Employees ten years ago could not have anticipated how quickly and completely our workplaces have evolved over the past decade. In the aftermath of the global pandemic, significant numbers of employees have transitioned to telecommuting for some or all of their workweeks. The enterprise collaboration platforms adopted by many workplaces to facilitate this transition include a variety of electronic communication tools through which employees may communicate in a less mindful style than they would use in e-mails or printed correspondence, which, in turn, has created additional risks related to communications created, sent, and stored through these tools.
Enterprise collaboration tools (such as Slack, Microsoft 365, and Google Workspace) allow employees to communicate in formats akin to the messaging systems they often use for personal use. For instance, these tools provide real-time messaging formats similar to text messaging and online chat messaging that employees may use at home and on their personally-owned mobile devices. These tools also provide communication channels that store conversations in forms quite similar to employees’ personal social media posts and comments. As a result, employees using these different communication forms available within enterprise collaboration tools can sometimes use them with less formality and care than they would use in other forms of business communications.
Increased informality in business communications can create risks for organizations. The resulting communications can fail to reflect the discretion and decorum appropriate for workplace correspondence. Such communications can also fail to capture the full context of the relevant subject matter, which can cause the communications to be ambiguous and subject to a number of possible interpretations. For example, the incorporation of emoji and visual memes in such communications can lead recipients to interpret the messages very differently than the senders intended.
To reduce the risks related to a permanent “Casual Friday” in its business communications, organizations should consider supplemental training for employees about best practices with regard to use of the communication tools within their enterprise collaboration tools. As a starting point, such training should highlight how all business communications may become subject to public scrutiny at a later date in the context of legal proceedings and related discovery. Organizations should also provide guidance to employees about their record retention practices associated with different types of business communications, as well as the employees’ responsibilities related to the routine management of these communications and the preservation of communications and other records when relevant to an actual or reasonably anticipated legal proceeding.