What it is: Work Chat is the category that popular apps like Slack and Microsoft Teams fall into, as well as less mainstream alternatives like Zulip. These apps typically unite chat, messaging, and conferencing technologies, providing all-in-one portals for enterprise-wide communication. They’re also customizable, allowing organizations to develop specific rules and protocols for chat use.
What it does: Work Chat apps allow anyone in an organization to reach anyone else by text, whether one-to-one or in user-defined chatrooms. Usually, along with text-based communications, Work Chat apps provide file sharing, voice, and video call capabilities. They can also integrate with task management, calendaring, development tools, and other automation applications.
Why it matters: Work Chat apps can increase productivity and communication, making it easier for teams to coordinate on goals and share recent developments. Notably, Work Chat can be great for halting the endless flow of one-line group emails that can plague large teams. However, like open-plan offices, Work Chat can also provide distractions and drain productivity. Thus, Work Chat can either be a major operational asset, or a nuisance, depending on how it’s implemented.
What to do about it: If your organization is using Work Chat, make sure it is being used effectively, both in terms of infrastructure and culture. Customize selected tools in ways that suit communication needs, and, if necessary, discourage their use as a free-form chatroom. Consider new offerings, such as Microsoft Teams, that might offer improved capabilities.
- Unites communication methods into a central portal
- Provides an alternative to high volumes of email
- Customizable nature can be used to create elegant systems
- Integrates with external applications via API (e.g. operational management, developer tools)
For years, Slack has been nearly synonymous with Work Chat. However, since 2017, Microsoft Teams has been encroaching on the market and has now overtaken Slack in terms of total user base. Though they’re quite similar in terms of core functionality and purpose, the main differentiating factor is that Microsoft Teams offers full Office 365 integration as well as superior video conferencing capabilities, while Slack is arguably more compact and easier to set up.
Slack, Microsoft Teams and many other Work Chat apps run on a “freemium” model. However, some open-source alternatives offer many of the same benefits, for organizations that don’t want to pay for one more enterprise app. Two examples: Zulip, with its focus on threading, aims to make it easy to avoid irrelevant messages, and Bitrix24 incorporates project management tools, such as team calendars.