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using messengers for work

Should your employees use their private messengers for work?


Employees using private messengers like WhatsApp and WeChat can be incredibly useful for work, especially if they already use them for personal communications. But using these messengers for business processes brings big risks, from privacy issues to failures of data retention. Companies need to know the risks and know how to use these platforms safely.

Employees use private messengers for work

Whether they message clients by WeChat or are using WhatsApp for their work duties, employees are shifting away from established company communication channels. Using what they’re used to, they’re moving business communication to messengers, a more informal and familiar way to stay in contact.

This is largely driven by younger employees, who are more comfortable with messaging apps than with email. Messaging feels less formal, with the use of shorter sentences and features that aren’t used in email, such as emojis, gifs, and voice messages. Why use something limiting and old-fashioned when you have the latest communication tech?

This is the way that millennials used to communicating, whether with friends, family, or colleagues. It’s their normal mode of communication, so only natural to continue it at work.

But it’s not just the young. Senior executives message each other privately about urgent issues. They set the tone others follow, and companies need to think about the consequences.

The risks of employee communication channels

The biggest risk from this use of messaging systems is data control. Apps may be great for communicating securely with clients, but they leave no data trail for the employer. Records of communications are lost, leaving you without a communication trail. This makes it harder to understand events, as there’s no communication history to look back over. It also means there’s no evidence of those communications in case of legal actions.

Using message clients like WhatsApp also creates other risks. Messengers’ communication software may upload business contacts and information, violating employer privacy policies or data protection agreements. A third of British doctors use WhatsApp to share patient information with each other, putting data outside of official systems and the protection they bring. This can leave confidential data in the hands of third parties or vulnerable to hacks targeting users’ phones. It can even lead to data being leaked to competitors or the press, as people are less careful when working with informal communication channels. Another big risk – is employees privacy. We widely discuss it in this article.

The legal minefield of using messengers for work

The informality of these channels can, if left unchecked, lead to inappropriate behavior, as in a recent case of sexist behavior at PNC Global Logistics. If a company allows employees use their private messengers and they are used for workplace harassment then the company could be liable.

And then there’s the customer retention issue. If an employee who has been talking with clients via Telegram leaves the firm, they still have their main channel to those clients. If they leave on bad terms, they could use this to badmouth the company and try to steal clients for a competitor. There have been cases of companies suing former employees for taking client data, but it’s harder to prove illegality when they’re just talking on WeChat. Both in reputational terms and in client retention, the risks are huge.

Business communication solutions for messaging

There’s a strong argument for not allowing these systems at all, but it means missing out on their advantages and may lead to their covert use by employees. Better to control them.

Make appropriate apps available and easy to use, though compliant enterprise versions or software that channels the messages. This gives you a data trail.

Create policies for behavior on these systems, including separating private channels from work communications. Make clear what communication channels can be used for what purposes.

Where possible, bring in mobile device management software to compartmentalize personal and work communications. This will keep business data secure while protecting employees’ privacy.

If you can’t beat them, join them

Ephemeral messaging is important for certain very specific jobs, such as when protecting journalistic sources. But unless there’s a powerful and specific business case saying otherwise, it’s more important to have a data trail. Can be useful in case of legal claims and inquiries from the regulation authorities. So bring in suitable software and business rules to control these channels. It’s the best way to protect your interests and those of your clients.

Employees are using private messengers so much, it’s almost impossible to keep them out of the workplace. If you can’t beat them then join them – manage how these channels are used. Turn a big business risk to a business advantage.


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