When it comes to business communication, few categories of software have more buzz than Team Chat tools.
The prominent example is Slack, a hot Silicon Valley startup. But many enterprise vendors have also unveiled similar services for businesses, including Cisco, Google, IBM and even Facebook. Cloud-based project management tools, like Atlassian and Basecamp, have also incorporated chat functionality.
But Microsoft Teams may be the most exciting new entrant. Announced in November 2016, Microsoft Teams became generally available mid-March to all Office 365 customers worldwide.
For companies of all sizes, platforms like Slack and Microsoft Teams introduce faster, simpler ways to collaborate. But they do present entirely new ways to work, and it’s hard to change work habits. Organizations face challenges selecting which one is the best fit, and once they do, ensuring employee adoption.
Various kinds of chat tools have been around for decades, but not many were purpose-built for work groups. As a new generation entered the workforce, they brought with them a desire to communicate over chat, just as they did with online services like AOL Instant Messenger or MSN Messenger. Of course, social media and smartphones only accelerated these trends.
By providing employees with team chat tools, your organization captures work-related messages on a platform you control. Without business-approved messaging, employees may turn to less secure personal tools, like Google Hangouts or their smartphone.
But enterprise-class chat tools offer real productivity benefits as well. Here are a few reasons you should consider adopting them in your organization.
Exit Your Inbox
Most fundamentally, chat tools alleviate the burden of email. Managing your inbox and its endless chains of emails you were cc’d on drains your productivity. With the sheer volume of digital communication that now takes place within companies, chat tools provide a separate channel for more immediate back-and-forth discourse, while email can be reserved for formal messages.
Team chat tools also deliver greater permutations of working groups. Instead of everything landing in a single inbox, users create “channels” based on projects or even specific assignments. As work becomes inherently more collaborative across different business functions, employees need to connect with a growing diversity of colleagues and partners, some of whom may not be in the same office. Team chat tools help keep the information flow organized. By setting notifications and @mentioning specific people (ex. “@chad what do you think?”) on certain messages, individuals can better manage what needs their attention.
Although Slack is built on open APIs and integrates with all manner of different tools and cloud-based services, integration is particularly powerful in Microsoft Teams. As an extension of the cloud-based Office 365, it automatically connects to your calendar for example, and makes it easy to collaborate on files from your OneDrive or SharePoint without creating duplicate copies floating on email.
If you’re all in the same office, it’s good to get up from your desk to talk face-to-face. But increasingly, a lot of employees work at least part of the time remotely, or you need to work with an outside contractor or agency. Jumping on a quick voice or video call is a matter of clicking the icon at the top of the chat. Actively collaborating on a project can start nearly instantaneously. (Microsoft Team’s integration with Azure Active Directory and Skype for Business is especially powerful.)
Once you start using team chat tools, the benefits become quite obvious. But you will experience a learning curve. A few things to keep in mind:
- Consider what tools you currently use — Slack set the pace in this category, but if you depend on Office 365 and Microsoft software tools, chances are Microsoft Teams is going to be a sensible platform upon which to standardize. It may not be as elegantly designed as Slack or others, but it has the functionality where it counts. Also, evaluate what integrations are available with the project management tools you use.
- Adopt with wild abandon — As with any software tool, your organization will have early adopters that may already be playing around with Slack or other chat tools, while others will cling to email. Don’t give in to the old ways; keep directing employees to the chat tool. Wherever possible, use it as a primary channel for moment-to-moment digital interactions to encourage regular usage. If you think there will be significant pushback, try piloting on a specific project.
- Leaders must lead by example — The value of a communication tool increases based on the number of people who use it, and the number of ways it is used. But if key managers refuse to try something new, it fragments the communication norms, and sends a signal that not everyone needs to try.
- Ignore gimmicks, or embrace them — Depending on your office culture, the use of emojis, memes or gifs may be frowned upon. Certainly they don’t make much sense in the context of email. However, on chat (as on social media), they are an increasingly popular way to informally converse with colleagues. For many organizations, this may be uncharted territory, so think about what guidelines you can establish at the outset.
Chat Us Up
Evaluating new software tools and learning how to get the best use out of it can seem like unnecessary effort when you’ve got a business to run. But don’t let your concerns keep you from improving productivity within your organization. We can help make it simple. If you have questions about the software tools you use, or want some advice, get in touch.