Carlos Mateos
Director General
CM Consultores en Comunicación, S.C.
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Expert Contributor

Is WhatsApp Really a Tool to Enhance Productivity?

By Carlos Mateos | Wed, 03/16/2022 - 13:00

According to an article by Iván Critic, published on the AppCritic site on July 1, 2021, there are more than 2 billion users of this instant messaging application around the world. In Mexico, according to the same document, there are 63 million users. If we consider that our country has a population of more than 126 million inhabitants, this means that 50 percent of Mexicans are WhatsApp users.

This tool undoubtedly offers great benefits by allowing the population free, direct, immediate, and secure communication, in addition to offering the possibility of sending text messages, voice messages, images, documents and even making calls or video calls. The functionality of the application is remarkable.

The work and business world has also been positively impacted by WhatsApp. It allows us to be in immediate contact with staff in remote locations, on business trips, during relocations, as well as with our customers and with all areas of the organization. Likewise, it offers the possibility of setting up groups in which key people participate most of the time in a project that requires the immediate coordination of different specialists.

Having said that, can we say that WhatsApp is a technological application whose impact has been extremely positive for companies?

In my experience as a strategic communication consultant, I have been able to observe both the positive and negative sides of the use and abuse of this tool.

On the positive side, we can confirm what has been extensively documented and briefly summarized in the first paragraphs of this article. However, on the negative side, I have observed an increasing abuse in the use of large groups that, far from facilitating the work in a company, generate great confusion, considerably reduce productivity, increase the risk of leaking confidential or sensitive information for the company and, of course, cause conflicts among group members.

Additionally, in some companies I have observed that the use of WhatsApp transgresses the barriers of privacy and the employees’ right to rest since, because it is an instant medium, there are groups that maintain activity until late at night, on weekends or holidays, and all its members are expected to respond in real time to the demands of an executive, manager or member of the group, causing unnecessary wear on the human resources of companies.

Another problem that I have detected is that as an informal medium, the forms of communication between members of a group or in direct conversations between two individuals are relaxed, causing conflicts, since the conversation at work does not necessarily use the same tone as a conversation between friends. Similarly, since it is a faceless conversation in the sense that the interlocutors are not face to face, some people dare to insult or send texts that border on harassment.

The relaxation of the forms referred to in the previous paragraph also has other implications that can have serious consequences for an organization, such as the loss of formality and observance of the processes of the company's operation. Let us suppose that the company needs to purchase inputs for its operation and for this process, the requesting area needs to issue a detailed order of the products to be purchased and send it to the company's purchasing department. In turn, the purchasing department must request the resources from the finance department, etc. A process like this requires formal documentation of each step of the process.

Prior to the use and abuse of WhatsApp in companies, this type of internal operation occurred first on paper and later via email. Now, these processes derive from the sending of documents via WhatsApp. So far, so good. But what happens if the person in charge of the purchasing area checks his WhatsApp after having spent an hour in a meeting and finds 65 different messages and the document sent is left behind and lost in these multitudinous conversations? I have seen this happen many times and what happens next is not pleasant as it unleashes a chain of omissions, confusion, and errors, resulting in the delay or breach of commercial commitments or even legal terms with the consequent cost to the company.  

From my experience, I usually recommend the following to my clients: First, limit the number of chats to the bare minimum and determine who should be in the chat. Second, establish a clear policy wherein strategy and plans are discussed and agreed upon in meetings, whether face-to-face or virtual, but NOT in a chat room. Third, when there is a need to provide context or clarify doubts about complex issues, these are resolved through a meeting or a phone call and NEVER in a chat. Fourth, the sending of documentation related to production processes, legal documents, formal communications, etc., should be sent by email. Fifth, clearly establish the policy on the use of language and harassment for WhatsApp conversations. The latter should be emphasized by the higher hierarchical levels of the company. Finally, a sixth recommendation is to establish that communication via WhatsApp should only be used to coordinate actions, to resolve specific issues and to communicate urgent information to one or more people in the organization.

This will save us a lot of headaches, useless discussions, and loss of time.

Photo by:   Carlos Mateos

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