Chat, done right, can be used for Work, not just Play

Last Updated on 2 weeks by Raaj Kumar

Picture this. You’re celebrating your 5-year old’s birthday party and have a house full of kids. Okay, maybe not the house. Let’s keep the kids in the yard till we get all of them vaccinated You serve the kids bowls of ice cream and leave only forks for the kids to eat them with. Then, a group of all-knowing adults discusses how inefficient the kids are, how much longer it takes them to eat ice cream, how messy everything gets and so on.  

Let’s cut to a different set of visuals. Instead of your yard, consider a business environment. Replace kids with people at the workplace and forks with Microsoft Teams. Let’s switch eating ice cream with whatever you do at work. I’m sure far less interesting than ice cream, but let’s stick with it for now. 

After seeing you and your team struggle with Microsoft Teams, it’s easy to draw conclusions about how inefficiently you are using specific Teams functionalities, or why you should be using Threaded chat or chat in channels, and not one-on-one private chats and so on. But is it really your fault? Just like the kids, you were handed the wrong tool, totally deficient for the job. Hence your struggles.  

In a recent article about Microsoft Teams, the author makes some keen observations derived from a study about users of Teams. Among other things, the author points out how chats in Teams are used ephemerally, for casual banter, and not for serious work. The article is titled ‘Make Work in Threads, Play in Chat your Mantra.’ The author makes some other claims. We will review each of the claims and present our view of it and establish how those can be refuted with the right tool – Clariti. 

“Chat is designed for short, sharp communications. It is ephemeral, with no guarantee that it can be easily rediscovered in the context in which it was posted.”

We respectfully disagree. The fact that people use Chat for short, ephemeral conversations has more to do with the tool (remember the fork?) than the user. The way chat has been implemented in Teams and other similar software (ex. Slack) forces users to limit chat to ephemeral, short conversations for fear of not being able to find information or context later. 

With Clariti, chats do not have to be ephemeral. Users can not only have one-on-one private or group chats, but they can also chat from emails thereby creating an unbreakable ‘link’ between the communication items. Because of this ‘link’, information can easily be traced and rediscovered in the exact context in which it happened. Conversations that have the same context (aka ‘topic’) are stored in TopicFolders. So, the next time you need to continue the conversation, all you need to do is go to the relevant TopicFolder and you will have complete visibility into who said what, why and when.  

“Work needs to be persistent, not nostalgic. Our work colleagues need to be able to pick up any threads of work conversation we may have left to continue the flow of work. Our colleagues in different time zones, or working flexible hours, cannot rely fully on disconnected chat messages for work statuses.” 

Unfortunately, Microsoft Teams does not allow its users to pick up threads of work conversation and continue it in the same context. It should also be noted that for most of us, “work” involves not just chats, but emails too. Having emails reside in a system outside of Teams (ex. Outlook) and then “disconnected chat messages” in private chats or channels, doesn’t help. 

With Clariti, users can do all their work from one app – emails, chats, to-dos, calls, and files. All conversations are persistent, ‘connected’ and organized by topic in TopicFolders. Users can easily continue the flow of work, by navigating to the relevant TopicFolder and picking any of the items (email, chat…) to continue their work. Simple. 

“These enterprise toolsets have quickly identified the shortcomings of chat and have either added threaded discussions as an alternative communication mode or like Microsoft Teams, have designed the into the product. Unfortunately, the Chat and Threaded Discussion modes are regularly offered as separate options.” 

Of course, Threaded discussions are like a band-aid approach to the problem. Like Teams, most similar chat systems like Slack have implemented Threading in chats as an afterthought, when they realized how quickly chats in channels can devolve into noise and conversations that are hard to track or follow. 

‘Context-based communication’ is the raison d’etre for Clariti. Our goal has never been simpler to get all apps in one place. There are other products that do that, and it still doesn’t solve the problems associated with users creating silos of information of things on the same topic across different systems. We developed a unique approach of ‘connecting’ all disparate items that belong to the same topic (hence have the same ‘context’) and have them organized in TopicFolders. This connected communication is central to our product and a key differentiator. 

“Don’t invite more than your immediate team. Smaller teams make psychological safety easier. Create a digital team in the same way as a strong physical team — defined membership, a clear charter and agreed on ways of working.” 

This is analogous to telling the kids not to use forks for eating ice cream when we went ahead and gave them…forks! Users of Teams and Slack are often handed down set channels with a set group of participants. Often, those channels include more people than needed, driven largely by FOMO. So, when the channel becomes too noisy, users of Teams resort to one-on-one chats with specific people. The problem with that is the private conversation is disconnected from whatever is being discussed in the channel (even if it’s on the same topic) and leads to some of the claims/observations the author makes of “…no guarantee that it can be easily rediscovered in the context in which it was posted.” 

Users of Clariti have no such groups imposed on them by an “administrator.” They can add/remove people based on the conversations that are relevant to each group of participants. Regardless of who is being added or dropped from the conversation, all the information on the same topic is still connected and organized in the TopicFolder. It is rumoured that Alfred Lord Tennyson had Clariti TopicFolders in mind when he said “…men may come and men may go, but I go on forever.” 

“Even one-on-one chats may still be better in a team channel. For example, chatting to a colleague that you are off to lunch might be useful to other team members who may be looking for your attention.” 

Bad advice alert! When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Telling one participant about your lunch plans or availability in a channel with a hundred people is exactly what creates noise! All of us who have been a part of any group chat on WhatsApp is aware of the 300 unread “Happy Birthday” and “Good morning” messages we often wake up to every morning! 

With Clariti, communication is natural. Users have the option of one-on-one private chats or creating a group chat on a certain topic and inviting relevant people. There could be related discussions on the same topic that need not involve all the original participants. No problem. You are not bound by the rigidity of channels. The freedom to add or remove participants from conversations lies completely with the user. 

Conclusion

Context is critical in communication. Having discussions on the same topic (‘context’) across multiple apps creates disconnected workflows. Chat-centric tools like Microsoft Teams and Slack do not offer users a meaningful way to have context-based conversations using emails. As a result, most users use the chat in these systems for ephemeral, disconnected conversations. With Clariti, users have no such limitations. They can use email, chat, to-do, call… in the same app and have all related items (conversations on the same topic) be organized in TopicFolders. Users always see the big picture i.e., the complete context in which a communication was posted and can be very productive with their work.