In 2017, the top workplace trend was collaboration—flat team structures, huddle rooms, open floor plans, chat-based collaboration technology—and it’s expected to intensify this year.
The most notable manifestation of this trend is the group chat turf war1—the proliferation of chat-based tools that are designed to replace email as the primary mode of communication and collaboration in the workplace. Think Microsoft Teams, Slack Enterprise Grid, Facebook Workplace, HipChat, and scores more.
Historically, group chat’s use in the workplace mostly fell within the “shadow IT” category. Employees, who already relied on chat and a range of technologies in their personal lives, began using technology like Slack to collaborate on projects and keep on top of ballooning workloads.
While this may seem like an acceptable short-term solution on an individual or team level, it can be detrimental in the long term and on an organizational scale—it can result in a jumble of siloed solutions that run counter to the original intention of enabling more efficient and more productive collaboration. The Deloitte 2018 Human Capital Trends Report describes one such case:
A large 3D design and engineering software company found that it was supporting 85 separate implementations of Slack, each used by a different team in its own unique way. The report notes that, although these teams were happy, there was no sharing of best practices and no ability to collaborate between teams.
Early last year, group chat for the workplace began to emerge from the shadows. In January, Slack, which is widely regarded as the forerunner of the current team communication revolution, launched Enterprise Grid, a product aimed at corporations and other large organizations.
In March, Microsoft launched Teams, a platform that combines workplace chat, meetings, notes, and attachments. Teams integrates with a company’s Office 365 subscription and includes extensions that can integrate with non-Microsoft products. Microsoft has said Teams will eventually replace Skype for Business to become a single hub for teamwork.
The top selling points for group chat technology are integration, transparency and immediacy. The average employee uses a dozen or more separate applications or services to get work done. Bringing them all together into one hub can minimize the productivity drag that is created by app-switching. In addition, group chat can serve as a single, accessible source for all project communication and eliminate the problems that arise when critical information is locked away in email inboxes2.
The top selling points for group chat technology are integration, transparency and immediacy
Today, chat-based collaboration is no longer considered “nice to have”—business leaders increasingly understand that it’s necessary for innovation and digital success. As a result, the number of organizations using solutions like Teams or Slack is growing.
For employees, that means more change, even for those who already have experience with group chat tools. The greatest challenge for employees will be changing their work processes—breaking away from the decades-long organizational reliance on email as the primary collaboration tool and silos as the only knowledge repository.
The easiest way employees can work to overcome the learning curve and create new habits is by taking advantage of the training and support offered by their company and providing regular feedback. In addition, Deloitte’s 2018 Global Human Capital Trends Report suggests employees think about their role in the “hyper-connected” workplace—how they can use collaboration tools to increase their productivity without becoming overwhelmed.
For employees who are still unsure of group chat’s benefits, or for those who simply prefer email, consider what there is to lose:
- The average worker checks email more than 70 times a day3
- It takes people about 25 minutes to reorient back to a task when they are interrupted4
- The average number of business-related emails sent and received each day is expected to reach 140 this year5
- The more time people spend focused on email, the less happy and productive they are6
There’s little doubt that chat-based collaboration has arrived in the workplace. Now it’s up to employees to make it work—for personal as well as organizational productivity.
1. “The defining turf war of the next decade will be group chat,” wrote Wall Street Journal tech columnist Christopher Mims in a Nov. 6, 2016, article. See “Group Chat Emerges as the Hottest Thing in IT.”
2. “Is Group Chat the New Email?” by Tam Harbert, Oct. 25, 2017, Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM)
3. “Inbox Zero vs. Inbox 5,000: A Unified Theory,” by Joe Pinsker, May 27, 2015, The Atlantic
5. “Emails expected to rise to 140 a day in 2018,” by Cara Jenkin, May 24, 2014, news.com.au
6. “Inbox Zero vs. Inbox 5,000: A Unified Theory,” by Joe Pinsker, May 27, 2015, The Atlantic
Jen is an award-winning journalist who writes about workplace productivity and technology for Vitalyst. She believes in the power of using plain language, especially when writing about technology, and lists “achieving and enabling clarity” among her life goals.