A businessman wearing a suit and a depiction of an instant messaging chat bubble
PHOTO: Shutterstock

Real-time chat applications for businesses have become the norm. Just look at the numbers out of Slack, one of the most popular team chat software offerings out there. Slack reported this week there are more than 8 million Daily Active Users (DAUs) across the more than 500,000 organizations that use Slack — along with more than 3 million paid users. Microsoft Teams, another real-time chat app, is used by 200,000 organizations in 181 markets and 39 languages, according to numbers released in March by Microsoft.

With all this usage comes room for error. And despite the ease of use of these chat applications promise in the enterprise, they sometimes fail to increase productivity and foster better collaboration. And it’s not all on the technology, of course, there are systems and processes breakdowns to blame, too. To help keep you in the "know," wee caught up with some experts to discuss common chat app breakdowns to be on the lookout for.

Employees Spend Too Much Time in the Chat Tool

Real-time communication presents significant downsides when it becomes your team’s primary way of communicating, according to Amir Salihefendic, Doist CEO and founder. For one, these tools can be addicting. You feel constant FOMO, he said. 

Forbes reported last year Slack users spend more than two hours per day actively working in Slack and more than 10 hours with Slack open. When chat becomes simply a way to chat — and not a way to foster effective, productive work and collaboration, you’ve got an organizational problem.

Related Article: Chat Apps Are Only One Part of the Bigger Collaboration Picture

Chat Tools Can Build Shallow Conversations

We all know these chat applications connect employees instantly and effectively for the most part. That's terrific — or is it? Do these interactions encourage conversations of depth? Salihefendic said because these interfaces are designed for rapid-fire messaging, they sometimes make it more difficult to visualize the bigger picture. “Before you can even fully understand the problem discussed there's a new conversation starting or replies from previous conversations. That makes all the information disorganized, inefficient, and, frankly, overwhelming,” he added. Employees can easily lose track of things. The consequence? A lack of transparency. “Ironically,” Salihefendic said, “as communication flourishes, it becomes less transparent because you can't keep track of all the conversations that are happening at the company.”

Channel Creep

Jensen Harris, co-founder and CTO of Textio, said one of the hardest things about building a company or team around a real-time chat tool is that the organizational system is “rigidly defined by the groupthink channel structure.” In email, he explained, many people rely on their bespoke, highly-customized knowledge of where things are filed, much like you might organize your kitchen in a way that makes sense to you. You know where the strainer or little corn-on-the-cob holders go, and no one else does, or needs to. “In a chat tool, unlike in email, people don't get to organize their own kitchen,” Harris said. “Instead the community of sometimes hundreds of neighbors organize it haphazardly together, often without rhyme or reason. And once a potholder is in a certain cabinet, it can never be relocated. Channels are created in a first-come-first-created order, and, as a result, people can find themselves frustrated and overwhelmed at not being able to impose order on this channel chaos.”

As chat tools scale up to support ever-larger teams, Harris said they will have to adapt to allow users more autonomy and flexibility in organizing and making sense of the endless stream of information that flows past them.

Related Article: Managing Real-Time Collaboration Across Distributed Offices

Company Culture Doesn’t Match the Technology

Organizations should always consider their culture before rolling out real-time chat apps, according to Dean Pipes, chief innovation architect of TetraVX. “If the culture doesn’t fit with the technology and it’s not a top-down approach, any collaboration tool can fail or be poorly adopted,” Pipes said.  Adoption of any collaboration technology hinges on how receptive your culture is to these new tools and how well they are adopted within the organization. “If leadership doesn’t set or define best practices, users have no reason to engage or follow a specific governance,” he said.

Group Chats With Too Many Unnecessary Recipients

Remember the “reply all” function in email? Wait. You’re still doing that? Even in these real-time chat apps, “reply all” enters the equation often in their own special ways. 

This creates noise and has been shown to be a distraction, thus diminishing critical productivity, Pipes said. The "reply all" feature is a problem that's permeating group chat platforms (e.g. Slack and Microsoft Teams) and across social media (SMS, WhatsApp, etc). “Forward-thinking organizations are starting communication campaigns to raise the awareness in an effort to stop the unnecessary noise caused by group chat apps,” Pipes said. 

Related Article: Chat Apps Are Exploding, But Email Remains King

Lack of an Implementation Strategy, Poor Planning

Hunter Willis, solution engineer at AvePoint, pointed out that although IT can implement a new tool on a whim, without a solid strategy, success hinders on governing employee use. “Other times, even tech-savvy employees struggle to utilize new software without proper planning or training,” Willis said. Understanding how platforms can be used in union with your organizations existing tech can help lead to a successful implementation of real-time chat tools.

Willis said a good first step to a team chat software product rollout is to understand what security features exist and what third party tools are available. Tools like Microsoft Teams can be best utilized in less formal communication with a smaller audience. With a chat interface, business users can quickly and easily delineate their communications with co-workers and find and share what they need in a fun, informal way. “The greatest key to successful adoption,” Willis said, “is having an implementation and governance strategy that works for your organization.”