Office chat tools: Fancy, useful but risky← Back to blog
When mIRC popped up in our yet-to-develope internet world, back in the 90's, things changed for good. A couple years later, MSN Messenger came up and was key to expanding this new way of communication. We ended up overcoming e-mailing for most scenarios and the way we communicate changed forever. Back in the early 00's millions of teenagers stopped gathering after school in parks and streets. They would just sit in front of the screen and chat with their friends and schoolmates. Most parents raised an eyebrow about this new behavior, but chatting came to stay, and we got used to it. Yikes, we did! Today, we chat on our phones, on our tablets, on our laptops and even on our PC's. Yes, we still use them, right?
The one place where PCs are still the king is the office. Chatting has always been considered a free time tool. Workplaces avoided it and usually even banned this services in the office. But after Whatsapp monopolized chatting on the phone in many countries, chatting has became a work tool. Sometimes even stressing people with unavoidable after hours workload.
At the same time, social networks became popular at a rate we started going bananas and making profiles for our pets. Come on, don't deny it, you know at least one close friend or relative who did it!. It was a simple matter of time somebody would figure out a way to transform chatting and social networking into an office aid.
And then, most-relevantly, Slack came up.
Slack is an app that uses the traditional chatting formula to focus on helping people to be more productive at work. The website, valued in 2.800 millions of US dollars, has been received with general enthusiasm. And no wonder why this is. Slack eases participation. It provides new channels for real-time communication between coworkers and it's easy to use. For example, It’s less complex than Skype If you need to have a chat with somebody sitting in, let's say, another country. Yes, sure you could use Facebook, but that looks unprofessional.
Slack has major benefits:
- It makes everyone equal in the office: When your identity is reduced to a nickname, you don't feel you are above or below anyone. Even if you sort of actually are. It makes communication transverse, which is great!
- You are guaranteed you are not being monitored: We all know some bosses like to sniff in the lives of their workers. And one great way to do it is monitoring which websites are they visiting. Slack guarantees all your communications are safe. All this means freedom, and freedom is always great.
- Behind a screen we are more brave: While this usually means somebody is definitely gonna question your mother's dignity in a Youtube comment, it has also some benefits. How many times an idea is left untold because of an overwhelming fear of rejection? Slack makes more easy for the most shy or insecure to feel comfortable sharing their say.
- It makes working more fun: this tool has great graphics -it uses bright and pale colors for a nice combination- and is easy to use. So it's appealing for most. It's well-thought, and well-connected to file sources like Dropbox or Google Drive, this way it makes also file-sharing easy. Who wouldn't prefer a nice-looking chat website to the dullness of a meeting room?
Yet, Slack presents the same doubts any chat could offer when using it at work:
- It's easy to be left out and disconnect: Slack can be too much for some. You know, as in apps like Whatsapp, where we block notifications from that group our brother-in-law set up to share those Christmas pictures and then went on to send stupid jokes and allegedly funny images, usually featuring babies and cats. If you can't keep up with the conversation pace, or don't like the tool, it's really easy to tend to stay away and miss the debate. And when that happens, someone has to be chasing the non-participants to come over to Slack and find out what they've been missing. No need to say this is a non-productive job to do.
- There's less scrutiny and, thus, less motivation: Research from the Harvard Business School found that we feel less prompted to stay motivated when using online environments. The reason is face-to-face working is more stimulating. That is because there's real-time scrutiny of most movements and decisions.
- Waste of time is a major concern: Freedom is awesome, but when we disable monitoring, the risk of loss of time increases. And this obviously risks productivity. The option of private chatting in Slack means it's likely there's gonna be some off topic fun going on in there. Although, to be fair, we all know we spend too much time at the vending machines in the hallway anyway.
Whether these risks are acceptable or not it's a decision for bosses to make. The benefits are there to be counted in and it's always exciting to have a new tool around. But bottom line is, as in any real-life work environment, we're probably going to need to place some rules and limits to Slack. This will be needed for it to work properly and be a tool that can really, actually, improve productivity.