Tech companies are betting the future of work is messaging

messaging
Chloe Hava

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written on January 8, 2018

All our work functions will soon be done through an instant messaging portal, according to some tech giants. But is it just hype, and can the effect be counterproductive?

Will instant messaging be taking over our workplaces sometime soon? If recent tech investment activity is anything to go by, it seems likely. Big tech companies are heavily investing in instant messaging portals, fuelling speculation that these communication hubs are set to become the next big workplace tool. In September last year, Japanese tech company SoftBank pumped $250 million into Slack, while it’s rumoured that Amazon wants to purchase the company for a whopping nine billion.

On the homefront, Atlassian has tossed its hat into the ring with the development of Stride, the cloud-based version of it’s messenger service HipChat. Even Facebook has launched it’s own video chat tool, Workplace.

Now, these companies aren’t simply hoping to improve workplace instant messaging, but to consolidate many workplace functions into the one business platform, transforming business software.

Think of how the mobile phone became the centre of our personal life, and handles our communication with family and friends as well as allowing us to listen to music, take photos and play games. Tech organisations are betting that something like Slack will become the hub for business life – with whole companies popping up to design independent programs for the app that gets the largest market share.

The “conversational interface” would be your communications hub, with messaging linking business units, teams, and data sources, while third-party apps would  offer functions such as payroll, reporting, recruiting, onboarding and training – sometimes with the help of chatbots.

In terms of onboarding, for example, Slack bots like “Obie” provide company information for employees by identifying and catering to their needs. A spokesperson for Tasytt, who developed Obie, says, “Users can pull information by asking questions and Obie accesses knowledge recorded in Slack, in your Google Drive, and on our web platform to answer them. Everything happens in a Slack DM. As an administrator, you can create a task list or lesson, then assign it to anyone (or everyone) on your team to complete.”

When will messaging take over?

At the very least, not anytime soon. VP of product at Slack April Underwood concedes that while there are some useful tools, such as polling tool Polly and calendar and meeting coordinator Donut, there is yet to be something strong enough to institute a groundbreaking change to business operations.

In fact, the whole thing might turn out to just be hype. A recent US survey of startup leaders by First Round Capital found that 61 per cent thought bots and conversational interfaces are overhyped, ranking it third in a list of the years most overhyped technologies.

And although client facing interactions are possible through channels with customers using the service, the ease of interaction, while heightening collaboration, can be damaging by encouraging a 24/7 work mentality. Also, with the decreased formality of instant messaging comes the chances of oversharing.

Slack creeping

Just as social media and instant messaging services like Facebook and Instagram can be all-consuming, so too can Slack. Fear of not being up to date on numerous work-related channels can propel people to check-in at all hours of the day. Psychologist Niels Eék says Slack creeping can actually hinder productivity by not giving us the down time we need.

“If we are constantly connected, there’s an increased risk of getting into negative stress if you cannot rest your mind at times,” says Eék. “Being constantly connected could negatively impact your recovery periods.”

Slack is aware of the problem, and has created some services to counter the always-on nature of the service, such as the Highlights tool, which fills you in on what you missed in bite-sized pieces, or All Unreads, which consolidates all your unread messages into one feed.

It remains to be seen how long it will take our workplace messaging platform to completely creep into our whole work-life. Stay tuned.

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