Do Chat Apps Really Make You More Productive?

The pursuit of being productive is a never-ending journey. From adopting open-office floor plans to using friendly bots, business leaders have resorted to some truly innovative ideas to drive collaboration—and for good reason. According to Deloitte, companies that prioritize collaboration are five times more likely to experience a considerable increase in employment, twice as likely to be profitable, and twice as likely to outgrow their competitors.

To foster this all-hands attitude, companies are increasingly gravitating towards chat apps like Slack. Building on the success of its commercial forerunners—such as AOL’s Instant Messenger—Slack continues to shape the future of work by pushing the limits of what a chat app can do. Not only does the app offer a centralized platform for creative collaboration, but it also aims to eliminate email completely. But is the answer to office productivity in yet another chat app? It could sound like a counterproductive strategy. After all, if you’re spending all your time inside of Slack, how can you possibly get work done?

Your Slack Notifications Are Disrupting Your Work

Have you experienced the feeling of hitting the sweet spot between work and self? Time flies by, and before you know it, you’re done with the task at hand. According to positive psychologist Mihàly Csìkszentmihàlyi in the book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, this mental state allows your productivity to thrive. But how can you reach that level of engagement? Your mind and body must converge in what’s called a flow state—a term coined by Csìkszentmihàlyi to refer to a state of total concentration. “It is the optimal state of consciousness where we feel our best and perform our best,” he writes, where “we are completely involved in an activity for its own sake.”

Do chat apps promote or hinder this elusive state of enlightenment? And could the very function of chat apps be a double-edged sword? Although Slack provides an effective means of quick message exchange, it can also be a significant source of distraction. Interruptions like message notifications can disrupt our work pace, especially if they start streaming in all at once. And even if we try to juggle work and chat, we might only be concentrating on a superficial level—what psychologists refer to as a state of Continuous Partial Attention (CPA).

To be productive, your mind and body must converge in a flow state—a state of total concentration. Click To Tweet

According to author Steven Berlin Johnson in Everything Bad Is Good for You: How Today’s Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter, any attempt to multitask will be a futile experience. “You’re skimming the surface of the incoming data, picking out the relevant details, and moving on to the next stream. You’re paying attention, but only partially. That lets you cast a wider net, but it also runs the risk of keeping you from really studying the fish,” says Johnson. Eventually, working this way culminates in a higher level of stress to the brain, diluting efforts to focus on the present.

In the worst case, users might subconsciously find themselves getting slightly too attached to the platform. Chat apps like Slack and its predecessors have conditioned the human mind to react instinctively to real time messages—like a moth to a flame. We feed on the immediacy of message exchange and can’t help but respond right away. Our brain comprehends it as a positive feedback loop, blurring the fine line between work and everyday life.

But Slack is Also Shaping Office Culture For The Better

“Slack creates the human connection without the human overhead,” says Ali Rayl, Slack’s director of Customer Experience. The chat app can interject a personable element into office communications, transforming the often sterile workplace into a more inclusive, intimate setting. It’s the little things that make Slack such a popular brand; beyond being a useful business tool, Slack is fun. Users can send stars, hashtags, and integrated gifs to keep workplace communication candid and, more importantly, human.

But the true power of Slack’s lies in its influence in shaping workplace culture. Communities are built—and maintained—through Slack. Users can create dedicated Slack channels for a variety of reasons, whether they’re working on a group project, planning an office holiday party, or simply picking a place to eat lunch with the team. But why are communities so important? As the internet opens up new horizons in communication, the presence of communities aren’t limited to physical geography anymore. And this gives individuals more reason to find a safe place to connect with like-minded people, and solidify their identities. In 1974, Psychologist Seymour Sarason introduced the concept of psychological sense of community, a central concept in community psychology. “Community is one of the major bases for self-definition”, he writes in his seminal book Psychological Sense of Community: Theory of McMillan & Chavis.

Building healthy interpersonal #workplace connections is critical to business success. Click To Tweet

Stewart Butterfield, CEO of Slack, is very much aware of the chat app’s impact on social dynamics and relations. “Technology can help make a company’s day-to-day culture more transparent, too. People develop all kinds of social norms that define a group. Every company has running jokes, catchphrases, special terminology, and jargon, and it all adds up. Making all these elements of company culture more transparent increases everyone’s sense of belonging,” he explains. And of course, building healthy interpersonal workplace connections is critical to business success.

Are Bots the Answer to Chat App Productivity?

The community benefits of Slack outweigh the productivity drag for most companies, but why should you have to choose between the two? Even though we’re not biologically wired to straddle multiple tasks at one time, the recipe for successful multitasking is no secret. The most efficient workers make the most of the tools available—including apps—to streamline their work and collaborate with their team. But to truly amp up collaboration, you’ll need more than just a chat app to exchange messages and store files. It’s fundamental to integrate Slack with the other apps that form the foundation of your workflows.

To truly amp up #collaboration, you'll need more than just a #chat app to exchange information Click To Tweet

That’s where bots enter the picture. Many bots may seem suited to only low-level tasks, but they can exponentially accelerate your productivity when combined with other apps into holistic workflows. “Business bots for the enterprise are a huge opportunity,” says Chris Eben, managing partner at TWG. “They can replace processes, workflows and interfaces across everything from supply chain and inventory to sales and marketing.”

In fact, building a bot for Slack is easy, and you don’t have to create one from scratch. “Workbot is the only bot that works with Slack Enterprise Grid and greatly enhances productivity in chat apps,” explains Bhaskar Roy, VP of Growth at Workato. “By enabling employees to complete work inside of their cloud apps like Salesforce, Zendesk, Github, Trello etcetera straight from Slack, context switching is eliminated and productivity goes up. Workbot also allows you complete control over the types of notifications you receive, which greatly reduces distractions.”

Integrate With Bots For Improved Convenience And Productivity

A Salesforce study indicates that 86% of respondents believed that a lack of collaboration was responsible for workplace failures. With the rise of remote work, Slack can be a lifesaver when it comes to demolishing the virtual walls that inhibit meaningful team communication.

Coupled with AI and Machine Learning, chatbots can go a step further and transform the way we approach work. A Tata Consultancy Services Global Trend Study indicates that 84% of businesses see the use AI as essential to competitiveness. When you augment a Slackbot with AI, you enable it to perform more complex tasks, like triaging customer service tickets based on the dominant emotion. Without the distraction of mundane tasks, employees are free to focus on higher level projects that require their full attention—leading to a better workplace culture and happier, more fulfilled workers.

The benefits of integration speaks for itself. Recollecting on his previous challenges as an office clerk back in the day, Butterfield believes that visible workplace transparency is key to boosting workplace solidarity and productivity. “The engineers can see the discussions that customer support is having and be proactive in helping the team, rather than waiting for something to get escalated. The marketing team can see when the sales team is frustrated with the marketing materials and is having trouble engaging with customers effectively. Having access to those conversations increases everyone’s ability to feel as though they are part of making things work,” he says.

Ultimately, business leaders need to understand how chat apps can—and will— revolutionize the way they do business. Recognizing the value of chatbots is a good first step, followed by the enforcement of a strong communication plan, both internally and on the customer-facing front. For true digital transformation success, companies must realize that change has to occur across the entire business model, not just within the IT department. And chat apps, like Slack, are a means of achieving this holistic transformation by enabling productivity, agility, and responsiveness.

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