Chatting Virtually at Work

I’ve never used a workplace chat tool such as Slack or Workplace by Facebook, but I’m intrigued by them. I prefer casual exchanges, even at the office, so the idea of being able to “chat” virtually at work, similar to texting, appeals to me. It creates a fast, easy way to converse without getting drawn into a long-winded exchange as you might face-to-face. It’s the same idea behind why it’s often much better to text, rather than call, a person.

I recently saw a news story on Reuters that Microsoft has introduced a “free tier” of its Teams workplace collaboration software. “While the free version of Teams will not offer the same functionality as the Office 365 version, it will include some features not offered in the free versions of Slack that could lure prospective customers, including unlimited search and unlimited app integrations,” the article by Salvador Rodriguez says.

What’s important to you in a workplace chat/collaboration platform? For me, the key would be enforced breeziness, a seeming oxymoron. What I mean is a structure that forces users to be brief and to the point, such as the Twitter limit on number of characters per post, which used to be 140 and is now 280.

At least one person at my company, who used to be my boss, loves using e-mail as an electronic soapbox, on which he writes of minor errors being “injurious” to our readers, and says in a paragraph what could be said in one sentence. He’s melodramatic, pretentious, and wordy. A texting-like platform that would discourage long, overly formal communications might be the antidote. It would be funny if, just as he was winding himself up for a drawn-out diatribe about nonsense, he realized he had exceeded the allowable number of characters and was out of luck.

Of course, there are times when you do need to be more verbose and formal, such as when you’re communicating a new marketing plan or providing details about a new customer, but there are many other messages that don’t require a full-length e-mail. You could set guidelines for employees on when to use e-mail and when to use a more casual and brief “chat” format. The ideal system would provide both options: a longer e-mail template, and another briefer, text-like template that would appear on employees’ phones or mobile devices, as a text would, and also could appear on their computer screens, but in a way that would get their attention, communicate the message, but not require the opening up of an e-mail and the reading of long, formalized text. In other words, the best workplace chat tool would limit employee-windbags, so the heart of messages would get communicated without self-puffery and posing.

The capacity to communicate easily with photos and other graphics also would be key. How about if the technology could easily import photos and content from your employees’ personal social media accounts? That would make life easier when trying to explain a situation or photo you came across on Facebook or Instagram. This is all the more important today, as so much of marketing is done on social media. You would want an easy way to import or copy messages from personal social media accounts to illustrate points employees make on how best to communicate with your customers. Having that ability also would allow employees to share feedback they’ve come across through their social media friends’ feeds about the products or services you sell.

In addition to the serious stuff, a good workplace chat platform would have a place you could click on called “break time” that would instantly connect you to funny and entertaining content online. There would be a timer on this function so employees couldn’t use it for more than a set amount of time, such as no more than five or 10 minutes every few hours.

What would your dream workplace chat technology do?


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