Team chat apps: Please talk amongst yourselves

Small talk can yield a big return on investment. In an age when most workplace communication happens digitally, team messaging apps -- and their GIFs -- boost morale.

Think back to the most recent exchange you had with a colleague. If you're like many workers today, this conversation probably happened digitally, whether you sat in the same room or in different states. The virtual reality of today's enterprise offers many personal and professional benefits, but certain elements of a healthy work life sometimes get lost in translation. Without the small talk, inside jokes and water cooler banter of yesteryear, employees risk feeling disconnected from their co-workers and the organizations they serve.

Enter the new team chat apps: Slack, Unify Circuit, Cisco Spark and Microsoft Teams. Each aspires to answer a question that has plagued enterprises ever since email became the norm: How can we communicate better? These platforms are all designed to get down to business, but many also provide ready opportunities for a little workplace fun. Now, the thought of a steady stream of GIFs, memes and cat videos undoubtedly gives some managers heart palpitations, but they would be wise to consider the return on investment of these digital distractions. If the occasional Parks and Recreation GIF boosts team morale, improves employee retention and ultimately increases productivity, then they should not only allow such silliness, but encourage it. Platforms like Slack make these off-topic, camaraderie-building interactions possible.

That said, team chat apps are hardly a universal panacea; some users find them even more cumbersome and overwhelming than email. In this special edition of Network Evolution, we take a deep dive into team chat apps' progression into the mainstream, with insight, advice and anecdotes to help you determine whether such platforms are right for your organization. In our cover story, we learn how these applications are changing the way a variety of conversations happen in the enterprise and beyond: employee-to-employee, employee-to-customer, customer-to-customer and even business-to-business ("Team Chat Applications Go Mainstream, Promise Ripple Effect").

Also in this issue: Think your organization has yet to adopt team chat apps? You might need to think again. We explore how these platforms have established themselves within a growing number of enterprises without IT's OK ("Land and Expand: Unsanctioned Apps Gain Ground"). And finally, a unified communications expert weighs in on the security vulnerabilities inherent to open source team chat apps ("How Secure Is Open Source Collaboration Software?"), and whether they are worth the risk. 

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