Workplace communication used to be a rather rigid process, with experts warning against the use of humour in email altogether and continuous debates arising regarding the proper use of sign-offs and signatures; remnants of this way of thinking can still be seen today, with something as simple as a simple smiley being included within an email leading to the readers of said email viewing you as less competent as a result, according to a new study from Amsterdam University.

However this strict code of etiquette regarding workplace communication is starting to break down as new technologies continue to emerge which shatter boundaries and streamline the collaborative and communicative process. These more succinct messaging services, which are often built into wider workplace productivity tools, have allowed colleagues to communicate more freely, but the inclusion of emoticons and internet slang on such platforms has led to a new debate arising regarding whether such informal communicative quirks have any place in professional correspondence.

“Those types of communication tools allow for flexibility,” Dennis Collins, Senior Director of Marketing at West Unified Communications, told Business News Daily. “Many times the communication tools get blamed, not the user, for inappropriate use. Instead, managers should focus on the results of increased and immediate communication, and not the means of getting there.”

Mr Collins is not the only one to preach the positives of workplace communication apps such as Slack and Teamwork Chat. He is joined by Sharon Schweitzer, an international business etiquette expert, author and the founder of Access to Culture, who praised the collaborative credentials of such tools.

“The open exchange between co-workers allows them to transmit and receive information as quickly [as possible], amping productivity and cross-team communication,” said Ms Schweitzer. “For a project that includes multiple teams or people working remotely, these apps help reconnect employees, provide progress updates and facilitate collaboration. The apps also provide a designated platform for workplace communication without the distractions of Facebook Messenger or Google Chat, allowing for greater office efficiency.”

Having said that Mr Collins did insist that employees should not be able to use these platforms in quite the same manner they would in their private lives, and that employers should instead “set expectation” and “provide guideposts for their use”.

“The appropriateness of different media makes a difference,” he states. “You may ‘talk’ one way in an email and express the same sentiment in a chat message, only differently because of the more informal nature.”

Mr Collins also shared his opinions on the use of emoticons, asserting that, “Content that is not relevant is just noise. We are being flooded with content. But when content has context, it is easier to understand. Emoticons provide that context, making one-dimensional messages more robust and showing inflection.”

So, what approach should a business leader ultimately take? The most important things to remember are your intended tone and audience, making sure to communicate in a manner that is suited to the situation at hand; don’t be tempted to spam your direct supervisor or most-valued client with inappropriate  GIFs or lines of emoticons, for example.

With that in mind Ms Schweitzer goes so far as to recommend that these more informal communication tools be used exclusively for internal purposes: “External tools risk exposing private, confidential, trademarked, financial, or other sensitive information to the public or competitors. Open the channel to the in-house groups that are collaborating together, and be sure to close the conversation to all not involved in the project.”

Overall these professional communication apps can be a valuable addition to any business if used correctly, but care must be taken to set out clear guidelines to avoid any misunderstandings or inappropriate communications from taking place.

“Use it as a leadership opportunity,” Collins said, “not a boss action. Sit down with the team and explain protocol for inside and outside communications and work on those protocol points together. Explain what is OK and what isn’t. Once determined, monitor and engage – practice what you preach.”

Sam Bonson

Sam is an aspiring novelist with a passion for fantasy and crime thrillers. He is currently working as a content writer, journalist & editor as he continues to expand his horizons.
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