Battle of Business Chat Communication Tools

The fight to be recognized as the best-in-class business chat tool is raging. Businesses are determining whether they are best served by using Slack, Google Chat, Microsoft Teams, or one of the many other offerings. As of now, there has been no clear winner, but there are industry leaders.

My peers in class have reported using a variety of different technologies, especially throughout the pandemic. Over the past 18 months, I’ve found myself wondering about the impact this technology is having on our engagement and sense-of-belonging in the workplace. Is it possible that we feel more connected to our colleagues then when we were sitting in cubicles and shared office space? Or has the connections just felt more meaningful due to being locked in our houses, away from our networks and communities?

The one aspect that is clear is employees are utilizing these chat tools. With the forced disappearance of water cooler chats and chance meetings in the office due to COVID-19, millions of workers have found themselves engaging with their colleagues remotely for the first time. Over the past 18 months, employees have been announcing life milestones on Microsoft Teams, creating fantasy football Slack channels, and doing daily check-in’s on Google Chat. The world has been so remote, that many people (including myself) have started jobs during the pandemic and only engaged with their colleagues using these business chat tools.

Despite the challenges of remote work, there have been benefits to employers and employees that wouldn’t have been possible without business chat tools. Such as:

  • Companies can offer jobs to the best and brightest without asking those individuals to uproot their lives and move to a new location, as they can trust the technology is there to keep them engaged from anywhere
  • Employees now have the flexibility regarding where they want to live
  • Employees can have more control of their work/life balance

Without business chat tools, the list above may not be possible. As these tools give employees the opportunity to be as engaged (if not more) with their colleagues from anywhere in the world.

On the other side, there have been considerable drawbacks on employee engagement over the past 18 months. Including:

  • Lack of informal conversations (everything word type can be monitored)
  • No team lunches, happy hours, etc.

Research has found that employee engagement drops when there are no in-person interactions with team members. In a survey of more than 2,300 remote workers conducted by Buffer, 12% said that staying motivated was the biggest difficulty for them, and another 16% said overall communication and collaboration suffer.

These challenges illustrate why it is so important for businesses to select the best business chat tool. There are difficulties to our new normal, but the majority of employees enjoy remote work and want a hybrid work environment to become standard. In order to make this new reality work, businesses must keep employee engagement high. Keeping employees satisfied with a business chat tool that keeps them engaged with their colleagues is one of the best paths to success. As demonstrated by a 2020 study by Gallup that showed that companies in the top quartile of engagement had 43% less turnover than those in the bottom quartile. 

Business chat tools are a profitable business. In 2020, the team collaboration software market reached $9.5 billion globally. Businesses are rushing to implement collaboration software to keep their productivity high in these uncertain times. The two current leaders in this field are Slack and Microsoft teams.

Microsoft Teams is growing rapidly due to being implemented through large organizations, schools, government workers, and its existing Office 365 customer base. Whereas Slack is the clear leader within the startup sector and among developers and other young, tech-savvy workers.

When looking at both offerings, they do share many similarities. Such as features like private and public channel messaging, searchable message history, conference calls, screen sharing, file sharing, and more. Differences include Microsoft Teams offering video conference capabilities and Slack offering unlimited collaborations with people in a variety of different facets of life (work, side-hustle, personal, hobby groups, etc.). Microsoft teams is the market leader, but Slack is still the more innovative and easy-to-use tool, which makes it a mainstay in startups and smaller companies.

At the end of the day it comes down to preference and ease. If a company is already using Office 365, then Microsoft Teams is the easiest path as it integrates natively with Office 365 tools. But this is not always the case. My company (a Fortune 20 company) selected Slack despite using Office 365 tools.

What business chat tool does your company use?

Does it keep you engaged and connected to your colleagues?

Do you miss informal work conversations? Or do you prefer this new, flexible communication?

Looking forward to reading everyone’s view of business chat tools in their workplace!

15 comments

  1. I believe business chat tools were developed as a supplement to the workspace (and perhaps a quicker substitute for email/phones calls), but not intended to replace in-person interactions, meetings, etc. This may help explain why they lack in their abilities to foster workforce engagement & have other kinks that have not yet been worked out – especially with the rapid pivot and adoption of using these in the pandemic for just that purpose of more easily linking employees to try and “re-create” the office vibe.

    My prior company had really begun pushing Teams before the pandemic hit, but most front-line employees actually preferred using WhatsApp even though it wasn’t “sanctioned” (they found it more user-friendly, efficient, etc). Note: we were using these tools for more efficient/instantaneous communication and to have a communal space for collaboration across disciplines or geographies, not for engagement. I think that was an important example of how the digital transformation can require a bottom-up vantage point rather than having a technology or process pushed down that can be difficult to manage or achieve the intended outcomes. Personally, I’m not a fan of Teams, but I haven’t really found any of these solutions to provide a great E2E solution – I’m curious to see what evolves!

  2. Great blog post! Your post reminded me of my internship this past summer and my use of Microsoft Teams. I ended up looking back on past conversations in different groups before I started. Professor Kane et al. discuss this as “permeance” where new members can access previous information on chat platforms which could get them up to speed quickly. For me personally, it highlighted challenges that teams encountered and helped me better understand the culture of the organization. For example, someone accidentally deleted a lot of data from an excel file, and my boss was patient and thoughtful in addressing it and fixing it. I wonder if this idea of “permeance” can be a part of onboarding where a new employee subscribes to relevant groups and can look back on messages to gain an understanding of the company culture.

  3. Incredibly relevant blog post! I have mixed feelings, like most, about working remote. On one hand, it gave me the opportunity to leave a bad work environment and become a full-time remote employee at an incredible company. The advancement of business chat communications has also made working with global teams much, much easier. But, it is difficult to speak candidly and humor can often be lost with text. Chats are a fantastic tool to maintain contacts, but nothing beats in person contact when establishing relationships (in my opinion).

    I’m interested to see how leaders in business chat communications will find ways to fill in that missing human interaction in the coming months/years. Specifically, how can we make virtual happy hours less weird?!

  4. It’s really interesting how important these types of chat tools have become in the environment everyone is currently working through. Pre-pandemic my stance would have been that as long as a chat service functions as it should as a link between two internal employees, its providing value and serving its purpose. Chat services are now a much more important tool than they were a couple of years ago due to the impact they have on culture during a time when firms are struggling to keep morale high and people connected. A couple of years ago my company was using Lync, a very simple chat service offered by Microsoft and we’ve since switched over to Teams. There is a noticeable improvement with teams as it brings quick video conferencing, screen sharing, and group chat options. I will say though, I don’t think there’s any type of chat service that can replace the value of face-to-face interaction in the office. I don’t think we’ll ever get back to everyone in the office as we had in the past which is unfortunate. The best part about my entry-level job at the firm I still work at was sitting between compliance and IT. My seat allowed me to overhear all types of conversations and helped me get a grip on how our company functioned as a whole. Since most people have gone remote, there are no conversations to overhear, no chance encounters, and no getting to know coworkers in different departments unless I push for it.

  5. I’ve been waiting for these tools to take off for a while now. Maybe now is finally the time!

  6. Great post, Dylan! It’s funny how relevant this has been at work recently. My company is fully remote so this is obviously now a foundation of our company’s success. We’ve been faithful users of Slack and the G-Suite of applications to run our start-up, which have been really helpful for us and attribute to a lot of our success. Recently however, we’ve had issues when interacting with more enterprise-level clients. There have been so many instances where our client who runs solely on MS (teams, 360, the whole suite) can’t even seem to be able to log in to our Google Meet conference calls, or access our shared slack channel that they are given access to. While I do think a clear frontrunner (most likely Microsoft) will takeover the marketspace completely, they sure do make it difficult for anyone using any other platform other than the platform primarily used by your company… It almost seems like a purposeful action to strongarm the smaller companies into fully switching over to the other suite of applications for their ease of use within the same digital ecosystem.

  7. I joined my company during the Pandemic. And while the communication tools helped me get onboard quickly and work with folks around the world, almost building a informal relationship with them (something I couldn’t have done before), I also feel a lack of team spirit. My whole team came together during the pandemic so most of us have never met each other. Its hard to understand communication styles and most of the time, even though there is video functionality, most people do not turn on their videos so I have never seen some of the people I work with on a somewhat regular basis. I fell body language is an important part of communication as well, and these tools, when used 100% of the time misses that aspect. I definitely miss the in person interaction but appreciate having the many opportunities to work in roles I otherwise would not have access to.

  8. If you ask any of my FT MBA classmates…they might know me as the “Slack Guy”. I pushed Slack as our main method of communication early, hard, and often…and now I can happily say that almost none of my correspondence takes place over email! (THANK GOODNESS). I am a huge proponent of Slack for sharing information quickly, informally, and in a way that can be easily digested. Slack has a plethora of awesome integrations such as Giphy for those times when text just won’t due and you need to show the “Arthur Fist” because you’re so frustrated…or let them know a teammates birthday should be celebrated with Ace Ventura wishing them a happy birthday.

    Nothing can beat in-person interactions, but in my experience, Slack has been the best tool (including Google’s Workspace and Teams) to help bridge the gap. I also have experience with Slack pre-pandemic too. Overall, for me, the biggest and best change to my digital life is that I get far fewer emails…and that is a #blessing.

  9. Very interesting blog post

  10. Very interesting blog post! I was not aware that slack was more highly adopted by tech-savvy start-ups. At the onset of the pandemic, my company, Boston College, tried to implement slack channels to augment the google suite we were already using. This was not readily adopted and quickly fell to the wayside as a communication channel. I consider BC a late adopter in many digital technologies. After reading this blog post, this failure to adopt a more innovative technology makes more sense.

  11. Fun read! By the way, does anyone remember Skype Business? Well, probably not. Fun fact: we currently use Skybusiness and Teams at work. I am not sure why we use two systems; I find this redundant. I love Teams, especially their mobile app. Teams app is super easy to use, and customers love it for meetings. These platforms are great tools for working, and I am happy that they are taking off.

  12. Awesome perspective!

    I worked in a Tech Startup in Boston at one point and our main communication was Slack, so I can definitely attest to the reliance of startups with Slack. In terms of the growth Microsoft Team has seen over 2018 and 2019, I would attribute their growth towards the increased reliance on video communication as a communication channel. Microsoft 365 tools have generally been around prior to 2018, so I think the sudden growth (in comparison to Slack) has more to do with Slack’s lack of video conference and Microsoft’s ability to offer both chat and video channels for employees.

  13. I’m always envious when friends talk about their Slack channel at work! I work at BC and it’s a hodge-podge of messaging options for our group: Google chat or Apple Messenger being the prime ones, and that’s really just point-to-point between two people. We have a departmental project management tool that has a comment area for project related communication… but that’s about as fun as it sounds (so not fun at all.)

    In some ancillary areas of responsibilities there have been Slack channels, most notably in two areas: 1) Town Meeting which is my local town form of government. This is an unofficial “cool kids” Slack channel that supplements the sanctioned Zoom and 2) the course I’m co-teaching at MassArt this term, which gives me an opportunity to stay connected with my co-instructor and our small co-hort of students. So I guess at my BC work environment, we’re just not very cool!

  14. So I’ll share when I first started at athenahealth, we had Slack and migrated to Microsoft Teams pre-pandemic. I miss some of Slack’s fun and efficient functionality – like ‘Pinning,’ a specific thread of communication in more extensive chats to easily reference in the future. On the other hand, with Microsoft Teams, I like how easy it is to schedule video conference calls/meetings, chat with meeting participants, and share files. It did take time to adjust to Microsoft Teams & I think took the company a bit longer than our IT department thought it would. As for chats, at times, the constant pinging can be distracting when you are trying to concentrate, but I will say random ‘chats’ to say hello are always welcomed. However, nothing will replace in-person conversations, especially if you work better when connections are established and reciprocated.

  15. I think one of the drawbacks that you failed to mention is blurred borders between work and personal life. Certainly other remote work tools share this drawback with workplace chat, but something unique about the tools you mentioned is that they are an entirely new and official layer of correspondence employees are expected to stay connected to. Therefore, the onus is on team leaders to establish clearly defined schedules for their teammates to prevent them from feeling guilt or anxiety about missing a message.

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