“Always on” stinks 

Chat and messenger applications have long since established themselves in our private lives and facilitate fast and uncomplicated communication. However, these apps also have their downsides. You’ve probably already had some personal experiences with highly active groups making your smartphone vibrate and ring all the time. Which, of course, is incredibly annoying.

Chats entice people to deal with things that other people initiate. At times that other people dictate. We’re constantly responding to external triggers. These triggers always come when others have time or are bored. And they tear us away from what we’re doing or what we want to do.

So, both in our private lives and in a work context, we should get used to configuring these notifications to our benefit and disabling as many of them as we possibly can. Only a few groups are really that important for us to allow them to ping us all the time.

However, as long as you’re not annoyed by being “always-on” and constantly available, and at the mercy of the permanent attention grabbers, you don’t have to disable the notifications. In my own case and that of many of my colleagues, however, I find we give very selective attention to when our smartphones ring and vibrate. I like to seize the opportunity and shut down rooms, especially when chats draw attention to themselves by sending out a flood of messages. I also do this when topics come up that neither interest me nor that I actively address: I simply set everything to mute. And I hardly ever regret it.

If chats and messengers are going to be used in an organization, it requires a culture that accepts that people will only be available and can only be reached if they want to be. Personally, I think it makes much more sense to leave the notion of selective and actively selected accessibility in the hands of your employees than to lay down fixed rules or time slots.

Situations do exist (for example, right before a trade fair or a conference) in which my colleagues and I are willing to be “always-on” in order to coordinate things proactively and work out the final details quickly. And other situations exist in which you can simply stay away and be offline with a clear conscience. This is especially true in your free time and on the weekend, and when you’re on vacation, of course.

If you know someone is on vacation or cannot be reached, then try not to mention them. I generally recommend using @-mentions that ping other people sparingly. Mentions are a powerful tool, but their usefulness can quickly be put to the test. If they’re used incorrectly or in an overinflated way, recipients can quickly get annoyed and start using alternative strategies. 

Constant Interruptions Prevent Concentrated Work

Group chat applications like Google Chat, Slack, or Microsoft Teams can be a real test of productivity. Several years ago, I read that the average manager is only able to work continuously for seven minutes at a time due to continuous interruptions. Or maybe it was five or nine minutes. But you get my point. In any case, these periods are very short. And group chats don’t make it any better. In fact, they can make things worse. Now your colleagues don’t just come knocking at your door when they want something, they also knock digitally.

By the way, you should know that when it comes to these interruptions, companies without a functioning and successful intranet have a particularly hard time. That’s because, if there’s a lack of transparency in your organization, and you find it difficult to harvest information on your own, it’s virtually predestined that central, experienced, and key staff will constantly be interrupted by chat messages. Stupidly enough, this takes place time and time again for the same topics and questions. With a good and established intranet, these questions would have long since been documented and available to the company at large.

A central documentation platform like a wiki or wiki-based intranet delivers a variety of advantages, as we discussed earlier (see “My Five Major Arguments in Favor of a Wiki”). 

When it comes to messengers, however, there’s another advantage: instead of giving a detailed (and equally time-consuming) explanation, you can simply reply with a link in the chat. Or I just give a brief pointer: “available on the intranet.” Coupled with the matching search term, this quickly leads to the correct answer. 

Whatever the case: group chats are disruptive at work. You keep getting interrupted. Some people don’t have any problem with that. Others loathe it. In any case, disruptions of this kind are usually not very helpful. The best tip I can give you is very simple: simply mute your apps and smartphone and use your time consciously to focus on your work. Several of my colleagues use similar strategies in the office. Some use headphones, others put up a sign with a clear message saying “Do not disturb.”

For managers who are not good at doing “patience,” it’s a good practice not to be guided by impulse and interrupt colleagues, but instead, to promote and respect these moments of flow. Most chats can be put aside for a couple of hours. Just because things can be done quicker doesn’t mean things always have to be done quickly.

Increasing Complexity 

I’m not sure if things would be less complicated if we didn’t have chat software. I think that complexity is a fundamental characteristic of the VUCA time in which we live. VUCA stands for “volatile,” “uncertain,” “complex,” and “ambiguous.” It describes a time in which digitalization is becoming more and more prevalent, work structures are changing, hierarchies are dissolving, and previous wisdoms are being questioned. 

VUCA describes the complexity of our world. This and the uncertainty associated with it mean that people today are yearning for simplicity. For example, I don’t want messages to arrive on a dozen different devices. That’s too complex. That’s because every single message could be important and, if worst comes to worst, require an immediate response to make sure things don’t escalate. Personally, I always try to avoid situations escalating. Once a major fire has broken out somewhere, you have to put a lot of effort into putting it out. But as long as a fire is still small, we can put it out with simple solutions. The more input channels there are, the more I have to go through them to check whether there’s smoke inside. That’s very frustrating. 

I hear the same thing all the time from customers and colleagues: can’t we put all of this in one place? The clear answer is: no, we can’t. We have emails. We have chats. There are all sorts of messages everywhere that arrive through all sorts of channels. There’s not only WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger. Proprietary messengers are also integrated into LinkedIn, Xing, Instagram, Twitter, and all of the other social media platforms out there. And then on top of that, there are the group chat tools we use in our teams. Some colleagues use ten to fifteen different messenger solutions without a common input channel. If you only use between four and six in your organization, I’d like to congratulate you on your discipline. 

There are, however, tools like Rambox (open source) and Franz or Station (freemium) that place all of the messengers in a single container. Although this is not a unified inbox, it does at least represent a central container on your desktop where you can bundle all of your chat communications. I don’t use tools like this myself, but I do have some colleagues who find them useful. 

Getting a Grip on Chats and the General Frenzy

Chats have a much shorter grace period when it comes to replying. Often, you get the feeling that you should answer immediately. At the end of the day, a chat is something like a personal conversation, and when you talk, you don’t just sit there quietly for a minute after being asked something, or make another phone call first and answer afterward, right? In personal one-to-one chats, the perceived urgency and associated pressure are often higher, since I’m personally responsible for solving a problem or answering a question, and it obviously depends on me as to whether the colleague seeking advice can now get on with their work or not. 

I’m firmly convinced that we should quickly say goodbye to thoughts like these because otherwise chats are guaranteed to drive us crazy. I see the following ways of dealing with the fast pace of chats: 

  1. You can simply ignore chats in general, disable all notifications, and define fixed times of the day when you read them and respond in a focused manner. This is probably a good strategy. However, I myself am far too curious to stick to that.
  2. You can get used to answering quickly and briefly. A good measure of self-confidence and a pragmatic approach helps here. Replies like, “I don't know,” “That worries me,” “I'll have to think about that,” “I’d like to make time to discuss that further” “Can you create a message/task for me on the intranet as a reminder?” or “What would you suggest yourself?” often help me out when I need to respond quickly without having to work for ages on something or think about it hard. 
  3. Frequently, I copy the message over to my Google Keep notes as a reminder and then come back to it later. (By the way, solutions like Telegram allow you to flag chats as “unread” if you think they’ll take more time to deal with than you currently have available. Google still has some catching up to do here. But at least they now offer you the option to forward posts to your mailbox.) 
  4. You can simply ignore or forget the chat request. That doesn’t initially sound like a particularly sensible strategy, of course, but it is still a very common approach. Many people simply ignore chats. At the end of the day, it is a casual medium. This may not be a legitimate reason for doing so, but it’s not a capital offense either.
  5. You can attempt to respond with the right answer right away. If you generally have little to do, that may be the easier choice. And it may even be entertaining. It is not a sustainable strategy for most people, however. And I wouldn’t want to get used to dealing with things like that. 

So, we’ve already agreed on the fact that good mobile solutions are needed in an organization for chats, right? And I’m pretty sure a mobile alternative would also be a great enhancement for an intranet as well.

A mobile alternative, though, would involve asking some questions that go far beyond pure functionality. Two of these questions are: what devices are we actually going to use? And what about aspects like security and compliance? This is the point at which we enter the domain of corporate policy. 

Would you care for a refill?

Link to this page: https://seibert.biz/intranetbookmessenger

The Social Intranet

Foster collaboration and strengthen communication. Be effective with enterprise intranets mobile and in the cloud.

Virtual Collaboration in Companies: Social Intranets as a Digital Home 

Never before has the business world been so overrun by cloud software and specialized vendors as it is now. There is so much software out there that it is becoming increasingly difficult to keep track of things. It is all the more important for the future of work to have a place for digital meeting - a reliable home port meaningfully networked with numerous other systems that makes it quick and easy to navigate. This will increase transparency in the company and make collaboration more effective. Based on many years of experience, this book tells you how it already works in today's digitalized world and which trends you probably should rather than shouldn't follow.

About the author

Martin Seibert was 17 when he founded the software company Seibert Media. Twenty-four years later, it has nearly 200 employees and generates 35 million euros in annual sales. He has been sharing his enthusiasm for technology in YouTube videos for many years - and now also in his new book about social intranets.

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This content was last updated on 03/31/2021.

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