Is doing business over WhatsApp really such a good idea?

06 May 2019

It has become quite evident that many people in business today are suffering from a form of communication overload or fatigue, exacerbated by the age of social media, over-sharing and marketing clutter. Many employees and executives have either not received or declined coping mechanisms and other useful tools to better manage their inboxes. The result manifests itself into business activities increasingly being diverted from traditional email to popular instant messaging platforms such as WhatsApp, Telegram and others.

Based on our collective consulting experience, we shed some light on the inefficiencies posed by business communication over WhatsApp and the solutions you should consider for your business instead.

The increased noise, clutter and communication inefficiency.

One of the primary reasons why instant messaging platforms are rising in popularity within companies is the application’s enhanced effectiveness for gaining immediate attention. This is more evident when a recipient of a message poorly manages his or her email box(es) and fails to respond timeously to emails or calls in general. It is a particular challenge within organizations where approval is required from a somewhat disorganized team leader, manager or executive for a process to proceed. So, we escalate communication to a platform where we believe we will have a greater chance of response. Without all those newsletters, long emails and meeting requests, your chances are probably better to get a quicker response so you can continue with your work.

The opposite is also true for the sender of the message, where a digital society promoting instant gratification constantly expects an ‘immediate’ response – with senders often purposefully circumventing traditional communication channels such email to reach the recipient purely for their own convenience. Furthermore, consider that almost every discussion involving more than two people transforms into a ‘group’ with their own notifications and clutter – we are creating a concerning and endless cycle of fragmented communication. The human brain cannot realistically encode so many different notifications and bits of messaging meaningfully. The entire process is slowing you down.

The lack of personal and professional boundaries.

Following the overflow of communication clutter is the lack of boundaries, both personally and professionally. The instant messaging platforms in question were originally designed as social media platforms for personal use. Consider that emails are typically associated with a more formal tone and cultural business norms, with boundaries on when it is appropriate to either send an email or to expect a response. It is, for example, expected for managers to have out-of-office responses to manage expectations of senders, and that business hours generally apply to business-related communication. Unless urgent, there is no immediate expectation for the CEO to urgently respond to an email from a team member with the latest digital trends on a Saturday morning. Yet we respond to the WhatsApp message because it appears within a more informal context, and then complain that we are not achieving work-life balance goals.

Our personal and professional lives therefore become blurred, compounded by a user’s status as ‘online/offline’. Professional boundaries are further blurred in that more casual - and often inappropriate - communication creeps into work-related conversations. Considering that text-based communication does not contain many nuances of tone, expressions and body-language associated with communication. It takes only one emoticon to be interpreted the wrong way for human resources to get involved.

The time that gets wasted and associated security concerns.

Instant messaging platforms weren’t designed to naturally accommodate many of the digital tools, systems or environments that companies rely on today. Business communication requires supporting material – be it file attachments, calendars, screen shots, document share, screen share, link share, video conferencing and a variety of plugins. The most popular instant messaging platforms are limited in this regard, with users often resorting to duplicating files and processes to send over WhatsApp. Whilst many platforms are also encrypted for the individual’s peace of mind, the organization has far less control over the process in how sensitive data is shared and stored on the recipient’s personal device. If employees have copies of files and data saved on personal WhatsApp accounts in the natural course of conversations, that data is much harder to control – and wipe away – in the event of dismissal.

Voice notes further complicate the communication process in general – especially if the sender tends to ‘over-communicate’ or elaborate unstructured thoughts over long voice notes. With no-one to talk back, and 1-minute voicemail limits of old falling away, there is no sense of a natural limit to voice notes. The reality is that the process of listening, encoding and actioning items in voice notes takes longer for the recipient to encode and process. Whilst voice notes are by no means a replacement for narration, some executives forget that whilst it is convenient to share all their thoughts or instructions in a single voice note for employees to listen to as opposed to typing an email, the process costs the employee far more in productive time to action. A traditional phone call is sometimes even more efficient than the use of voice notes.

So what is the solution then?

From our collective consulting experience, it has become evident that improved digital communication efficiency is increasingly becoming a focus point in digital roadmaps for many companies – with cost and time efficiency gains impacting the bottom-line and productivity in numerous ways.

There are a variety of powerful off-the-shelf business-focused instant messaging platforms with the ability to truly transform communication processes, achieving a shift away from email and capturing the many benefits of instant messaging that also exist – and resonate – with a rising Millennial workforce today.

Some of these off-the-shelf solutions include Slack, Zoom and Microsoft Teams, some with powerful integration possibilities into third party applications, popular cloud services and other systems. The needs of larger organizations or corporates may require a more bespoke solution or platform, with companies often building proprietary systems internally.  

All-in-all, these platforms have an inherent business purpose, with specific usage policies, notification management, better data security and draws clearer lines between business and personal use – leaving WhatsApp for the friends and family.

Internal platforms and communication aside, there are customers or clients who may want to reach out to your brand via WhatsApp. A different offering, called WhatsApp for Business is currently available on Android and iOS devices with a desktop interface, inclusive of innovative features such as automated responses, quick replies and more which falls part of a social media / community / customer service manager’s responsibility. The brand therefore has a competent and skilled resource representing the brand’s interactions with customers, and keeps employee’s personal accounts and ‘questionable’ profile pictures out of the public’s eye.

You can’t just wing it.

The success and appropriate fit of any platform of course depends on the organization’s digital strategy, environment and roadmap. Like any new way of doing things, such platforms require a significant change management to be successfully adopted and utilized across an organization.

Speak to us about a digital assessment by clicking here.