Workplace messaging programs like Slack and Microsoft Teams have become integral workplace tools. In theory, these programs make communication easier, faster, and less intrusive.
The problem, of course, is that something designed to make your day easier can become a distraction or a time suck before you know it. Yes, it's great that you can ask your boss a question and get a quick answer. It's less great when a group discussion about the big game or the latest movie trailer fills up your feed.
Three-out-of-four American workers (78%) use company-mandated chat software at work, and 33% admit that they are distracted by notifications from that software, according to a new survey of 1,000 full-time American workers sponsored by ItsWorthMore.com, an online electronics marketplace. This type of chat program both solves problems and creates them, forcing workers to find a balance.
How much do we chat?
The average worker reported spending 2.4 hours per workday communicating with coworkers via chat apps and 1.5 hours using that technology to talk to a boss or manager. That's below the 2.8 hours spent talking with coworkers in person and 1.6 spent face-to-face with a boss or manager.
Most workers (55%) believe chat programs have strengthened their relationship with their coworkers. About the same amount (53%) feel that the technology has given them a stronger relationship with their boss.
Workers are at least somewhat wary about what they're willing to share via workplace chat because they think their company might be monitoring. About two-thirds (66%) avoided writing certain things for that reason, and 32% said they believed that even private messages are not confidential.
How to stay productive
Managers need to make sure that chat programs add efficiency and don't create unneeded noise. They can do that by limiting communication to what's actually needed and helping workers prioritize the settings of the program to improve efficiency and minimize distraction.
In most cases, you can set notifications in ways that add to productivity. You might have messages from your boss or key members of your team lead to an automatic notification. Less important or urgent messages might simply go into your inbox, where you can check them as time allows.
It's also smart for companies to set expectations for how the software is used. When are workers expected to respond immediately, and when can they take their time? Companies should also be clear about when email might make more sense as a communications tool.
Easy communication can be both a blessing and a curse. That's why managers should regularly evaluate whether the flow of information threatens to overpower people or become simply too much noise.
Companies should also communicate expectations for monitoring these programs during nonwork hours. Are employees expected to have the software on their phones? Is there a protocol for what needs to be answered (major issues like a crashed server) or what can wait until the next day?
These are emerging issues that may not all have answers yet in a given organization. Companies and workers themselves must take an active role in monitoring the use of chat programs and adjusting policies as technology and conventions change.