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Why Group Chat is Taking Over Southeast Asian Workplaces

It has become the backbone of start-ups

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BY Marishka M. Cabrera - 14 Nov 2016

group chat in workplace

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

There’s no stopping group chat from taking over workplaces around the world—from Slack’s phenomenal success in the space to Microsoft unveiling its own chat-based workspace called Microsoft Teams, available in Office 365. Even Facebook has its own version in the form of Workplace.

Group chat has become the backbone of many businesses—as an article in The Wall Street Journal puts it—that brings together people and multiple software programs onto one sleek platform.

By 2017, some 143,000 Singaporean public servants are expected to be using Workplace to communicate with one another on their mobile phones and tablets, the Straits Times reports. The decision took into account factors, such as security, cost, and ease of use.

“Easily half our communications happen via chat as opposed to emails,” says Ashwin Jeyapalasingam, co-founder and COO of Malaysia-based online bus booking platform CatchThatBus. “Emails tend to happen to just document decisions or items not requiring immediate attention.”

For instance, requests to tech team—feature change requests and errors encountered—tend to be done through Slack, he says. Other teams, such as the customer service and operations teams, tend to prefer to give updates and ask questions to each other via WhatsApp, since it comes across as a more friendly service.

Syed Ahmad Fuqaha, co-founder and CEO of another Malaysia-based start-up, Katsana, says that while the official communication channel is still the company email, Slack is being used by the team for discussions that have to do with development and technical issues since it has been configured to integrate with other software programs. For quick chats, the company uses the app Telegram.

“The experience on Slack has been customized to our exact needs,” Fuqaha says.

He says that one of the “cooler integrations” that they have done on Slack is the #alert channel that will notify them in real time whenever they detect potential trouble on their clients’ vehicles, such as when their car battery depletes or an intrusion happens. Katsana offers a GPS tracking solution that helps clients recover stolen cars, as well as a fleet management system that monitors vehicle fuel level and utilization, as told in an Inc. Southeast Asia story.

“It is a funnel that merges notifications from numerous services onto a single channel,” he says.

He explains that other software programs, such as New Relic, Envoyer, and Github, are integrated on Slack in order to notify them of any irregular activities on their infrastructure or to keep track of changes in the system while on discussion with the team.

And because of this integration, it will be hard for Katsana to switch platforms.

This could mean that it may be difficult to get start-ups to change platforms once they have already adopted a particular system. And because of this, Slack may still have the first-mover advantage. As Andrew Wilkinson, the founder of MetaLab—the company which turned the early prototype of Slack into a polished product—says in his article, “Over the past months, [Slack’s] competitors have caught on…It’s a little too late…Slack has stolen the show.”

“It is unlikely that we will switch at this time due to the value of data and integrations that have been achieved on Slack. It is just too much work to set up everything back to our liking,” says Fuqaha.

And while it is possible for them to try a new communication channel in the future, he says it has “to be something totally different than just a copy of Slack.”

Jeyapalasingam says switching to Microsoft Teams, for instance, would depend on the functionality and the cost, which will have a big impact on the management side.

“If I were to leave it to the tech team to decide, who are currently the primary users for Slack, they would probably not want to move. Slack is sexy to tech, MS Teams with just the MS name attached to it, in comparison, not as attractive to programmers,” he says.

As for other chat apps, “Switching out from Whatsapp will be even harder, unless a mobile app is significantly better in some way. I doubt we'd be able to kill that,” Jeyapalasingam says.

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