The way we communicate at work is changing. The idea of hob-nobbing around the water-cooler is almost a distant memory for some businesses. Instead, the office day is dominated by conference calls and long, instant-messenger (IM) based conversations on mediums like Slack and Google.
These messaging platforms certainly make our working lives more convenient. If nothing else, you can use them to send emojis and hyperlinks, so it’s quick to express emotion and direct colleagues to an article you want them to view.
But at what detriment? It’s widely acknowledged that the best brainstorming sessions come out of mutual, vivid, and vibrant discussions, not staring at a screen. Is there a possibility that we’re losing creativity the more we come to rely on these (smart and efficient) messaging tools? Or does it open new doors, by giving those lower down the hierarchy to tap into someone higher up’s messaging space?
According to a recent survey undertaken by Capgemini, 84 per cent of employers surveyed agreed that digital literacy is vital in the workplace, which is one of the reasons why everybody is turning to services such as Slack to increase at-work efficiency.
Impression, a digital marketing agency, uses Google hangouts to communicate with each other. Rob Tomkinson says: "From our experience we’ve learned that hangouts make quick communication between team members so much simpler. It gets you answers quickly and stops you from physically disturbing people for small queries, while keeping inboxes at a manageable level.
"However, we make a conscious effort not to use it when we need to generate creative ideas - for that we insist on face-to-face ideas."
Others take the idea of emptying the inbox to heart, and instead rely totally on Instant Messenger to communicate. One small business, Swytch, a London based tech start-up, binned email and rely on Slack solely to communicate. They have dedicated channels on Slack for every topic - product development, marketing, accounts - and use it as an archive system too. Rich Leigh, director and founder of Rich Leigh & Company, is on completely the same wavelength. He explains how instead of Slack, they use Whatsapp on the Web for everything. "From client group chats involving members of the team to colleague communications, we just love how clear and transparent it is."
Many small businesses say that using IM is most effective when they have an office abroad. It allows them to keep operations going around the clock, and to ensure that when they come back to the desk they can catch up easily without having to sift through 100 emails about one specific problem.
It’s not all rosy in the office. For all of its efficiency, there are some businesses who do find IM disruptive, and who would prefer to turn to keep its use to a minimum. Rob Hilborn is head of strategy at Broadband Genie. They have used Google chats for years, and thinks that on the face of it, these sound like great ideas. "I’ve personally found IM services can be quite disruptive however, especially in the case of Google chat. When you’re writing an email and a big green chatbox opens up - it adds a sense of urgency to answer it and thus ending the task you were initially working on."
He goes onto explain how most things that get asked over chat might be better asked face to face. "It’s rare that a proper decision will be made via IM, which makes me wonder whether we should just have had a meeting. There’s also the risk that IM messages quickly go off topic, or end up as general chit-chat!". He suggests that businesses consider getting feedback from staff or switching these IM channels off occasionally to find out of it really has helped productivity at all.
Losing a sense of creativity through using IM services, isn’t something that Tom Jeffries, from Bizdaq, thinks is a problem however. "I actually feel that we’re more creative using Slack, as we can create different channels to keep content ideas alive, content we like, content we may use, and refer to it when we feel particularly creative."
Although the idea of an intra-office IM service might sound stressful and distracting, perhaps it is possible to be an efficient creative after-all.