Instant Messaging in the Office: Two Apps that Turn Distraction into Productivity

instant messaging distraction productivity

Small business owners have long been concerned about lost productivity due to instant messaging and it’s true that instant messaging can be a huge office distraction. But it’s also a reality, and I’m certain that as Millennials and members of the even younger Generation Z take their places in the workforce, this handy mode of communication will become the standard and eventually relegate email to the dustbin of tech history.

Smart small business owners will embrace the technology and make it work for them. Fortunately, some great apps are now on the market that take the power of instant messaging and combine it with the productivity of many of your favorite apps and cloud services.

The two big players here are Slack and HipChat, and Slack is the one that has been getting most of the press lately. Slack is probably the best-known “unicorn” right now, a privately held company with a valuation that exceeds a billion dollars.

These apps are popular with tech-savvy small businesses because they allow seamless work group or company communication over all devices. But beyond merely being able to send a text message, they also integrate with dozens of apps commonly used in the business environment.

Let me paint a picture for you. Imagine you’re working on a project and sharing a cubicle with another person on the project. As you’re plugging away at your work and making minor breakthroughs throughout the day, you might lean over to your cube-mate, point to your computer screen and say, “Hey, look what I did with this and how it works!”

That’s the kind of communication you can achieve with Slack or HipChat. Rather than sending out an email, copying everyone on your team and telling them to go look at a certain Google doc for example, you can pull your Google doc right into Slack. However, the integrations go well beyond simple document sharing. Here’s a very short list of some of the apps that integrate with Slack, HipChat, or both:

  • MailChimp
  • GoToMeeting
  • Stripe
  • Zendesk
  • GitHub
  • Dropbox
  • Chatlio
  • Asana
  • Facebook
  • Trello
  • Uber
  • Wunderlist

With the introduction and evolution of these apps, there is certainly a strong business case for using instant messaging with your team. And if you’re leveraging virtual employees and freelancers, the case is even stronger.

Of course the bottom line when you measure instant messaging in terms of small business productivity, is the final cost-benefit analysis. Not only do you have to consider instant messaging as a distraction and how these apps will improve communication, you have to consider the cost of the apps themselves.

Both Slack and HipChat have free versions available and I think these will be sufficient for most small business owners who want to get the most productivity out of instant messaging. The free versions generally limit the number of apps you can integrate with your team and how many messages are archived and/or searchable.

Now you might be saying to yourself something like, “Okay, these messaging apps are great, but won’t instant messaging still be a distraction because employees will continue to use their private personal accounts at work?”

There are two keys to solving that problem. First, get your team using one of these apps and loving it. Think of this as a substitution, much like moving addicts from heroin to methadone. The second step is keeping the members of your team busy. When they have full plates and are making productive use of an app like Slack or HipChat, they won’t have the opportunity or the inclination to be wasting time with personal instant messaging at work.