For decades, email has been the stalwart, primary channel for workplace communication, but, lately, there's been a new kid in town: employees are increasingly using messaging apps to interact with coworkers as businesses everywhere continue to work remotely due to stay-at-home orders. Enterprise messaging platforms such as Slack and Microsoft Teams have seen tremendous adoption in the past few years, with 12 million and 13 million daily active users, respectively. And in the first two weeks of the pandemic, WhatsApp usage spiked 40 percent while Slack reached 12.5 million simultaneously connected users. Unlike email, which can sometimes feel stodgy and unnecessarily verbose, messaging is casual, brief, and, most importantly, elicits real-time responses. As a majority of the world’s organizations are expected to work remotely in some permanent capacity once the pandemic subsides, leadership and IT teams are now looking to formalize messaging as a communication channel within their enterprise. But which platform should they choose?
With several enterprise messaging and communication platforms in the market, here are some key aspects to consider when making a decision.
Team versus top-down communication
Platforms such as MS Teams and Slack have worked smoothly for communication between immediate teams. But only 5 percent of Slack users are signed in to five or more teams, meaning that most employees mainly use the platform to communicate with their closest colleagues. While it works great for that purpose, these platforms may not be an ideal choice for top-down communication. On the other hand, platforms such as Workplace from Facebook, Yammer, and Groupe.io have a better track record at company-wide communication. These tools enable streamlined leadership communication and transparency on business decisions and updates – crucial during this time of uncertainty. Rather than relying on emails and messages that get lost in long threads, teams can create groups for various departments, accounts and projects to hold in-depth conversations, share important documents and broadcast live videos from various executives that have permission. This is why Microsoft continues to support Yammer alongside Teams. Platforms also include “task managers” that allow employees to assign tasks, track work progress and provide visibility into each other’s work days.
Frontline versus knowledge workers
Slack and Teams' sophisticated and advanced interfaces tend to work well for a company whose primary user base is knowledge workers. However, if a particular organization is looking to leverage messaging channels to connect and reach their frontline workforce—for example, those in the retail, hospitality, or construction industries—a different approach and interface might be necessary. Additionally, the frontline or contingent workforce doesn't usually have corporate emails, so the traditional way of onboarding employees is a challenge. Some platforms provide alternative means of signing on employees that don't require a corporate email. These platforms often leverage mobile-friendly tools that allow deskless workers to communicate with each other and with other members of an organization wherever they are, reducing time it takes to get in touch on a daily basis.
Easy integration with a company’s existing work systems and tools gives employees from the top-down a simple, familiar ways to communicate and share information. Any platform that can offer this capability often fuels an enterprise's decision to adopt that messaging platform. These integrations enable users to stay on top of their tasks, remain engaged and collaborate with peers across teams contextually. However, this mainly applies to the specific tools and workflow of knowledge workers. Most platforms do not provide meaningful integration with enterprise systems that may be relevant to the traditional workforce. When selecting a platform, it's essential to consider one that integrates with your core systems but also provides the extensibility to develop custom integrations through micro apps, bots, and more. Integration with automation platforms, such as Zapier, would be useful as well.
Pew Research projects that by 2055, the United States will not have a single racial or ethnic majority. Additionally, large corporations have distributed teams across the globe where language can present a considerable barrier. Messaging apps are leveraging AI and machine learning to support in-line translation to combat language barriers. This feature enables users to tap on any message and instantly view a translated text in the language of their choice. Additionally, these apps also support text-to-speech, which can aid visually impaired users.
Controls and moderation
The casual tone of interoffice messaging, considered a strength, can also be its greatest weakness. The heftiest challenge that messaging platforms create for IT teams is the lack of visibility and control on how information gets shared. These platforms make it easy to create groups, add users on the fly, and start conversations between closed groups. While this has its advantages, it could also easily lead to sensitive information being shared or discussed in an unauthorized manner. Any user-generated content in a social setup also increases the probability of profanity or abusive material. Enterprises must look for platforms that provide fine-grained authorization and privileges, while also offering automation that flag profane or offensive content.
Ensuring that the right people have access to a business’ messaging platform of choice is crucial as VPN attacks are on the rise. Enterprises must choose a platform that can offer security methods such as biometric authentication, access codes that grant all types of employees permission to use the platform with or without an email, single sign-on, encryption, customer admin roles, and remote revocation and wipe capabilities to ensure data is not accessible to those without permission.
The messaging style of communication can dramatically influence a company's culture, bringing transparency and a sense of camaraderie to an organization. Furthermore, social engagement on these platforms (such as likes, comments, polls, reactions, surveys or views) provides an excellent and organic feedback mechanism that can help management understand employee behavior and preferences.
In conclusion, while there is little doubt that messaging is the path forward in terms of workplace communication, there is no "one size fits all" solution. Enterprises need to look at their own specific culture, their workforce's needs, and their top priorities when selecting a platform that will work best for them.
Praveen Kanyadi, Cofounder and VP of Product, Groupe.io