3 Problems With Instant Messaging in the Workplace and How to Solve Them

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Is your new collaboration tool hurting team productivity more than it’s helping? If so, let’s fix it.

header image shows a computer screen with multiple chat bubbles on it

Research shows that strong communication is one of the most important factors for project success, so successful teams should employ the most effective tools available to enable good team communication.

But what do you do as a manager when you invest in a new collaboration tool, only to find your team using it to chat incessantly about dating shows and their fantasy football teams, fawn over pictures of each others’ pets, and covertly gripe about you and your fellow managers?

3 disadvantages of instant messaging in the workplace

First off, take a deep breath, it’s going to be OK. Your team is using the tool to communicate, and that’s a good thing, even if some tweaks can be made to limit distractions and improve productivity.

Collaboration software isn’t just a fad, so everyone is going to have to get used to it. The workplace collaboration software market is already huge—an estimated $2.7 billion in 2018—and Gartner expects it to continue growing rapidly, to an estimated $4.8 billion by 2023. (Full report available to subscribers)

On the other hand, if your new collaboration tool is a genuine distraction that is preventing your team from delivering on time, you need to take action. What that action is, though, will have a major impact on how your team responds, and whether you get a positive outcome or just make the situation worse.

Let’s take a look at three workplace messaging issues and how to solve them.

1. Your team is chatting like crazy, but very little of it is about work

You’ll never cut out water cooler chat completely. If you ban non-work chat on your collaboration tool, your team will use email. If you try to restrict email chatter, they’ll stand around an actual water cooler and talk. If you cut off their water supply, they’ll leave and you’ll be sued. The key is accepting that chatting on the collaboration tool is going to happen and designating space for it so that it doesn’t directly distract from actual work communication.

Encourage separate channels for subjects such as pets, books, and podcasts. Then, if someone starts spouting off on the project updates channel about a cool new restaurant, gently redirect them to the #lunchspots channel.

Also, never underestimate how important your collaboration tool is in making remote team members feel like part of your onsite team. If the price of that bond strengthening is a little bit of online gabbing, it’s well worth it.

As user Inkin says on Reddit, “I’m a professional. Trust me to do my job. Joking with my friends while doing my job makes me like my job more, which makes me do higher quality work.”

 NEXT STEPS 

Designate channels on your collaboration tool for fun conversation. A few ideas to start with are pets, podcasts, and professional development. There are also plenty of fun topics that don’t start with the letter “P.” Just use your imagination and let your team add channels based on what they want to talk about (as long as it’s appropriate for work, of course).

2. Productivity has gone down since implementing the new collaboration tool

Any new technology can be distracting for a time as employees explore its features. Collaboration tools can be especially intriguing with their constant notifications and instant gratification.

Some employees may be able to use this as a breather from work without having it become a detriment. But others may have trouble turning it off when they need to focus on a time-sensitive task. If you notice that someone is struggling with this, encourage them to use the focus features that most collaboration tools offer.

For example, Asana has an inbox snooze feature that hides all notifications for an hour so you can focus on the task at hand. You can enable the feature—and others—by clicking on your profile in the top right corner, then “My Profile Settings,” then “Hacks,” as shown in the screenshot below.

A screenshot showing how to enable Inbox Snooze through My Profile Settings and Hacks in Asana

Enabling Inbox Snooze in Asana (Source)

Of course, this doesn’t stop users from constantly checking for new messages on their own, or getting distracted by their smartphones, but it is a start.

Administrators can even set default “do not disturb” hours for their teams if they really want to get hands on. Individuals should be encouraged to use their collaboration tool to set reminders for themselves, such as scheduling heads-down time within the app.

Another useful tip, as suggested by Slack, is to change the appearance of your sidebar to hide inactive channels and conversations, making it less of a distraction.

A distracting sidebar next to a less distracting sidebar showing only starred conversations and channels with new messages in Slack

Making your sidebar less distracting in Slack (Source)

 NEXT STEPS 

Encourage your team to snooze or mute notifications or use “do not disturb” hours when working on deadline. Also, look into ways you can customize the appearance of your collaboration tool to make it less distracting, and share those tips with your team.

3. Your team is using private channels to share their discontent and rally against you

If your team is organizing against you, you need to immediately crush their revolution with an iron fist. I’m kidding, of course. But if you find out that your team has a private channel that they are using to share concerns and frustrations, the problem is most likely more on your end than theirs.

Without calling them out, you should make it clear that you want open communication and you are willing to listen to their problems and work together to resolve them. If you’re not willing or able to do this, you shouldn’t be a manager.

Once you’ve opened up the lines of communication, don’t expect the private discussion to go away, but know that some constructive venting is healthy and that by ensuring your team has an outlet for voicing their collective concerns, your team will be stronger in the long run.

 NEXT STEPS 

Encourage open communication on your team, and lead the way by having a virtual open-door policy when it comes to feedback. Accept that some private venting is healthy, but encourage your team to share their issues with you so you can work to resolve them together.

What are your biggest issues with instant messaging in the workplace?

As a project manager and team leader, what are the biggest problems you’ve faced when implementing a new collaboration tool? I’d love to hear them in the comments, or you can connect with me on Twitter @AndrewJosConrad.

Also, for a steady stream of useful distractions, follow our project management blog for frequent updates with tips on everything from using your project management software to increase productivity to turning your project management into program management.


Note: The applications selected in this article are examples to show a feature in context and are not intended as endorsements or recommendations. They have been obtained from sources believed to be reliable at the time of publication.

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About the Author

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Andrew Conrad

Andrew is a content writer for Capterra, specializing in church management and project management software. When he’s not striving for the perfect balance of information and entertainment, Andrew enjoys the great outdoors and the wide world of sports. Follow him on Twitter @CapterraAC.

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