disadvantages, you’ll need to consider the size and structure of your business, what sector you sit within, and the way you operate. In a remote, or hybrid setting, there are many advantages of instant messaging, but to really make the most of these, it’s important to outline clear behaviour patterns first, and communicate these well to all users.
Read more about messaging for business
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