Instant messaging apps or chat solutions replicate the casual flow of ideas that can happen in an office context while connecting team members across countries and time zones for more effective online collaboration.
However, research from Qatalog and Cornell University shows that instant messaging apps, along with the other tools in your arsenal, actually contribute to disorganization. 54% of people say that apps can make it harder to find information, and cycling through different messaging, collaboration, and productivity tools wastes almost an hour per day.
Our reliance on messaging is a double-edged sword. Hybrid teams need an avenue for communication, but a case could be made for instant messaging apps not being the full-proof solution for modern work.
They do have their pros, though. Within team messaging apps you can:
- Separate team chat conversations into channels for different teams and projects
- Start voice or video calls
- Share files and documents to collaborate on them
- Communicate with your team across time zones and locations
Here are a number of instant messaging apps that we love:
The 5 best instant messaging apps for hybrid teams
Slack has, without a doubt, defined the team chat space. It was developed for the user, and packs in delight through audio calls and custom emoji capabilities. For all that Slack has done for the instant messaging space, it makes sense that it’s the frontrunner for everyone’s favorite. However, there is a lot to be said about the impact Slack has had on remote office communication — which we’ll get into in a little bit.
2. Microsoft Teams
Microsoft Teams is part of the Office 365 offering and creates a chat-based workspace. Teams offers instant messaging, video, and audio calls. Teams, as well as the Office 365 offering, is optimized for larger teams who can have a dedicated IT staff to assist with the rollout.
3. Google Chat
Google offers a lot of work software, including a free instant messaging app. Google Chat, rebranded from Google Hangouts Chat, breaks conversations down into chat rooms, similar to Slack’s channels. The ease of Google Chat comes with how easily it integrates with the rest of the Google suite.
Discord is similar to Slack or Microsoft Teams, but its interface was developed to be more gamer-friendly than business-friendly. Huge pros: most of the features that you’d need are included in the free plan, and its audio features are an interesting benefit for async communication. Cons: its lack of threads could make file sharing a little chaotic.
HipChat features the classic instant-work-messenger capabilities including 1-on-1 instant messaging, group chat rooms, and file sharing. They also include screen sharing and video conferencing.
What makes a great team chat app?
Workplace communication is vital to creating a healthy, happy, cross-functional team. Especially in the era of modern work, communication has to be a frictionless experience across all sorts of barriers. Your instant messaging app shouldn’t be one.
A great instant messaging app for hybrid teams...
- Enables organized communication and collaboration. Team instant messaging apps should enable communication, that’s a given. The important part here is organized communication and collaboration. It’s one thing to shout into a void of singular updates that aren’t attached to the context of work, but collaborating requires both organization and context.
- Offers a search feature. With instant messaging comes the ability to chat about things unrelated to work. So finding that design file you sent a co-worker on Friday afternoon might not be the easiest thing to scroll for on Wednesday morning. Being able to search for files and messages based on keywords, channels, or who the message was sent to is a necessity for work IMing.
- Provides a user-friendly interface that the whole team actively uses. According to our research with Cornell University, 58% of people report that not all departments use the same online apps. Obviously, this leads to silos and creates organizational roadblocks. Instant messaging should be not only accessible to everyone in your company but utilized by every team.
The three main challenges of team messaging apps
Of course, the things that should make a team chat app great are expectations, not reality, and there are a lot of things that can become overwhelming when you’re expecting an instant response from your coworkers throughout their 9-5 workday.
1. Information overload
With the endless number of conversations taking place on your team messaging app, the tool can start to look increasingly like the mythical Hydra — sprouting new heads (or threads) the more you try to get it under control.
As an individual team member, it becomes harder to know which information is relevant to you, so you might end up missing a crucial project update.
Or, if there are too many messages, team members might feel discouraged and decide not to read them at all. Once those little red notifications take over, it can be hard to get them to disappear.
2. Short information shelf-life
The ease and speed of team messaging might be a benefit, but it also has the side effect of devaluing the information that’s shared.
Team members get used to messages being swept away in the thread, so information distributed in this way might lose significance. Fine for a quick emoji — less ideal for important weekly team updates.
3. Diversity of formats
In team messaging apps, information is shared in diverse formats — messages, voice calls, document links. When everyone has their own way of writing updates, setting meeting agendas, or naming links, it’s hard to navigate the complexity.
Details of a project can be spread across multiple messages and/or calls, making it difficult to monitor progress.
A work hub is a vital addition to your team’s instant chat
Instant messaging isn’t sustainable as the sole vehicle for workplace communication. Information overload can be a huge added burden to employees trying to shuffle through the noise of the day-to-day.
Adopting a work hub in addition to your instant messaging tool helps adds context to the information constantly being sent back and forth. It also gives you a place to connect the work being done with your instant communication, resulting in cross-team collaboration you didn’t have to dedicate time to sync on.
Adopt longer, context-driven async updates with a work hub
A work hub breaks down silos by cascading updates and comms automatically to the right channels, for a feedback loop that doesn’t require a pingback. By integrating a work hub with your instant messaging tool, you can send structured updates (complete with context, goals, files, and the teams involved) to the right messaging app channel.
The async messages of a work hub keep everyone in the loop of things without intrusive, focus-breaking noise and red badges — whether it’s a project update, team weekly, or personal news shared with the team.
And when adding a work hub to your existing tool stack, it takes the reliance on instant messaging down a notch. Now you don’t have to panic about finding that one file that was sent in the chat before you started talking about the movie marathon you had this week.
Search for information, easier
On Slack and Teams, you can have one channel per topic, but when there are tons of messages on each channel, it’s hard to retrieve the right one — especially if you don’t have the right keyword or when search doesn’t deliver as quickly.
Qatalog doesn’t replace your synchronous messaging app but rather complements it. When you integrate your messaging app with Qatalog, you make every single message retrievable, through a powerful, custom-built, full-text search. You add context to the messages being sent back and forth. And you cut through the noise.
Team instant messaging apps vs. work hub
There are remote teams that have ditched instant messaging apps entirely, citing addictive qualities, disorganization, and the inability to conduct in-depth conversations. Some have even argued (myself included) that reliance on instant messaging detracts from a true async-friendly working model. Because if your team has to be ready to respond to a message at all time, who is getting the deep work done?
Some teams still rely on instant messaging as their only form of direct communication. By now, you know that we think this is a mistake and it’s keeping your company from advancing to modern work. Instant messaging might still feel like the future, but in reality, it sits with the rest of your legacy tools keeping you in the “old way of working.”
A work hub isn’t a replacement for instant messaging, it’s an important addition that gives you context and enables you to connect with your team. The new way of working is communicative and people first, so stop being distracted by the endless notifications.
At Qatalog, Matteo looks after Growth Ops and Product Marketing. No day is the same for Matteo — you can find him interviewing customers, writing down product messaging, or setting up various customer acquisition and lifecycle channels. When not at work, Matteo enjoys reading psychology books, practicing meditation, or planning his next year-long trip to Asia.