Using Chat Platforms and Apps to Enhance Collaboration at Work

By John Rampton

With fewer and fewer team members working out of one central office, it's clear the work environment is changing. There's less group interaction, which makes collaboration more difficult. This is especially true when team members are faced with countless emails: emails can take time to answer, and it often feels like a disjointed conversation where two or more people are just responding to previous messages rather than actually talking to each other.

We now use chat platforms and chatbots within our organization to help increase communication, collaboration, and productivity across our remote team. These include HipChat, Slack and Skype as well as chat applications like WeChat, Facebook Messenger and Salesforce's Chatter. Here's how we're putting them to work:
  • Team conversations. When certain teams can't get together to talk about a project in person, they talk about their tasks and what they need from each other via chat. Many of our teams have been able to stay on top of deadlines this way because they are no longer waiting around for answers from others on the team.
  • Meetings. Rather than meeting in a room and taking people away from their work, we often hold interim meetings via chat platforms where we can cover many agenda items and exchange project updates. This allows us to include remote staff and avoid holding our office team captive in a conference room for an hour or more.
  • File and data sharing. We work with a lot of data, files and content that need to be passed around for approvals before specific deadlines. Using chat platforms, we've been able to get files to more people at once than we have with email. That's because chat platforms allow for a quick and easy way to acknowledge receipt of the data, and any concerns can be addressed immediately rather than hours later.
  • Project work. We have certain special projects that require closer collaboration due to their technical nature or short deadlines. With chat apps, we put all these team members in one "room" where they could quickly get on the same page, provide information to each person on what has to be done, and check in to monitor progress.
  • Water cooler catch-up. With so many of our employees working outside of our company's main headquarters, we found the camaraderie and socialization that typically takes place in the office was missing. However, through chat apps and video conferencing, we've been able to create a social microclimate. We designate specific times during the workday when employees should catch up on each other's lives, and we encourage closer relationships among the team. Outside of work hours, these chat apps can also be used by employees to stay in touch on their own time.
  • Search capacity. Most chat platforms and apps have a search function where you can easily find a conversation or certain information. It saves you time and works far more effectively than email search functions.
  • Leadership interaction. I love using tools like Slack and Skype because it makes it so easy for me to directly contact a member of my team when I have a few minutes to check in. It works the other way around as well: my team has an open line of communication where they can ask me questions, share an idea, or seek my advice.

Because of chat platforms, our virtual team has reported feeling more involved with the company and up-to-date on the latest news and projects. Chat platforms also keep our team socially engaged despite being located remotely, and collaboration is more prevalent -- leading to greater productivity and more deadlines met.

John Rampton is the founder of Palo Alto, California-based Due, a free payments company specializing in helping businesses bill their clients easily online.