Corporate Chat vs. Personal Chat
By Applications User Experience on Apr 20, 2011
Tanuj Shah, Senior Interaction Designer, Applications User Experience
Personal chat has become immensely popular. However, the features that make it so compelling for personal use may be counter-productive or insufficient in the workplace. To make corporate chat productive, it is important to understand how work needs differ from home needs and how those needs lead to a different set of requirements.
Personal chats are generally initiated between people who connect emotionally with each other. These chats are used to develop or maintain a friendly relationship. Therefore, these chats can also be called buddy chats. For easy access to buddies, these chat systems allow you to create a personal buddy list, for which an authorization is required. The topics in these chats keep changing continuously and could include gossip, movies, outings, sports, and news. One can observe that since these chats generally contain mundane matters and general discussions, reusing the chat transcript in the future is less likely.
Personal chats are generally triggered when a buddy is seen online, when one has certain emotions to share, or when one requires some general information. Even though these chat systems indicate the status of the other person's availability, i.e. whether he/she is available, busy, on-call, or away, these status indicators do not always prevent people from initiating a chat.
In today's corporate world, personal chat systems such as ICQ, MSN or Pidgin, have been introduced in order to encourage fast flow of information. Though these chat systems are significantly helpful, they may not support the potential of knowledge transfer across a corporation.
Corporate chats are initiated in order to get work done faster and more effectively through seamless flow of information. Further, cross-corporate communications should be encouraged for wide transfer of knowledge and learning. However, personal chat systems indirectly limit the users to chat with the colleagues they closely work with. This is because these systems require authorization to begin a discussion. So it creates a barrier to request or authorize a member unknown to you. Based on the requirements, a corporation could form policies to allow chat communications that are open across the organization. These systems may not have the requirement to authorize each other to initiate work-related discussions on chat.
The life span of communication between the members mostly depends upon the lifespan of their work together. Further, an important type of communication that must be supported in corporate chats is the one-time, ad hoc chat. This one-time, ad hoc chat could happen between two members who do not know each other but require some quick knowledge transfer about a work-related topic.
Unlike personal chats, corporate chats are generally triggered by a context, such as a work-related issue, document, article, or topic. So, it may be meaningful to consider initiating the chat from the context itself rather than the buddy list. For example, an employee in San Jose is reading an article authored by an employee in Austin with whom he has never conversed. Now, he may need a clarification in this article. So, the corporate chat could allow initiating a contextual chat from this article with the employee in Austin. Also, mood indicators could be displayed to indicate the availability status of the other person. Further, the system could also provide the ability to convert a synchronous chat into an asynchronous conversation. Both the mood indicators and ability to convert to an asynchronous conversation would work effectively to regulate discussions. This also gives the required flexibility for the receiver to respond. Also, since the discussions could be based upon the context in view on the chat initiator's screen, features such as screen sharing could be a powerful tool for supporting clarity and quality in knowledge transfer.
Figure 1: A Senior Director is reviewing the status of projects in his organization. He wants to discuss the status of a project with Sandy Drysdale, a Project Manager. He opens up the contextual action dialog displaying Sandy's information and decides to conduct an instant chat using the "Send Instant Message" feature.
Figure 2: A contextual chat in progress between the Senior Director and the Project Manager.
Further, one can observe that the chat transcripts in these chats are likely to be used in future for reference, since it could contain valuable corporate, business, or product information. Hence, it may be a good idea to support attaching the valuable part of the chat transcript to the context in discussion. With this, other users of the context in the future could take the advantage of the information in the earlier chat.
Finally, personal chats and corporate chats are meant to achieve different objectives. It is important to design corporate chat systems that allow cross-corporate collaboration over work-related contexts, leading to wide knowledge transfer and productivity at the same time.
Corporate chat is an important and desirable feature in enterprise applications. Oracle sees this potential and has been investigating the requirements that would make a corporate chat productive.
The author wishes to thank John Cartan, Oracle User Experience Architect, for his help in developing these ideas.