To most employees, it seems innocuous: a quick iMessage to vent to a colleague or a WhatsApp group to set up drinks with coworkers. But this kind of casual messaging external to work communications platforms can create a lot of problems and could indicate that employers must rethink how they’re engaging with their staff.
“Shadow IT” is the term used to refer to these external platforms through which employees might be communicating. The obvious problem raised by this untraceable layer of tech is information security. Excessive use of WhatsApp or Facebook for work chatter between colleagues is enough to give any legal team palpitations – data protection regulations have never been more stringent and security breaches are increasingly reported on. But less obviously, these interactions can have a hugely damaging impact on workplace culture.
Workplace culture is easily dismissed as something ambiguous or intangible. But the impact of a bad workplace culture has tangible consequences. The reality is that strong workplace culture is increasingly vital in a world where employees feel less engaged than ever with their work. We now have so many channels to communicate and connect with our coworkers and yet, according to Gallup, up to 70% of employees globally are disengaged at work, costing the worldwide economy $450 billion annually.
So how does messaging play into this widespread problem of disengaged employees? Communication is key within a workplace and when your employees veer away to chat on external platforms, it usually indicates a wider problem within an organization and a negative employee experience. This covert communication can create hostility and exclusionary behavior among employees at its worst. And if an employer discovers employees are consistently using Shadow IT, it’s time to reassess their internal communication strategy.
From email and Slack to Zoom and Google docs, we have so many ways to communicate and collaborate with our colleagues using tech – but that doesn’t mean that employees feel connected to their work and coworkers. There are some simple, positive steps you can take to improve your employee experience, reducing their reliance on Shadow IT.
Bring your workplace communications into the modern age
Old intranets and email systems aren’t advanced enough to keep up with the way we’re used to interacting with people outside of work. It could be that employees are using external apps because of frustration with the slow or outdated nature of the internal tools you’re using. Employees are used to interactive, real-time messaging with emojis, gifs and photos – any tools that allow this will help them feel more comfortable communicating in the workplace environment. And with remote work here to stay, this online communication is more important than ever. Workvivo conducted a survey of 1,000 employees in the US and UK who have moved to remote work since the onset of the pandemic. Some 63% of respondents said their employers are communicating with them more since they started working from home, while 51% said they are communicating more with their colleagues too.
Get rid of overlapping communication tools
Many organizations have overlapping communication apps and solutions, causing confusion. Of course, many tools can be complementary to each other and serve important purposes. But if there are any with overlapping functions, it might be time to consolidate your tools. It’s hard to get buy in from employees when there are too many tools to buy into.
Email gets a bad rep – it’s impersonal, it’s outdated, it piles up. It’s not going away any time soon and serves an important purpose in the workplace. But increasingly, it’s not the best way to communicate with your employees if you want to create a positive employee experience. Ditch the group email, reduce the burden of the inbox and think about other ways you can get the important company messages to your staff. There are plenty of modern tools that allow for more personal communication with your employees available today – and sometimes, nothing beat picking up the phone (or setting up a Zoom call).
Creating an inclusive digital workplace
The workplace is moving online – and this has been sped up by the pandemic. Indeed, in our survey, 85% of employees are more positive about working from home, while 53.6% said they wouldn’t like to return to the office. However, make sure no employee is left behind when it comes to adopting the “digital workplace”. Frontline or deskless employees typically have less access to digital tools and services – including email – potentially alienating them from the company culture. Mobile apps for communication can help ensure everyone is included and prevent reliance on outside apps.
Go beyond transactional communication
Email and messaging on workplace apps can only go so far – these kinds of communication can be transactional. Especially in times such as these, it’s important to approach workplace communications with a bit of humanity. Picking up the phone, asking how employees are, having the kind of watercooler chats – all of this goes a long way towards creating a connection and making employees feel like they belong.
Employees everywhere are using Shadow IT – and the nature of this communication means it’s often impossible to detect. However, the best approach to dealing with this is not to engage in a witch hunt. Employers must take responsibility for their workplace culture and treat the root of the problem – not just the symptom. Today, as the workplace moves online and amid a crisis of employee engagement, internal communications cannot be an afterthought. Shadow IT can harm an organization’s security and its culture, but it signals to employers that something is not working. For those worried about their employees’ secret communication, it’s time to rethink internal communications.