Messaging is here to stay. And it’s not just something for the kids, it’s for the business world too. There is a shift coming, similar to how the fax machine was replaced by email some 20 years ago. Only this time it’s internal email that is being replaced by messaging.
But why? What are the advantages of messaging? Isn’t it just the same as email but in a new format? Don’t worry, in this post we explain the main benefits of messaging.
Note: The examples and illustrations come from [Briteback – the enterprise messaging app](https://briteback.com).
Let’s start with the basics of modern messaging. Messages are written in channels which belong to teams. A team consists of a group of people with something in common, e.g. working on the same project or belonging to the same division or work unit. A channel has a name indicating the topic that is discussed in the channel, e.g. “Budget”, or “Planning”. In a channel, messages are displayed in chronological order. Files can also be shared in a channel as attachments to messages.
Channels can be public or private. Public channels are open to anyone in the team, and members can join and leave public channels as they want. Private channels are invite-only. Team members who have not been invited to a private channel cannot even see that the private channel exists. There is also a third type of channel, so-called direct messaging channels, which are 1-on-1 channels. There is one such channel between you and all other members of your team. Messages written in such 1-on-1 channels can only be read by you and the other team member. Such channels have the same name as the other team member.
When writing a message in a public or private channel, you can mention someone on the team. This is a special indicator that the message is particularly relevant for that person. You mention someone by typing the “@”-symbol and then selecting the right member from the menu that pops up. Mentions can be a good tool for priority management in busy channels.
As default, notifications are displayed on your smartphone for new messages in channels that you have joined. When messaging in your browser, desktop notifications for new messages can be displayed.
Now, let’s go through the main advantages with enterprise messaging.
1 – Structure
Given that messages are written in channels (belonging to teams), where each channel is dedicated to a certain topic, messages are automatically sorted and placed in the right context. For example, a message about a budget issue is written in the “Budget”-channel. Compare with email, where all new email messages are placed on top of the INBOX, no matter what the messages are about. With messaging, it’s like asking the sender to pre-classify the message into your folders. Before you get used to it, it feels a bit like magic.
2 – Focus
A common problem in today’s workplace is the constant interruptions for new incoming messages. Researchers have studied the flow of emails for office workers and found a severe problem with notifications. When a notification is received, the receiver directly checks the new message (out of curiosity one may presume). After having checked the message it takes on average 60 seconds to get started again on the task at hand. When multiplied with the number of notifications received each day, these 60 seconds add up to more than 20% of a working day being wasted on task switching. For an entire organization, this is a lot of wasted time.
With modern messaging, where messages are placed in different channels depending on the message topic, you have the possibility to temporarily mute channels (or entire teams). Compare with email, where notifications are either on or off. Either you get notifications for all new emails, or you don’t get any notifications at all. With messaging, you can decide to mute all topics except the one you want to focus on at the moment. This allows you to stay in your zone and get things done.
3 – Speed
Messaging is custom built for quick exchanges of messages. When opening a channel, the input field is auto-focused, and you can start typing right away and just hit to send the message. No need for selecting receivers and selecting a heading. The receivers are the members of the channel (including future members), and the heading is made irrelevant since the topic is already specified by the channel name. Of course, messaging can also be used for longer messages (hitting creates a line break).
Another advantage over email is that messages can be edited or deleted after they have been sent. Compare with email, where there are no such possibilities. Once the email has been sent, the only recourse is to send a new email to clarify (or apologize). These limitations with email have led to a whole range of guidelines for email etiquette.
4 – Transparency
With the channel concept, where members of a channel can see all messages, comes a transparency and traceability that email cannot match. Instead of targeting individuals with a message, as one does with email, a message is placed where everyone interested in that topic, now and in the future, can find it. Of course, the only persons that sees the message at the time of writing are the members of the channel where it is posted. But when other people join the channel, the message is there to be found when scrolling through the message history of the channel, or when searching for related keywords.
For organizations with high requirements on traceability, e.g. for ISO 9001 certification, being able to trace the origins and background of a decision is important. The transparency of messaging goes a long way to manage this in an efficient way. On the other hand, collecting the related data from email conversations is close to impossible.
5 – Change
The best messaging apps support the concept of roles, which greatly facilitates organizational administration and change management. All employees in an organization are assigned one or several roles, indicating their function and responsibilities, e.g. “Developer” or “Manager”. Administrative rights can then be connected to roles, as can team and channel membership.
The role concept makes it easy to manage change within an organization. When an employee gets new responsibilities, he or she can be assigned new roles (and old roles can be removed), and thus automatically get access to the right teams and channels. And when a new employee joins the organization the first thing that happens is the assignment of roles. Previous discussions and information is thus immediately accessible and searchable for the new employee. Contrast that with the procedure for integrating a new employee where email is the communication media used. There is no simple way for giving the new employee access to the right information. Forwarding old emails is the only option, and that is so cumbersome and error prone that it just doesn’t happen. The employee has to start from scratch in terms of information access.
6 – Integrations
Messaging and email are not very good at managing tasks. This is why a whole range of stand-alone task management applications are currently available, targeting different areas such as software development, marketing, sales, support, etc.
With modern messaging it is now possible to integrate these systems with the communication. Subscriptions or streams can be created for these systems so that a new message is written in a messaging channel each time something important changes with respect to an event or a task. For example, each time a new card is created in Trello, an automatic message can be written in the Development-channel, so that all developers are aware of what’s going on. It can also be possible to convert a message to a task in a task management system directly from the messaging system. For example, to make sure that an important thing said in a message will not be lost and forgotten.