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Should WhatsApp be a business communications tool?

Tools like WhatsApp are made for convenience and ease of use, so it’s no surprise that they’re commonly used in our personal lives. The problem arises when they start to creep into professional settings. If you’re one of the many startup leaders or HR teams who allow your staff to use WhatsApp casually at work, then it may be time for a reality check.

What makes WhatsApp so downright inappropriate for employee communication? Here’s what to know and a few good pointers on doing better.

Why is using WhatsApp at work problematic?

First, a quick intro for those unfamiliar with this app – and leaders considering integrating it into their workplaces. WhatsApp is a mobile messaging app that allows users to send and receive text messages, photos, videos, calls and voice messages using their phone’s internet or data connections.

Sounds pretty nice, eh? There may be a case for using it in your personal life because all of your friends and relations do, but unfortunately, this app also includes several features that make it extremely ill-suited to professional dialogue:

  • WhatsApp’s place of honour in people’s personal lives makes it difficult for users to set mental boundaries. Your staff might have a hard time code-switching between casual and professional mode when they’re communicating with their colleagues on the same tool they use to chat to their spouses, kids, and old school chums.
  • WhatsApp is a phone-oriented tool. Although there’s a desktop app, it’s so tough to use that many people who try end up going back to their mobile devices out of sheer frustration. In other words, if you let people in your workplace use this tool, you can count on them having their heads tucked in their phones all the time, and there’s no better way to create a bad impression – or distract your staff from important work.
  • One of WhatsApp’s strengths is that anyone can create a group with their pals, but such cliquishness doesn’t bode well for workplace settings. For instance, people can exclude certain coworkers, which might open your organisation up to accusations of discrimination or bullying.
  • WhatsApp groups can be used to exclude senior management and leadership, making them prone to becoming cesspools of inappropriate conversation.
  • Despite its much-touted messaging encryption, many of WhatsApp’s privacy features seem to be an afterthought. For instance, if you create a company group and add an outsider, such as a client or potential partner, then you’ve just exposed their phone number to everyone on your team without getting their consent. Even if you unquestioningly trust the people you work with, this clear violation of GDPR is just asking for trouble.
  • WhatsApp is owned by Meta Incorporated of Facebook fame – not exactly the most trustworthy name when it comes to privacy, intellectual property ownership, information accuracy, or any number of other critical metrics. For instance, in 2021, Forbes rated the app’s privacy as “awful” based on the totally unsurprising revelation that its parent company harvested massive amounts of metadata, including identifying information about user devices.

How can companies solve the WhatsApp problem?

One of the biggest challenges in putting a stop to WhatsApp use is that for all of its faults, the app is doing something right – If it wasn’t, then people wouldn’t love it so obsessively.

As WhatsApp’s casual, easy chatting has come to replace other types of messaging, it’s likely earned a place in your workers’ hearts. At this point, forbidding it entirely might not be a good way to boost morale.

Fortunately, you can deal with WhatsApp at work without coming across as a total tyrant. All you have to do is put a bit of emotional intelligence to use and empathise with your workers’ needs:

Treat WhatsApp like other kinds of personal device use – and set a clear policy.

Using WhatsApp should be like chatting on your phone: It’s fine to do it when you’re not working during designated breaks.

By devising unambiguous rules, you can help your employees get the message that some behaviours simply aren’t tolerable. At the same time, you can still permit them to check in with their sick nans or blow off some steam by sharing stickers in their favourite groups.

This is easier to achieve if you provide your staff with company-use devices. Simply exclude WhatsApp from what gets installed, and have your IT team enforce the rule.

Fill the business communication void with something actually made for business communication.

If your team has resorted to using WhatsApp to discuss business matters, the odds are reasonably high that you’re partially to blame. After all, if you had given them a more suitable discussion platform from the start, then they wouldn’t have had to rely on WhatsApp.

Step up to the need by creating a Slack channel, organising your email readers to make conversations easier to follow, or signing your company up for a Microsoft Teams account. These applications all have an established track record of use in business environments. Many also come in free and paid varieties, so you can try them out until you find one worth investing in.

Using a dedicated business app makes it easier to track the conversation for subsequent reference. It also helps you enforce clearer rules on what constitutes appropriate communication.

If you’re a tech company, then you might want to consider building your own communication application. This is a great way to foster feelings of ownership around the workplace and ensure your new platform integrates smoothly with existing business systems.

Build a better business communication system

People management is easier when you include the people being managed in your decision-making process.

Before switching to a new communication tool, ask your teams what kinds of features they’d find useful. Explore what drove them to use WhatsApp to begin with. Doing your research before instituting a new policy can increase the likelihood that the changes will go over well.

Want to learn what’s truly driving your workplace communication dysfunction – whether it manifests as inappropriate chat apps or unsavoury conversations? Strike up a healthier dialogue by chatting with a Lodge Court specialist today.