Businesses have been using email for decades. For just as long, real-time communication software, in which users can send messages quickly, has been in use at work. In some workplaces, chat software could end up replacing email.
Chat software didn’t have the smoothest of beginnings. The technology, which was available at workplaces that used mainframe computers, launched more into the mainstream with programs such as AOL’s Instant Messenger, Yahoo! Chat, ICQ, and others. While these consumer-focused applications kept track of contacts and enabled group chats and file transfers, they were sometimes not regarded as robust tools for team or office communication.
This perception has changed over the years as the software has advanced. Now, chat software, paired with the advent of faster Internet speeds, makes video chat a reasonable option in business.
Dave Hamilton, co-founder of BackBeat Media and a prevalent tech podcaster, uses chat software for work. Backbeat Media has used a number of chat technologies over more than two decades.
“We started with AOL Instant Messenger 21 years ago, and used that as the ‘water cooler’ for our virtual businesses,” Hamilton said. “We moved that to Skype and stayed there for a long time. It served us well, and allowed us to just start a call in the group channel every day for our staff meeting. Now we use Slack for all the businesses. And we use either Zoom or Google Hangouts for the multi-person meetings and video calls.”
Hamilton also noted that “water cooler” applications such as Slack improved once they added conversation channels and threaded conversations to allow for better grouping of messages. This, along with its integrations with other applications and services allowed his company to tailor it to their specific needs.
Slack (slack.com), a cloud-based instant messaging service, is free to use. To search more than 10,000 archived messages, or to add unlimited apps and integrations, organizations must pay. The company positions its service as a replacement for email and in 2019, claimed more than 10 million active users daily.
While Hamilton is happy with Slack as a business communication tool, he feels it could do a better job sifting through large amounts of data.
“I constantly find myself missing messages as I jump from workspace to workspace. Some sort of universal notification or new-message view would be a huge benefit,” said Hamilton.
For Jeff Gamet, TextExpander Evangelist at software company Smile, chat clients have brought far-flung contacts together. Like Hamilton, Gamet began using AOL’s Instant Messenger years ago, then migrated to programs such as Slack, WhatsApp, iChat, and Apple’s Messages platform.
“A robust chat platform is critical when you work in a company that’s distributed across multiple time zones and continents,” said Gamet. “All of the chat tools I use make it easier to stay in communication with coworkers, colleagues, friends, and family in near real time. They also make our big world feel just a little smaller. People who are half a world away seem as if they’re with me in person when we chat.”
Gamet cited real-time video conversations as a complete game changer for his business.
“It’s almost like being in the same room, and tears down the communication barriers that otherwise come along with remote work,” he said “Being able to see someone during a conversation, instead of relying just on text, also reduces the likelihood of miscommunication when you don’t have the benefit of body language.”
Gamet noted that improvements in chat suites’ tracking and managing threaded conversations (especially Slack’s thread view feature) has helped these programs be seen as viable business tools.
No matter what your company’s needs, there’s probably a chat suite that’ll work to meet them, can bring team members closer together, and can allow colleagues to communicate and handle issues almost instantaneously.