[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Ever since the days of Internet Relay Chat (IRC), information technology enthusiasts have been using chat apps as a means of external communication. Being in the same “room” with others interested in some esoteric topic was addictive. It was incredibly cool to discover and create new IRC channels devoted to whatever subject crossed one’s mind that day.
Today, many companies, including my own, use chat apps for internal communications — providing an open channel for employees to collaborate on projects and an emergency communications method during times of crisis.
Chat platforms such as Slack, Convo, Hipchat and Yammer offer employees a means of sharing thoughts and ideas with co-workers. Cloud integration, including DropBox, Google Drive and ConceptCloud, allow people to share
files and documents through the platforms. That makes these apps much more efficient than email, and having everyone contributing to the same discussion thread eliminates those annoying “reply all” emails.
Chat apps are also useful in emergency situations when normal lines of communication are down. It’s crucial to have a reliable means of communication that isn’t tied to your environment in the event of a fire, flood or other disaster that hinders your ability to work in the office. At Concept Technology Inc., we relied on Slack to keep operations running smoothly during the ice storm last winter.
But like all silver linings, there has to be a dark cloud somewhere.
Chat apps have their weaknesses as well. To be effective, the channels have to be active. If someone starts a conversation on an important work-related topic and only one or two people have time to respond to it, the topic might go away, leaving a lot of interested parties without any input because they weren’t on the channel at the right time. So company-wide channels may be less effective than smaller private channels, where the participants are more active.
It can be tempting to abuse chat apps. For example, they can become a distraction if you have an employee who cannot let a notification go unnoticed. You can’t have someone spend all day chatting with others about non-work-related topics without it affecting productivity.
Allowing employees to create smaller private channels that only invited users can see and respond to is great if you’re all working on that big presentation that’s due next week. It’s not so great if you’re all drafting for your fantasy football team, or talking about that annoying person in HR.
Private chat channels on the company platform are a source of stomach ulcers for managers across the globe. For one thing, most managers don’t have the time or inclination to police dozens of private chat rooms. Nevertheless, the company can be held liable for what is shared in them.
Just be wary of the pitfalls and ensure that employees understand what the purpose of this new communications tool is and what is expected of them when using it.
This post also appeared in The Tennessean, where Concept Technology has a bi-weekly feature in the Business section.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]