And how to overcome them
Instant messages can be a quick, easy way for two people – or small groups of people – to chat and share information. They give the participants a very simple and efficient way to have a conversation while also working on other tasks at the same time.
Many people are used to using these systems in their personal lives as they keep up lines of communication with family and friends. There are many instant messaging programs for business, too, often coming as part of other software packages. Examples include Whatsapp, Skype, Facebook Messenger, Google Hangouts, WeChat, Telegram, Slack – just to name a few.
There are several good reasons to use instant messenger services in your organization: they enable employees to quickly reach out to one another to get information they need in a less disruptive manner than making a phone call, sending an email or wandering over to a colleague’s desk for a discussion. Whether the person is at the next desk or on the other side of the world, this can be a very efficient form of informal communication, to this extent, and encourage collaboration and boost your team building.
However, it should be noted that instant messenger systems have numerous limitations and should not be relied upon as a major communications channel within your organization for imparting important communications or even for sharing sensitive information.
While each instant messaging system has its own pros and cons and configurations, in general these are the disadvantages your company can face when using instant messaging for business communications:
1. Productivity issues with instant messengers
While instant messaging for business can cut down on a lot of unnecessary time spent on ineffective communication, and reduce long-distance telephone charges, they are also potentially open to misuse. Some cohorts of employees could spend hours each day using instant messenger, gossiping or generally wasting time while looking to the world like they are actually busy, doing work.
Messenger notifications can also still be just as distracting as a phone call or incoming email for someone who is trying to concentrate on some critical work or attempting to meet a deadline.
2. Security issues with instant messengers
Very simply, most instant messenger platforms aren’t secure and you should not trust them to send information that you wouldn’t want being shared outside of your company.
The external instant messenger platforms are essentially on public networks, which means that they could easily be intercepted or hacked by external parties. Some instant messengers have better security protocols than others.
Your organization goes to a lot of effort to protect its classified, confidential or otherwise secret business files and store them securely on servers that can’t be easily accessed by the outside world. When files are shared over instant messenger, all these security protocols go out the window unless you know you can trust that it is properly encrypted.
Chats conducted over an instant messenger can also be easily copied and pasted and end up in the wrong hands.
There are other vulnerabilities too around passwords and authentication, meaning information can fall into the wrong hands.
3. Ineffective tool for mass communication
As mentioned above, instant messaging for business is a good place for informal chat and for quick exchanges of information between two people or very small groups. Beyond that, they become unwieldy and it can be hard for everyone to keep up with the chat when many, many voices are added to the mix.
So if you wanted to use one to broadcast information to all employees as a way of grabbing their attention, you are more likely to have your message drowned out by other voices chiming in… or it might go unnoticed entirely.
While instant messaging systems are a good way to bypass email – which has become a problematic way to share information in and of itself with many office workers suffering from email fatigue and not opening every message that hits their inboxes – it can also suffer from some of the same setbacks.
Instant messages cut down on small messages that can contribute to the volumes of electronic mail cluttering peoples’ inboxes. But many workers see them as another annoying distraction and switch them off or mute them… or never even log into them in the first place. Many workers see it as “just one more thing” they have to do, and another thing that becomes distracting and overwhelming. These workers will never be reached if you have something urgent to impart.
4. Problematic system for archiving
Some instant messenger systems won’t enable you to search for previous conversations when you log in to a new session, meaning you can’t go back and look for previously shared information at a future date.
Other instant messenger systems have archiving functions, but you would need to develop a whole range of protocols around what to name the files so they can be useful and searchable.
A primary reason to improve internal communication within an organization is to facilitate information sharing and to improve corporate knowledge, and break down “silos”. Many instant messenger programs will not help with this, and only contribute to it.
5. Cannot be controlled by management
While certain features can be turned on and off, depending on the system, ultimately users can send their own content to one another and it might not be correct, useful or constructive. In fact, it could even be contradictory to official information that management is sending elsewhere.
How to overcome the disadvantages of instant messaging for business
There is a time and place for instant messaging for business, so there is no need to just throw it out and ban it altogether. When used in conjunction with appropriate other internal communication tools and channels, it can be very useful, as outlined above.
Firstly, you need to establish parameters and protocols around the use of instant messaging in your organization. This would include guidelines on what it can and can’t be used for and appropriate use such as language.
It’s good practice to ensure your employees understand the importance of cybersecurity in general and their role in keeping your organization safe… guidelines about the safe use of instant messaging platforms should be included in this.
Depending on the platform you can possibly configure the system so that it does not allow employees to share files or communicate with people outside of the organization.
You may also be able to configure the system so you can monitor use and detect if employees are spending too much time using the software or sharing information they shouldn’t be.
Look at other ways of sending urgent or mass communication that mimics certain aspects of instant messenger software without being the same system.
For example, DeskAlerts is an internal communications software platform that includes features such as pop-up notifications appearing on employees’ computer screens, similar to the way an instant message notification would appear. The difference is it is controlled by management and users cannot prevent the messages from appearing, guaranteeing the information will be seen – there is a 100% open rate. It’s also a completely safe way to share attachments with your staff, such as videos, photos and documents.
By using these systems in tandem you can achieve great results in improving your internal communications.
Watch how you can help your employees to perform at their best with internal communications software.
More on that topic: how to choose employee communications software.