WhatsApp : Do We Need a New Chapter in Organizational Communication ?

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WhatsApp is ubiquitous (as if I am making a revelation ! ). From school going students to Syria going “fighters”, all are using it to serve one and only purpose : “Instant Messaging”. Groups, admins, jokes, messages (relevant and irrelevant), opinions, videos, pictures, free Gyaan, display pics (DPs) and many important aspects, which define WhatsApp, are ‘Omnipresent’. WhatsApp is threatening existence of all established non technical communication protocols.

It is also reshaping the theories of one very important subject of our MBA curriculum : Organizational & Professional Communication. Gone are the days when communication used to be hierarchical. Although organizations are yet to achieve flat structure in terms of organization and project team structures; communication has suddenly become flat, thanks to WhatsApp revolution. It is one of the best tech tool Managers and Meeting Organizers could ask for. Quick dispense of messages, acknowledgement without request and quick follow up; WhatsApp is equipped with all ! However, picture is not so rosy for those who are at receiving end of these messages. They have neither been informed in their employment contract nor been trained to deal with this kind of onslaught on their personal time. So, like evolution of any other technological tool, mankind is still figuring out to make best use of WhatApp type of instant messaging and make his/her life (not professional but personal also) better.

WhatsApp has brought paradigm shift in the ways organizations used to communicate internally. Has today’s Digital organization been caught off guard while dealing with this revolution?

Now coming to today’s “Digital” organizations, whose CTOs and HR Leaders are flashing all catchy words on their LinkedIn profiles (from “Digital Transformer” to “Digital Enabler” to “DigiPreneur” to “Digital Evangelist” to what not !), they are still not very much sure about how to handle this tool for organizations, which has encroached suddenly in professional lives through smartphones ! Usually reactions have been extreme : either put a blanket ban on smartphone inside “sensitive” areas and thus negating any possibility of usage of any mobile based instant messaging app or turn a blind eye and let employees take all the responsibility of his/her actions. Please note that today’s organizations are “lean” and “agile”; they want the projects to be moved quickly. Although they may not admit on record that most of their decisions are being taken over WhatsApp chat groups and images of documents are being shared to enable this “agile” implementation of projects; they do warn employees about grave consequences if sensitive data is shared beyond organizations’ boundary. Most of them are still living in times when sensitive information or document could only be shared through email or in person !

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On cyber security front, most “advanced” organizations are dependent on WhatsApp encryption to ensure safety of their own sensitive data (as if WhatsApp servers are their property) whereas on HR front, there are no framed rules of WhatsApp communication and it has been just left to the participant of the communication, their designations (although WhatApp is a flat communication platform) and willingness of one to turn on the universal Read Receipts settings !

Benefits offered and risks presented by usage of technology only become clearer with passage of time. Organizations need to be preventive and reactive both at same time.

Now lets discuss if at all we should regulate Instant messaging, when it comes to topic such as Organizational Communication, which has huge impact on data security and employee satisfaction. The inherent nature of all social media tools is to provide Open platform for communication. However, organizations, which are bureaucratic in their actual functioning, may not well suited for this kind of open communication. When I say “bureaucratic”, its not how organization defines itself in its HR manifesto; its more about how organization actually works on ground and believe me, HR leaders know it best. Also, organizations, which deal with sensitive customer data, are very much in need to define the rules of Instant Messaging game because it is opening up the sensitive discussions and document on only on smartphone but also to all those people, who will be having access to the phone. Smartphones are supposed to be strictly personal device; however that is still not case when it comes to practical usage of smartphone, at least in India.

The inherent nature of all social media tools is to provide Open platform for communication which may not suit all organizations.

Any technology comes with its trade off and can turned into a truly beneficial for all only with passage of time, when various use cases evolve. WhatsApp (Instant messaging) is not an exception to it. However its quick and widespread adoption has left policy makers in today’s organization gasping. Need is to understand the benefits offered and mitigation of risk through progressive policies.

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