In the age of electronic communication, is business chat software private? Can anyone assume that they are having a private electronic conversation at work?
Office chat applications like Microsoft Teams or Slack can seem very personal and private. In fact, participants typically act like that when they are typing the most personal comments.
But are these conversations in fact really private? The practical answer is no. "It is important to remember that it is still business software," says Slack spokeswoman Julia Blystone "and anything you communicate on a workplace device using a workplace network may ultimately belong to your employer." I am continually shocked that when employees are confronted with unprofessional and unethical conversations discovered by their boss, their defense is that "it was a private matter between friends and colleagues".
I am not a legal expert, but here are the practical facts. In most cases, the employee is communicating with another employee on a company application, on a company computer on company time. What part of that guarantees personal privacy?
I believe that chat software at work is a great tool. It is an easy way for people to communicate business issues and camaraderie for better team work. Unfortunately, it sometimes degenerates into a "gripe-fest" where people bond around things that make them unhappy instead of seeking productive and creative solutions.
Here are a few guidelines to follow to stay out of trouble:
1. Assume nothing is private (especially at work).
2. Assume that anything you type is out there in the world forever for someone else to retrieve. So be careful what you express it for the permanent record.
3. Consider what would happen if what you just typed was seen by the entire office (or world!).
4. If you have concerns or want to be really private, do it face to face or through an email addresses or phone texting not owned by the company. (Even then be careful as electronic communications are rarely 100% private).
Most of all, when it comes to communication, when you enter the workplace, privacy really does leave.