You slacker: The great office chat debate

06 August 2015 -


Office collaboration tools are the latest craze to hit the workplace, but are these systems any better than what we already have?

Blayne Pereira

New technology has a propensity for both creating new words and completely re-hashing – or should that be hashtagging? – old ones. Before, if someone called you a ‘slacker’ in the workplace, you’d be mightily offended. Nowadays, being a ‘slacker’ in the workplace signifies your uptake and proficiency with the latest trend to hit the office – workplace collaboration tools.

Slack, Basecamp, Trello, Skype, to name a few – the list of firms looking to synonymise themselves with the next generation of the office is already seemingly endless.

Originally introduced by the likes of MSN with its ubiquitous Messenger; an instant messaging system that was a staple in every teenager’s life in the 2000s (the post-PC and pre-smartphone era); and Skype thereafter – used for reconnecting with far-flung friends and relatives and global business conferences, the continued technological push has seen these chat systems descend upon the workplace.

Does this mean email is dead? Or is this just software being created for the sake of it? Professional Manager magazine caught up with a couple of experts with wildly differing opinions, putting to them the question Should firms introduce an office chat system?

YES – Sophie Allen – Skype for Business product marketing manager, Microsoft UK

Enterprise collaboration tools are an excellent way for businesses to enhance work across groups or multiple offices, increase productivity and generate a sense of camaraderie within their teams.

Being able to instantly get hold of someone or ascertain their whereabouts during the working day has become the norm. Millennials in particular, who are now entering the workforce, are used to this and have come to expect a similar experience at work.

Organisations looking to retain young workers need to meet these expectations, as well as keep up with how we communicate as a society.

However, collaboration tools help all kinds of workers, not just millennials, by breaking down barriers to communication and giving employees access to people they might not have spoken to previously.

If an office only uses traditional technology, like email, employees tend to only communicate with those around them or in a hierarchical or siloed manner. By giving employees a tool to connect with anyone in an organisation, including those in a different office or in a different country, it encourages greater collaboration.

While some may say that office chat systems will be used for non-work related discussions, more likely than not the conversation between co-workers tends to shift towards work. Furthermore, allowing employees to have fun and talk informally fosters positive relationships.

Collaboration tools also help teams enhance productivity by giving employees a way to instantly connect, which can lead to real organisational change. For example, instead of playing phone tag, a user can see if someone is available to chat on their status and, if they aren’t, that person can tag them for a status change alert telling them when they can talk.

Being able to share your desktop or work collaboratively on a single document, rather than back and forth, creates little pockets of saved time. If these tools are available, people rarely ‘cold call’ – instead they’ll send an instant message to get someone’s attention before calling, seeing if that person is free or giving them time to open a relevant document. A few collaboration tools also offer video conferencing, making sure the ‘human element’ isn’t lost.

All of those little gains come together and help drive collaboration, efficiency and productivity within an organisation – and who doesn’t want that?


NO – Gian Mahil – Founder, Cutting Edge Consulting

I’ve worked with several companies who use these systems and I deliberately choose not to partake. Why? Because they are a drain on my productivity.

More than anything, I find it disrupting. If I’m deep in thought on a piece of work and someone pops up with a question, it interrupts my concentration. It’s like someone tapping you on your shoulder – ‘what do you think of this? Or ‘do you want a coffee?’ Personally, I have to be fully focused to do a proper job.

Email is much better because the use is in control of when messages are opened; work offline features have been polished over the past two decades and are highly effective .

The danger with office chat systems is that you can spend far too much time becoming engrossed in a completely off-topic conversation – something that’s far less likely to happen with email.

Email is great as it is. If it wasn’t, it simply would not be as successful as it is. That’s not to say that it comes with out its flaws. We need some kind of filtering system – beyond something that merely flags up spam – a more intuitive mechanism that can identify which emails are urgent. We need a kind of first- versus second-class mail.

Notifications on a screen are no different to someone demanding an individual or group’s attention and stopping them from working. Between email, phone and actual real-life conversation, I think we currently have all the bases covered.

I used to work in an office where they sued a coloured-ball system: if you wanted people to come and talk to you, you would put the green ball on your desk; while the red ball operated as a do-not-disturb sign. With these chat-messaging systems, I’m not so sure you can do that. You can be set to ‘away’ or ‘appear offline’ yet something you still get notified via email. Email!

Sophie & Gian were interviewed for the Summer 2015 issue of Professional Manager magazine.

Images courtesy of Shutterstock

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