Collaboration apps like Slack and Microsoft Teams like to boast that their products are ideal in a time of uncertainty or crisis.
Not only is this pitch far from accurate, but it’s also reckless. In a world of rapid tech innovation and instant communication, the high stakes of a crisis create a critical need to stand by tried-and-true methods of sharing information.
Productivity tools can create a cesspool of distraction and speculation
To be clear, there is a place and benefit for tools like Slack and Teams. For one, they have lowered the barrier to entry for conversations, leading to flatter hierarchies and a voice for those who were normally silent. They also encourage casual, nonwork conversations among coworkers, and in a way, these tools clear inboxes of many unnecessary emails.
On the flip side, collaboration tools are major distractions, creating severe time management and productivity issues.
Slack and Teams create a perilous choice for employees every day. Do I stop working and dig through this Slack conversation in case there was something important? Or do I ignore my notifications, get to work, and risk missing critical information? While this “risk” is present on a normal day, in a time of crisis, it’s elevated to dangerous levels. This is especially true as the volume of messages rises beyond anything we have experienced before.
With Slack, Teams, and other similar tools, organizations have inadvertently created environments where information goes unchecked and largely unchallenged. When a massive crisis takes place, everyone around the virtual water cooler has a chance to chime in and help fuel the panic. And because these tools often go unchecked, managers are unable to monitor rapid conversations, decisions, and speculation.
On the most popular communication and collaboration apps, everyone’s message is on the same playing field. In a crisis, no message is upheld as a clear, reliable directive.
Traditional communication methods provide a grounding in a time of uncertainty
Instant collaboration tools are easy to use and ad hoc, but that’s not what we need in an uncertain environment. A crisis is a time for thoughtful communication, and organizations must focus on moderation and controlling the official company message. So, how do you structure communication and collaboration for a new reality? Organizations must revert to and rethink their use of corporate intranet, email, and blogs.
These are the correct broadcast tools for messages of importance because they indicate a certain level of security and trust. An official message on the intranet from the CEO outlining guidance and upcoming action for travel or a new work-from-home policy provides solid ground—employees stop what they are doing, check out of Slack, and take a moment to read and digest this communication. An official email or blog post has the ability to capture the full attention of an organization that these newer communications tools do not.
Along with trust, traditional methods facilitate the sometimes-necessary barrier to entry of important conversations. With email and blogs, there are more options for governance of interaction around the message; for example, in a blog on the corporate intranet, the poster can turn off comments, or enable comments with moderation. Built-in workflows for messages are also much more controlled and simplified, allowing for approval process steps to ensure the right people sign off on a message before it’s posted.
Don’t let panic influence your organization’s communication decisions in a crisis
Unless it is critical to your chosen career that you rapidly discuss a crisis situation with your coworkers all day long, avoid choosing Slack or Teams for official communications on the subject or for facilitating these types of sensitive conversations at all.
Rethink how employees best receive and absorb messages, and revert back to the tried-and-true methods of communicating important information. In times of uncertainty, it’s not the loudest voices, wittiest comments, or most rapid-fire keyboardists that employees look to for guidance—it’s their leaders and the clear and concise message they deliver.
Mike Hicks is the chief marketing officer of Igloo Software.