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New kids vs. old reliable: Can chat apps replace email?

As we strive to find the right balance between our corporate communication strategy and productivity tools, we come face to face with a new reality. Let’s just jump right into the spoiler alert. Under certain circumstances, chat apps such as Slack and Teams can indeed provide a much-needed and effective service. It really is contingent upon what your organization deems are the objectives of specific communication. This is a problem today as we do not stop to think about the objectives of our communication. In an era of instant gratification, we tend to jump right in. We talk a lot. We send a lot of email. But do we truly accomplish anything that even remotely aligns with the strategic objectives of the enterprise?

Let’s start by looking at a few communication channels and what they can bring to the table.

Email still serves a purpose

Email was created as a communication transmission channel. It is meant to carry messages from sender to receiver. In effect, all communication tools are transmission channels. The tool, in and of itself, is not capable of composing the actual email, or of ensuring it is understood by the receiver. In theory, we own the responsibility for this. The problem we have encountered is that human nature is to “communicate” before we even think about the objectives of the email, the impact, and the desired result.

There is also the challenge that email does not communicate in real-time. It becomes difficult, if not impossible, to plan when the sender has absolutely no idea when, or if, they will receive a response. This is not effective in business.

Email also loses points for collaboration. Sending an email to multiple recipients has become frowned upon mostly because it results in multiple independent chains of messages. Add to that the fact that every email message must be stored, and attachments are continually replicated. The argument often heard is that storage is cheap. That’s fine, and it’s relevant. However, finding information that is stored has become a nightmare that does not seem to yet have a definitively good answer. Document control is out there, but it has not yet been adopted as a behavior and that is a problem.

Still, email is an extremely reliable and effective way to send and receive messages. So, as a transmission channel, it is a winner!

Is Slack the cool neighbor?

Slack entered the market as a tool for collaboration. FYI, SLACK is an acronym for Searchable Log of All Communications and Knowledge. Slack is built for team collaboration and to make communication easily searchable.

Within a specific team, Slack allows you to create channels that are specific to an organized conversation around a specific subject. You can upload and share files and there is the ability to have a private conversation with a team member.

Random people cannot join your team without an invite. The subject of spam is a bit more complicated. Within a team, spam can be managed by way of revoking the culprit’s privileges. However, if you are a member of a larger community in Slack, there is a very good chance that your email will be shared, and you will find new spam in your email inbox.

So, for team collaboration, Slack is a winner!

Microsoft Teams: The new kid on the block

If you are an Office 365 user, like me, you most likely recently noticed the addition of yet another delay when booting up your PC in the morning. Microsoft was kind enough to load its latest application, Teams, upon startup. Thankfully, this can be disabled via the startup tab in Task Manager.

Microsoft tried to purchase Slack and was turned down. Teams is their effort at a collaboration tool and a competitor to Slack.

Teams will integrate with Office 365, so that is handy and just might give Teams a bit of an edge. After all, moving data between applications has almost become a necessity of corporate life.

So, for ease of integration, Teams is a winner!

What’s up with WhatsApp?

Shutterstock

Major points for the coolest name! That said, it is difficult to embrace WhatsApp as the corporate tool of choice when there is so much media coverage regarding the acquisition of, and misaligned priorities between WhatsApp and Facebook. Facebook has never been a corporate tool of choice due to the many publicized security breaches along with very difficult to interpret privacy statements. Most organizations stand clear of all things Facebook and until the dust settles from this acquisition, it seems likely that WhatsApp will not be the corporate collaborative tool of choice anytime soon. That said, both Facebook and WhatsApp are readily embraced on a personal level for family chats and social groups.

So, for personal social contact and group interaction, WhatsApp is a winner!

Email vs. chat apps: The verdict is….

The short answer is no to the question of whether chat apps can replace email. However, we may be asking the wrong question. The question might be, does the enterprise rely too heavily on email for communication? And the answer to that question is a resounding yes!

The thing is, what is the objective of your communication? Project managers will want a collaborative tool, such as Slack or Teams. Supply Chain will be more prone to use email as a means to transport documents such as RFP’s or purchase orders to potential vendors. On a personal level, WhatsApp seems to be the tool of choice for social planning and family collaboration. The key is for the enterprise to be aware and to enforce the use of a tool that will meet the stated objectives. CIO’s and CTO’s have long enforced standards for technology within the enterprise but have neglected to enforce the use of communication tools that support and align with the corporate strategy. With reports showing that employees spend between 4.1 and 6.3 hours per day reading and sending email, and with the addition of very effective chat apps, it would seem that now is the time to expand the IT strategy to enforce the use of specific communication tools.

Featured image: Freerange Stock

Louise Chalupiak

Louise is a cynical and often irritating project manager currently residing in Calgary, Alberta, Canada who is not personally responsible for anything oil sands related. She often eats popcorn for dinner and fears that her dog judges her. Special skills include milking a cow as well as the ability to uncork a wine bottle without the use of a corkscrew.

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Louise Chalupiak

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