To Chat, or Not to Chat, for Effective Business Communication?

By Ian Heggs Vice President and General Manager, Europe, Middle East & Africa on May 24, 2016

“To Chat, or Not to Chat: …”

…that is the question”, to paraphrase William Shakespeare, but, in the context of effective business communication in a mobile-centric world, is this question really the one that you should be asking?

business communication
“To chat or not to chat?” may not be the right question to ask for effective business communication.

It seems that business organizations today are looking to borrow from the consumer world and implement chat solutions to improve the way they communicate and collaborate. The main reason for this appears to be because that is what their employees are using to communicate via their phones and tablet devices to their family and friends so why not use their preference in this area to make it easier to communicate with colleagues across the organization?

We have been here before. A few years ago there was a drive to become ‘social’. Not to be confused with being generous to your local community, social business was about breaking down silos within an organization, sharing knowledge, fostering innovation and improving engagement with employees as well as with business partners and even customers. A variety of solutions emerged: Jive, Yammer, Clearvale, Podio, Huddle and so on and so on; all leveraging what was happening in the consumer world but bringing the capabilities within the business organization as an ‘Enterprise Social Network’ or ‘ESN’, i.e. what became known as ‘Facebook for business’ or ‘Twitter for business’ (before Facebook themselves started promoting their own application for business!) reflecting this penchant for all things ‘social’.

However, whilst there have been some companies that have successfully adopted these ESN solutions, for a large majority it was a step too far as users failed to embrace the activities required. Many saw it as another communication channel alongside email that needed to be checked and responded to or just used it for real social activities with work colleagues: organizing the five-a-side league; lunchtime jogging sessions; after work get-togethers and so on. That is, idle chit-chat and nothing really to do with knowledge sharing or collaboration on work initiatives; and, of course, many simply reverted to email as their communication tool of choice despite email’s shortcomings for effective business collaboration.

Today, with the likes of ‘WeChat’ and ‘WhatsApp’ being extremely popular as an alternative communication channel, organizations are now looking to embrace this type of application for an ‘Enterprise Chat’ solution to go alongside the use of personal phones and tablet devices for business use; what is known as ‘BYOD’ (bring your own device).  But this trend potentially could end up in the same place as their ESN solution. Just being yet another channel on top of email and that needs to be checked. So, rather than replacing email these ‘Enterprise Chat’ solutions simply add to the current communication overload and fragmented discussions prevalent within organizations. They may be useful for small teams on specific short-term projects, or even for customer service teams to engage with customers via a channel the customer has a preference for, but, at the end of the day they are not really doing anything to foster effective business collaboration and engagement or to drive productivity improvements across an organization.

Enterprise Chat might be something that organizations think they want to improve business communication and collaboration, especially as many employees are using their own mobile devices anyway, but is it really what they need, especially if the anticipated productivity improvements are not likely to be forthcoming.  Why add yet another communication channel when what is really needed is something that is in tune with the way people work today whether they are in an office, working from home or travelling on a regular basis; on a desktop or on a mobile device, that actually reduces the communication overload and facilitates the effective collaboration and engagement necessary to drive knowledge sharing and improve business performance. Chat is only one part of business communication so focusing on this aspect only might not be the best move in the path to true collaboration and engagement in a mobile-centric business world.

To paraphrase William Shakespeare again: “Alas, poor (insert Enterprise Chat solution of choice)! I knew him, Horatio: a solution of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy …”

Want more on this subject? Read 6 Reasons Why You Need Mobile Collaboration in Business and 6 Business Communication Trends.