The reemergence of chat software as an employee collaboration tool confirms the notion that there is nothing new under the sun. This type of software has been ubiquitous since the dawn of the internet, and nothing lasts that long without being of some use. Chat programs can be a great way for internal teams to communicate, but they have some real shortcomings that prevent them being effective as a catch-all solution. Ideally, chat software should be used alongside longer form communication, which is where forums excel.
How they stack up
Chat software is excellent for short, time-sensitive communication. “What time is the meeting?” “How do I do x?” or “Have you seen this cat video?” require short, immediate attention. They can also be good for short range back and forth, or even just a way for workers to blow off steam with each other. However, these discussions are fleeting by nature, and it’s difficult to cover longer term discussions between multiple parties.
On the other hand, forum software provides a more collaborative framework for internal communication. If you have a serious long-term project that requires extensive discussion, a forum allows all members of the conversation to easily look back at the complete history of the discussion. The “message board” structure of a forum makes it simple to comment on (or ask questions about) the particulars of a given discussion. The very nature of a forum means that it’s much easier to review content without needing to search.
Too many avenues of communication can be damaging
A while ago, I tried to integrate a chat program into my community. The plan was that it would make it much simpler for the moderators to communicate with each other, rather than using a hidden category on the forum as we’d been doing previously. At first it seemed great, but pretty soon the problems became apparent. For a team that communicates across time zones, the chat software soon led to frustration as people felt left out of conversations due to not being online at the right time. Catching up on the events of the previous night changed from a comfortable read over a cup of tea to a slog of scrolling through a seemingly endless chat log.
After six months and two different software vendors, we’ve entirely moved back to the use of a private category for discussing community issues. What I’ve learned isn’t that chat software is useless; it’s great for specific usage cases. The real takeaway is that before implementing chat, businesses need to consider what benefits the software is going to provide compared to other solutions.
- Quick, efficient communication
- Great for simple questions
- Suitable for fast collaborations
- Can be cumbersome when used outside of its niche
- A more permanent record, for long-term thinking
- Great for communication over a longer time frame
- Can operate as a knowledge base
- Better for sharing complex ideas