Instant Messaging at Your Company: Convenient, but Problematic

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By Mark Wilson, Esq. on March 13, 2015 11:21 AM

Despite what you've been hearing for years, email isn't "dead" and it's not "dying." What is happening? Thanks to a bevy of new services, email -- once the universal online communication method -- has a very specific purpose.

The new hotness (which actually isn't that new): chat and instant-messaging programs, which allow employees in the same office to communicate with each other in real-time. There are a lot of different solutions, some corporate, and some not. Should your company try these out?

Corporate Solutions

Over here at FindLaw's Secret Volcano Headquarters, we often communicate via interoffice instant messaging. The great part about this software is that it interfaces with Microsoft Outlook, so you can look up anyone in the company by email address; there's no separate database just for the chat program.

Of course, corporate solutions mean that a record of all your chats is saved somewhere, which can either be good or bad, depending on what you're using the chat software for. If your company does save all these chats, you need to let employees know beforehand that they don't have a reasonable expectation of privacy in these chats.

Non-Corporate Solutions

Smaller companies might not have the budget and infrastructure to implement enterprise-level chat systems, so they'll have to resort to the publicly available ones. Google Chat is incredibly popular for chatting through the Gmail Web interface and provides easy access to Google Hangouts, which is sort of a way to have ad hoc videoconferences. With Google, you don't even need complex IT infrastructure; Google has handled all that for you.

On the flip side, you're not necessarily in control of all your company's data, so if it's ever necessary to get that stuff through discovery, you'll need to subpoena Google, which could be a hassle. The hybrid option is using Google Apps for Business, which allows you to use Google for email management, but allows a local administrator to access accounts and create permissions for each user.

And finally, what happens when employees chat with each other "off the record" on non-company-sanctioned chat systems? That's where the real problems happen. As we learned last week with Hillary Clinton, a lot of official business can get done through unofficial channels, meaning that if those records ever have to be produced, they might not be readily available.

Companies shouldn't discourage employees from being productive by using chat programs, but your company should make approved chat programs available for business use and emphasize that official company communications shouldn't be happening over unofficial chat systems.

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