Back in 2012, the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) released a report that predicted social technologies like chat could “raise the productivity of knowledge workers by 20-25%.”

The primary time-sucking sources, according to the study, was managing email (an estimated 28% of the average worker’s week) and looking for internal information or connecting with colleagues that could help with a certain task (20% of the average worker’s week). The opportunity presented by team messaging platforms was clear: having a central, searchable knowledge base that includes instant messaging would greatly enhance collaboration and productivity.

Cut to today, where chat has become the primary mode of team communication for many organizations. Connecting with colleagues, coworkers and even clients is just a tap away on you computer, tablet or phone. And it’s not just text chats, either – it’s simple to hop on a conference call, video chat, or share screens as well.

To preserve the promise of chat, which is to make it so that workplace communication is instantaneous, easy, and organized, here are four ways to keep teams focused on using messaging for ideal productivity and collaboration… and not idle distraction.


Have an office gossip policy and make sure everyone is aware of it.

Office gossip is extremely common: according to a recent Harvard Business Review article, up to 90% of workplace conversations qualify as gossip. Team messaging platforms, which are more casual by definition, can become a natural habitat for over-sharing information that’s best kept private. Case in point: screenshots of interoffice chat were used in a lawsuit brought by Hulk Hogan against Gawker for posting a sex tape of him. While this is an extreme case, a zero-tolerance office gossip policy is a helpful tool in keeping chat platforms from becoming overrun with inappropriate exchanges — that may come back and bite individuals or companies as a whole.

Create teams or channels for (non-business related) team bonding.

One of the many positive aspects of team message platforms is that it can foster bonding among staff who are remotely located. But when side conversations about, say, a sensational news story, sports team rivalry, or a buzzworthy movie overtakes a thread, it can become impossible to get back on track with the work conversation at hand. Create a separate team or channel on a particular favorite topic, or start a more general “water cooler” destination for casual conversations.

Go ahead, use emojis, memes and gifs — but keep context in mind and don’t overdo it.

The rise of emojis and other illustrated or animated images like gifs has gone a long way to infuse plain old text messages with a shot of emotion, intention, and humor. They also can be perfect stand-ins for non-verbal cues and tonal inflections that clarify and enhance face-to-face communication. Keep in mind that some emojis, just like the words and feelings they represent, aren’t appropriate in a business setting. And inundating co-workers with a long stream of silly memes and gifs is the equivalent of virtual goofing off.

Resist the impulse to be always “on,” when you need to be focused.

The instantaneous nature of chat is a great way to keep conversations – and collaboration – ongoing, but there are also times when you need undivided attention to get important work done. Notifications can be a constant reminder that something is always happening, so mute them or set your status to “away.” Chats will always be there to review and respond to once you’re ready to jump back in.

Team messaging platforms are a microcosm of an organization – so make sure chat is handled in a virtual environment as it would be in person. Keep it positive, productive, and uplifting, which is the ideal application of online office chat.