The quiet revolution: the prominence of workplace apps over talking

Workplace apps are all the rage at the moment. It would be hard to imagine what the business world would look like without Slack, Facebook Workplace, Microsoft Teams or Atlassian’s Hipchat to name a few. Even WhatsApp and Telegram have found their way into workplace communication, albeit not at the organisational level.

Workplace communication apps have many advantages over traditional email channels, streamlining effective communication and allowing for the co-location of discussions to a single source. 

Not only is Slack more popular than ever in terms of industry-wide adoption, many employees seem to be turning to these workplace-based apps for the sole medium of communication with their co-workers. Rather than simply getting up and walking down the aisle to engage in verbal face-to-face dialogue, most employees seem to find a better sense of engagement in using these apps, leaving some workplaces almost completely silent, save for the faint sound of keyboard tapping. So how did this quiet revolution occur?

The use case for communication apps in the workplace over face-to-face

Technology in the workplace is not a new phenomenon. Now that smartphones are ubiquitous, combined with the ease of communication facilitated by non-workplace apps such as social media, it’s not hard to see where the habits came from for organisations to adopt workplace communication apps. Communicating in short messages is likely to lead to more direct tasks being generated, creating the sense of productivity that these apps can give. 

Face-to-face communication has its own benefits

Technology can do a lot of things for us, but it might not be able to replace the good old face-to-face chat. It’s difficult to imagine a world where we had no verbal interaction.In an academic study, Melnik and Maurer actually found that direct verbal communication can enhance workplace productivity by reducing communication errors (1).

Therefore, it may be advisable to encourage face-to-face dialogue in the workplace. It is likely to increase the social interactions of employees, which in turn can lead to greater employee engagement due to a harmonious working environment. Offline communication can be a good way to build up company culture and express company values, as it is often difficult to express those values in an online environment. Even engaging in a social outing every now and again can build camaraderie and encourage cross-collaboration. 

Workplace applications are here to stay. Just as emails were seen as its own revolutionary piece of technology, apps have in turn put themselves at the forefront of how we communicate at work. As time has gone on, online communication has fundamentally changed how we work, but offline communication still has its place. Even as our workplace moves to remote working and flexible work hours, even just seeing a friendly face through Skype or FaceTime can be enough to promote collaboration, while also driving engagement.

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  1. Melnik G, Maurer F. Direct verbal communication as a catalyst of agile knowledge sharing. Agile Development Conference. 2004:21-31.

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