giant, lit up chatter teeth
PHOTO: Love_Haight

Chat apps are everywhere in the enterprise, and rightfully so. Email is inefficient, nobody (unfortunately) answers the phone anymore, and teams are looking for ways to get work done faster. Real-time messaging apps provide exactly that: a place for employees to gather quickly, seek expertise and stay connected across dozens of departments, offices and countries.

But chat should only be one part of a company’s larger real-time collaboration strategy. While chat can bring big benefits, it too often results in fragmented conversations that don’t actually help your business become more efficient on a whole. Here are just a few of the enterprise chat pitfalls you should plan for:

  • It’s instant connectivity — for better or for worse
    When employees want answers, they often want them now and chat makes it easy to ask questions the moment they arise. The challenge: the first, easy-to-find answer isn’t always the right one. Plus, there’s an expectation of immediacy that isn’t always practical.
  • It’s great for connecting with experts (when you know who to look for, and where)
    Just about every employee is logged into a chat app (or three) all day, which means the expertise you need is just an instant message away. But many companies have multiple sanctioned chat platforms — which leads to fragmented and siloed communications.
  • It can be hard to search, and even harder to measure
    Since most chat sessions don’t automatically feed into a knowledge base or centralized collaboration platform, many of the great ideas and decisions that originate in a chat window end up lost forever. Search capabilities are often limited, making it impossible for people to look across the entire chat ecosystem for a specific answer or expert. Additionally, chat’s effectiveness is hard to measure due to the consistent inability to tie usage back to clear KPIs like employee productivity or efficiency.
  • It can sometimes get ... well, chatty
    Chat is great for building camaraderie — and according to one study, happy employees are 12 percent more productive at work. Plus, workers have been using chat for years in the consumer world, with legacy tools like AOL Instant Messenger making the format familiar and easy to adopt. But chat is also an easy avenue for trading snarky comments during meetings, sharing cat memes and regularly distracting each other from focused work.

So how can companies harness the good side of group chat, while creating true enterprise collaboration? Here are my recommendations:

1. Encourage Chat, But Don't Forget to Capture Critical Knowledge

Modern knowledge workers spend an estimated two hours every day just looking for information. That’s a huge waste of time that chat can help with. But you don't want every problem or challenge to turn into a lengthy chat session. Instead, the goal should be to capture answers to common problems, make them searchable and reduce the amount of effort required to get work done.

Doing that requires more than just chat and real-time communication apps like Skype. When you put a collaboration and knowledge sharing hub at the center of your digital workplace, your employees can document and locate the content, experts and answers they need to keep work moving — and share that knowledge across the enterprise.  

Related Article: Your Digital Workplace Is a Wicked Problem That Can Be Solved

2. Automate Your Workflows

In cases when your support team uses real-time group chat to swarm around an issue or outage, their discussion and decisions can be fast and furious. Some companies use bots to automatically update support tickets and other critical systems with the key outcomes from task-oriented group chats. Bot or not, be sure your team closes the loop, updating your ticketing, project management and other key business applications with the decisions made and actions taken. Otherwise, real-time chat becomes just another silo, preventing valuable knowledge exchange.

Related Article: Answers to Your Robotic Process Automation vs. Traditional Automation Questions

3. Create Dedicated Channels

If your chat app supports it, create dedicated, topical chat rooms that allow like-minded employees to connect and evolve their thinking around specific projects, initiatives and skills. It keeps conversations productive and on-task, and makes it easier for team members to find the best place to get fast answers to their questions.

Interactive intranet solutions are another way to extend your “work smarter” chat strategy. With these, team members can document their decisions in dedicated discussion groups, build sites and pages for teams and projects, and subscribe to their favorite conversations, topics and experts. That creates a centralized system of record for all the work being done across the enterprise — and it’s fully searchable, creating instant corporate memory.

Related Article: Poor Digital Skills Hinder Digital Workplace Progress

4. Finally, Don’t Forget the Rest of Your Collaboration Strategy

True team collaboration is about much more than just chat, after all. While the technology you choose is one part of the equation, the bigger part is ensuring it all works together to improve productivity, replace inefficient workflows and keep employees from wading through silos of disparate tools.

That means seamless integration is crucial. In response, some companies are using interactive intranet solutions to bridge all their collaboration and communication systems. The result is a truly collaborative ecosystem where employees can gather in one centralized workplace that aggregates data and streamlines workflows across all of their crucial applications — from email and productivity, to storage, chat and even transactional systems like Salesforce, ServiceNow, Zendesk and Jira.

Remember, the best approach brings together all the people, knowledge and collaboration applications across your entire enterprise into one central, searchable place. Chat is a critical venue for these conversations, but it’s not the glue that holds everything together.