Most of us are already familiar with work-chat apps. Slack, Google Chat, Microsoft Teams and others help organizations thrive while employees and clients stay connected, especially when working remotely.
Work-chat apps can bring a host of benefits, including more flexibility for employees and the ability to cast a wider net to collaborate with client and would-be talent. Still, there are potential drawbacks to these platforms, experts warn.
Those downsides include a disruption to work-life balance and the potential to expose an organization to unintended risks. Yet at a time when remote working remains prevalent, these challenges can be well-worth navigating.
In an environment where people ping each other 24/7, colleagues need to “respect boundaries,” said Julie Wyetzner, executive director and chief operating officer of Cona Elder Law, which has offices in Melville.
Disregarding boundaries can tip the work-life balance scale. For example, 55% of Americans have a work-chat app on their personal phone, according to the language learning service Preply, which surveyed 1,200 Americans who are full-time employees and work remotely or in-person.
And 52% keep the apps push notifications on so messages are never missed, according to Preply. Another 29% feel the need to reply ASAP to messages outside of work hours. Meanwhile, 29% check coworkers’ chat app status, however, those messages don’t deter people from messaging with 53% reporting messaging a coworker even if they have a busy or away status.
Experts offered tips for the current work- chat app culture.
“Any kind of virtual internal communication app should be treated as it were an email – a more informal version of an email,” said Nicole Craveiro, chief HR officer at CraveHRO, a Ronkonkoma-based provider of outsourced HR services.
That means spelling and capitalizing words correctly, and addressing people in a professional manner, she said.
“A lot of people try to make it fun with emojis, which is fine as long as everyone is being respectful of each other,” she said. “It keeps the conversation light and expressive as long as it’s used appropriately.”
And any complaints about inappropriate behavior on a work-chat app “should be reported and treated the same as in-person or regular channels,” Craveiro said.
Policies and training help ensure that an organization complies with rules and regulations, experts say.
Given the platforms’ informal nature, “employees could sometimes let their guard down and have conversations that are better suited for social media platforms,” said Pedram Tabibi, a partner in Meltzer, Lippe, Goldstein & Breitstone’s litigation, social media, software and privacy practice groups in Mineola.
While work-chat programs are beneficial, employers should ensure they “are safeguarding against legal pitfalls,” Tabibi said.
Employers should be mindful of industry-specific and government-required recordkeeping, data retention and compliance protocols, Tabibi said.
For example, they should “make sure they are not using platforms where there are disappearing messages or encrypted messages” where the employer “can’t go in and see the message.”
“If they don’t, they could be subject to audit or significant fines,” he said.
And employers will want the ability to back up and preserve content, especially in instances where there is litigation.
Employers should ensure that whichever platform they are using is secure. When using video or posting images, for example, make sure highly sensitive material including credit card and social security numbers or any financial information on a whiteboard or other surface is not visible, Tabibi said.
“Make sure employees are aware of malware and clicking on links,” he said. And in the event of a security compromise there should be “procedures in place for reporting for that and swiftly.”
At Great Neck-based ZE Creative Communications, employees continue to work remotely, with the goal of providing employees flexibility and “a renewed focus on client contact,” said David Chauvin, the firm’s executive vice president.
The firm uses a variety of platforms, depending on the preference and needs of its clients.
While it’s easy to book back-to-back meetings on a platform all day long, Chauvin said, the firm is cognizant of preventing burnout by building in breaks. It’s a “time management exercise,” he said, and especially important for junior staff who are newer to the workforce. And the firm recognizes that the ability to end calls early, when appropriate, is a chance to “catch your breath.”
To ensure younger staff feels connected, Chauvin likes to bring team members along when he is out in the field whenever possible to “provide that real world experience that we deliver to our clients.” The firm also checks in with team members to ensure they feel engaged. Other exercises, such as day-long retreats help ensure people connect.
For internal meetings, sometimes, the firm goes old-school, returning to conference calls, especially when the weather is nice. Employees are directed to “put your headphones in and walk around the neighborhood to break up the monotony of relentless video calls,” Chauvin said. “We’re trying to break the day up,” he said, comparing it to the water-cooler moment where co-workers might gather and chat.
“You need that break – just sitting motionless at a laptop, staring into a computer … it’s exhausting,” Chauvin said.
Some platforms offer features, which for a low monthly fee, prompt team members to take a break, stretch, or participate in an ice-breaking activity so that colleagues get to know each other better, Craveiro said. This promotes wellness and engagement.
Those using the work-chat apps appreciate the flexibility and new opportunities to accommodate talent and clients near and far.
“It helps us manage that client relationship, and helps our attorneys and staff manage their home life and schedule,” especially around childcare, Wyetzner said. In navigating the pandemic, “people wanted to come back to the office,” but with technology, the firm, which holds some evening and weekend hours, can “accommodate our staff.”
She added that “we have to evolve as an organization and have more of a hybrid approach. That effort can help attract talent, which “is hard to find in our line of work – it’s a niche business.”
Still, the abundance of platforms can be overwhelming.
“Like all of these channels, there are too many, and too many messages constantly. I turned off audible notifications, so I would not be distracted constantly and could visit Slack when I wanted to or had the time,” said Beth Granger, a Port Washington-based consultant who specializes in LinkedIn and networking.
And team members must be mindful of other’s work schedule. As Wyetzner pointed out, “some people are writing briefs in the middle of the night because it works for them,” but they then save the communication with colleagues for work hours.
To help people get the break they need, platform policies can include posting away messages and email vacation responders, Craveiro said. Some employers encourage disabling the account temporarily, so people aren’t disturbed during paid time off.
But when there’s a crisis, it could be time to turn to the tried and true.
“Pick up the phone,” Chauvin said. “Sometimes the old ways are the best ways.”