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Are Collaboration Channels Killing Your Productivity?

Just like social media, work channels can become addictive and a distraction.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Since its release in 2004, Facebook has connected 2.85 billion people with each other. It popularized the idea of social feeds. You can post your thoughts, pictures, videos and any other personal updates in your feed and your friends and family connected with you on the platform can see these posts in their social feeds. It is very addictive and many people check their feed many times a day to keep themselves updated. 

It is natural to think that a Facebook-like tool that is easy to use (and just as addictive) can be adapted to interactions at work. Anyone comfortable in the Facebook mode of communication should take to such a tool like to fish to water, no? Along came Slack with this very idea. 

They called their feed ‘channel’ and it was meant for chatting with team members at work. Channels have many features common with Facebook’s social feed including likes, mentions, and sharing posts among others. 

Related: 7 Things to Know Before You Manage a Gen Z Team

Slack (and similar clones like Microsoft Teams) too has become very popular because it is easy to get started. Start a channel with a title such as ‘Marketing’, and add other marketing team members to it – voila, you are off and running. Now everyone can start chatting in the channel. Just like any social media feed, team members watch for alerts from the channel and react to the posts/chats in it. It made work look like play and fun. But does this really work? 

Are Slack and Microsoft Teams effective at work? 

A recent benchmarking study on the use of Microsoft Teams, a Slack competitor, by SWOOP Analytics reveals interesting insights.  The most prominent is that less than 3% of teams effectively use the platform for collaboration – the reason ‘channel’ was invented.   

Even when chat channels were used, a relatively small percentage of team members were responsible for an outsized proportion of the interaction activity. Without a strong person leading the discussion, most channels simply fell out of use. Even organizations that trained their teams to use chat channels noticed that without constant reinforcing team members drifted to direct chats or calls. 

Team members also created multiple channels with the same topic instead of continuing their conversations in an existing channel. This led to data bloat making it hard to find information when needed. 

Related: Remote Employee Monitoring: Pros, Cons, And How To Do It Right

Many teams used ad-hoc methods like using chat notifications as a stand-in for To Do’s, using general channels to store collateral for future reference, and so on. 

Even when channels were used to chat, users complained that constantly monitoring them was a stressful and unproductive use of time. Besides, when team members were included in many channels it became very hard to find information as there was no ‘context’ to anchor the chats to in the channel. 

Clearly, the idea of using channels like social media feeds was detrimental to productivity and ultimately stressful for employees. 

A new collaboration tool to make chat work at work 

While the first generation of productivity tools like Slack and Microsoft Teams have not lived up to their expectations, they did usher a new way of thinking of how teams can work together using chat. Learning from the experience of users of these tools, it is time for a new collaboration tool to make chat work, at work. This new tool should be based on the following principles and features. 

Focused conversations 

It is clear that channels only work with a small number of participants and tightly focused topics. If that is the case, why have channels at all? A good communication and collaboration tool should focus on facilitating discussions between team members who have something to contribute to a discussion. By creating discussions on topics that are meaningful to the participants, there is no need for unnatural communication rules or strong-arm tactics to make discussions productive as is needed to make chat channels work. 

Anchored by context 

Chats don’t happen in a vacuum. In most cases, they are anchored by some context from another chat, or an email, or some other artifact like an image, or a document. The collaboration tool should allow chats to be started from an email or a document for example so all participants can understand the context of the chat immediately. These types of discussions contribute to ‘organization memory’ and can be referenced in the future to save time on rehashing the same topic. 

Connected actions  

A discussion usually leads to an action item. A number of tools are available to manage to-dos. The problem is the to-dos are not connected to the discussion from where they emanated. When a to-do alert is triggered, the user has to rely on memory to recall why the to-do was set up in the first place. By connecting the to-dos to the underlying discussions, there is no need to stress memory. All the information is there at your fingertips. 

A new generation of folders 

Everyone is familiar with storing files in folders on the desktop. But today work is done in many mediums. Besides Microsoft Office documents on shared folders, chats, emails and calls are some other ways in which work is done. The time has come for a new generation of folders that can not only store documents but also store emails, chats and other forms of communications related to a topic. 

You can then simply go to a folder that contains information on a topic and continue your work from it. For example, if a chat started from an email, led to a shared document, and ended with a to-do, all the related communications can be stored in a folder. When the to-do alert is triggered, you can continue the chat, reply to the email or update the document as needed, right from the same folder. The folder becomes a work hub. 

Living in the post-pandemic world 

Thanks to the successful vaccination campaign, slowly the Covid-19 pandemic is coming under control. This catastrophic event has forever changed how people will work together. More teams will be comprised of people working from different locations and different time zones. A new generation of work tools is needed to enable remote teams to work together.  

Related: Make Your Free Time More Productive

Cloud-based SaaS (Software-as-a-Service) productivity tools are a natural fit. They don’t require any installation, all updates and maintenance can be done remotely and they can work from any browser, independent of the user’s location or underlying hardware. Such tools will be rapidly adopted especially by the younger workforce as it enables them to have an enjoyable work-life balance from anywhere in the world.