Group chat cuts email, but does it save time?

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More organizations than ever are now using group chat applications and team software to communicate communally. But does the software actually make teams more productive or are we just generating more noise than before?

Over the past few years enterprises have followed the consumer lead and jumped on the social media and group communications train. Frictionless communications apps like Slack, Hipchat and Microsoft Teams have grown in popularity, giving employees a new way to collaborate.

And make no mistake, the millennial generation of workers absolutely loves collaborating. It is the only world they know, since they were born into a world of social media and high-speed, always-on mobile connectivity. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that millennials will make up 75 percent of all employees by 2030, meaning companies who want to stay competitive need to embrace this app-reliant, mobile-powered generation.

Channel-based communications

Frictionless apps organize team messaging into group channels to facilitate team collaboration and project-based working. Slack, for example, has been designed to offer continuous, fluid, more ‘natural’ conversations in the workplace – and replace the more time-consuming email. It already has over 5 million daily users sending a billion messages a month.

In fact, frictionless communications promises to bring about the oft-forecast ‘end of email’. While email may have started life as a revolutionary new way of communicating on individual and group levels, over time it has become a burden. Today, the average office worker spends 20 percent of their time reading and responding to email, while the average email inbox contains only 38 percent important, relevant emails. In terms of being an email replacement, Slack says users receive 49 percent less internal email once they are using the app.

Microsoft Teams is another interesting offering. The Redmond giant was long wedded to its Microsoft Office suite, which included Outlook, many people’s app of choice for managing work email. Convincing people to break the habit of many years and make the shift to a frictionless app in place of their traditional email is no small undertaking. Today Microsoft Teams, like Slack, offers customizable messaging channels that can be tailored to groups, projects or specific needs, something email cannot really accommodate.

In terms of the content that frictionless apps enable and encourage, Hipchat believes that group chats and use of emoticons and emojis “help teammates make personal connections”. The app provider conducted research that found 62 percent of people said they felt closer to coworkers by using emoticons in chats and conversations, while 61 percent said they used emoticons to add emotion or personality to messages. Fifty-six percent said they think using emoticons improves communication in the workplace. So it appears that as email morphs into chat in the workplace, enterprise communications has embraced emojis and emoticons.

But do they deliver?

It is quite difficult to calculate the productivity benefits to know whether frictionless apps have a demonstrable impact on efficiency. What does seem clear is that there is a definite effect on email. Slack claims its users see a big reduction in email usage, which is significant, but only if that time is spent profitably elsewhere rather than ‘just’ chatting away with colleagues on a frictionless app.

The instant nature of frictionless apps would certainly imply increased productivity, since it speeds up the process of communication between colleagues and teams. Employees are more likely to be able to get an instant response from a team member in a chat channel rather than having to wait for an email response from a coworker. Furthermore, these tools also help break down the silos of information on projects which are often locked up in emails or on attachments. Frictionless apps allow those files to be shared in group chats so that everyone involved has access to them.

Despite all of this, there is little evidence that email is about to be consigned to history.  Analysts Radicati Group predicts that by 2019, the number of email users worldwide will exceed 2.9 billion, up 10 percent from 2015. Business emails sent and received per user per day will also grow, up 14 worldwide percent over the same period.

Frictionless apps are certainly having an impact on the enterprise environment and enabling teams in whole new ways, but they are not quite ready to kill off email just yet.

To read more about how Orange is helping enterprises use digital to transform workspaces and enable greater collaboration, click here.

Steve Harris

I’ve been writing about technology for around 15 years and today focus mainly on all things telecoms - next generation networks, mobile, cloud computing and plenty more. For Futurity Media I am based in the Asia-Pacific region and keep a close eye on all things tech happening in that exciting part of the world.