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Team communication apps have risen in popularity in recent years, with the likes of Slack and Microsoft Teams offering instant messaging for businesses to improve their collaboration. The growth of these tools comes down to several factors.

First, the ubiquitous use of instant messaging apps and social media in our personal lives has seeped into our professional lives. Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp have replaced SMS as the preferred means of communication for many—especially younger generations.

A second factor is digital transformation. As businesses evolve to meet new workplace trends such as flexible working, they are embracing the cloud and introducing new technologies. These are breaking down the physical restrictions of the traditional office and redefining what we consider “the workplace”. Work, today, can be completed at home, on the train, or in a coffee shop. Team communication apps facilitate this.

Yet, is this as beneficial to knowledge workers as we are led to believe? In this post, we weigh the advantages and disadvantages of team communication apps.

Team communication apps: pros

Remote working

Instant messaging connects employees working off-site with those in the office. When someone is working from home, they can check-in with their team and interact just as easily as if they were in the office.

When an employee is out ‘in the field’ and comes across a problem, instant messaging allows them to quickly access knowledge from colleagues.

Scalability

Instant messaging also makes it easier for businesses to scale and reach new territories, as it’s just as easy to chat to a colleague on the other side of the world as it is if they were on the other side of the office.

Sharing ideas

Instant messaging apps are a great tool for crowdsourcing information quickly. Post a problem, and the network will work together to solve it in front of your eyes.

You can avoid formal processes and receive responses quicker. If you have a tech problem, you can post it to the engineering group and receive an instant reply, rather than having to fill out a Jira ticket and wait hours or days for a response.

You can connect with colleagues anywhere, anytime and on any device. Sometimes the best ideas originate outside of meeting rooms and work hours, or in remote locations. Team communication apps remove time and place being a barrier to sharing those ideas with colleagues.

It’s how people want to communicate

People love communicating through instant messaging. Why not let employees communicate at work how they do in their personal lives? If you are used to communicating in a certain fashion, it becomes more efficient to communicate that way.

A recent study found that 49% of millennials want to use social tools at work; what’s more, 40% of millennials would happily pay to use these tools at work.

Team communication apps: cons

Addictive

The internet is addictive. This isn’t anything new. But now this same technology that keeps us glued to our screens and constantly checking our phones is celebrated as a savior to productivity. Many employees complain of pressures to be online and available all the time. Others suggest they feel a need to keep checking feeds so that they don’t miss out on anything important.

Distracting

Team communication increases the noise, notifications and distraction that knowledge workers face each day. Also, workers often get drawn into discussions that have little to do with their core work. They might be working on something with an impending deadline, but find it hard to concentrate due to the incoming notifications on extraneous topics.

Confusing

When communication is whittled down to one liners and the occasional emoji, it can obscure the bigger picture. It can be hard to identify salient points when you are presented with a long feed of short, informal responses.

What’s more, if ten people respond in quick succession, you can quickly lose the thread of a conversation. Imagine how this plays out at large corporations with thousands of employees.

Email

People keep predicting the demise of email, and yet it’s still going strong. Instant messaging will never replace email in many areas, including external, formal and longer communications. In many ways, all that is being added with the introduction of team communications apps is another place employees must keep an eye on to stay in the loop.

Context-switching

Many businesses respond to employee demand and deploy team communication apps without considering how these work in conjunction with the rest of their employees’ productivity tools. This means that employees are forever switching back and forth between applications and losing the context of their work.

Everything in one place

There is no doubt that team communication apps offer several benefits to businesses. Yet the distraction caused by constant notifications and the need to switch between applications is likely to have a negative effect on productivity.

It’s still early days for team communication apps in the workplace. Many organizations are still figuring out how to make best use of them, and we may yet find that they are not as essential for ‘real work’ as, say, email has proven and still proves to be.

At Ignite 2017, Microsoft announced that Skype for Business will merge into Microsoft Teams. Knowledge workers want to be able to access all the tools they need for work in one place, without having to switch between applications. If that means using Microsoft Teams as a hub for all communication and collaboration, then this is a move in the right direction. But is it enough?

What happens when someone needs to access a SharePoint site? What happens when someone needs to draw upon customer information in Salesforce?

At harmon.ie, we are putting the human at the center of the digital workplace. What is required are digital experiences that provide knowledge workers with access to all the information they need in one place. harmon.ie’s Collage technology helps users search for content by topic—the way the brain naturally processes information—and integrates across applications so that users can access the information they need in the place of their choice.

To find out more about harmon.ie Collage and our efforts to humanize digital experiences in the workplace, contact us today.

 

David Lavenda
Chief Product Officer