Business group chats are nothing new, however our user experience with them has evolved considerably over the past few years. Let’s just say, we’ve come a long way from the first generation of Office Communicator – but is the rise of group chat tools a good thing?
Between 2009 and 2010, Slack, Hipchat and Flowdock were founded and launched their messaging tools, and they’ve been household names ever since. In essence, these apps provide access to really easy-to-use group chat and collaboration tools that help communication run more smoothly.
At Beem, one of our core objectives is helping businesses improve their internal communications and employee engagement, so we know first hand about communication challenges. We also work with an internationally dispersed team, so effective communication and collaboration really is paramount to what we do.
Like most businesses we experimented with a few different chat tools before arriving at Slack, and we’ve not looked back since. We use Slack to share ideas and files on a daily bases, as well as for coordination across teams. Our experience has enabled us to understand what works well and what needs to be improved, or changed, in terms of group chat usage.
For example, a super-quick group chat is really useful in some situations, but if it becomes the primary communication tool inside a company, it can become less efficient over time.
So what are the positive and negative impacts of group chat tools on an organisation? If you’ve gone chat-first, or you’re considering heading towards a more structured internal comms tool, you should keep this list of Pros & Cons in mind!
Crisis Management – Sometimes it’s essential to get critical information in front of people. If the server is down, or if a deployment failed, your team needs to get on the problem right away. There are a variety of ways to get this instant information to people, and piping it into a high priority chat room or channel is definitely one of those ways. And it’s super efficient!
Quick sharing/feedback – When you need to toss an idea back and forth between a few people, there’s nothing better than a chat. You’re able to drop a message, upload a picture, get you’re colleagues feedback and move onto the next task right away.
Having fun – Having a little fun at work is very important in keeping employees motivated and engaged, and a group chat is a natural place for a little humour or silliness. Culture develops, inside jokes flow, and meme generators are perfect territory for the chat room or group channel.
A sense of belonging – This is particularly important for people who work remotely! Having a group chat where you can just say good morning, let people know you’re out for lunch, and generally feel part of something is a powerful counter to office fever.
Mental fatigue – Following group chats all day can feel like being in an all-day meeting with random participants and no agenda. It’s difficult to remember everything that has been discussed during the day, because things can get lost in the thread.
Fear of missing out or not having a say – If you’re not paying attention all the time, you may not be able to have your say when something comes up. Conversation can begin and end very quickly, so if you don’t seize the moment, you’ll miss your chance to share your thoughts. The result? People checking the group chat constantly and losing focus on what they’re working on.
Implied consensus – When people talk about something and nobody objects, people assume that everyone read the discussion and agreed. But of course, not everyone is focused on the group chat at all times (and they shouldn’t be). This can be problematic when decisions are made without people’s consent because they weren’t there at the very moment it was discussed.
Risk of repetition – Conversations that should take a few minutes can easily go on for much longer when they take place in the group chat. With people popping in and out, it’s always difficult to end a conversation for good. “We’ve already talked about this!” is a common refrain heard in chat rooms around the world.
Continuous partial attention – Most teams keep a chat window open all day on the side of their screen or on a second monitor. This invites you to keep one eye on the chat window, and the other on your work. The problem is that the chat window is a black hole for your attention?! Context-shifting robs you of uninterrupted stretches of time to concentrate on the work you’re supposed to be doing.
So what’s the conclusion? It’s all about balance.
A group chat is vital for communications to be fast and effective in our offices and when used appropriately, it’s absolutely great! The key is to contain the chat monster, know when not to use it, and watch the behaviour and mood or users, otherwise it can take over and mess up a really good thing.
Are you lover or a hater of group chats? Leave your comment below!