Using WhatsApp for your business comms? It's either that or reinstall Lotus Notes

Employers won't provide proper comms and insist it's YOUR fault

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Something for the Weekend, Sir? As I make my way home after a busy day, I often enjoy a knee-trembler by the church wall.

"Here we go again," I can imagine you mentally tutting, "Dabbsy's off on one of his string of oh-so-predictable double entendres in a cynical ploy to grab my attention at the beginning of his pointless weekly Reg column which I wouldn't bother to read otherwise."

Well, excuse me, you mental tutter, you. I can't help it if your filthy mind chooses to stare and see smut in every anecdote related from my personal life.

Is it my fault you always look hard when I open up?

Let me assure you my knees are trembling only because the weather has turned wintry and I forgot to don thermals beneath my troos*. And I am innocently walking along the rough pathway that runs alongside the length of the church. It's a quiet ambulatory diversion on my way home that happens to lead away from the main thoroughfare. It is absolutely NOT an excuse for a puerile sexual play on words.

The shortcut isn't secluded or lengthy – it's about the length of a church, remember – nor does it shorten the walk home to be honest. I take it only because it avoids having to make my way precariously down the difficult stretch of pavement that runs parallel. By "difficult" I mean it suffers from a ludicrous abundance of street furniture.

This unique 20 metres of pedestrian passageway inexplicably narrows to the width of just one and a half people – or 0.75 of one very fat person – while also providing home to two street lamps, a bus stop shelter fully fitted with plastic seats, a telecoms cabinet and a "pelican" pedestrian road crossing complete with traffic lights.

Somebody on the council recently realised this cluttered little stretch of pavement might be a health and safety risk for citizens. So it enhanced the situation by installing roadside barrier railings about one foot inside the kerb.

A couple of sections of this pavement can now be navigated only by walking sideways, which demands a lot of additional side-stepping, backtracking and you-firsting when encountering other people coming in the opposite direction. In my case, however, these people are rarely individuals like myself: they are usually young mothers with ultra-wide pushchairs for their triplets, road-rashing oldsters on mobility scooters, back-flipping circus acrobats, sword-flailing whirling dervishes, baton-twirling marching bands, an Airbus A380 coming in to land, etc.

Since this official route was evidently conceived by a fool and laid out by an arse-head, I find it simpler to take my unofficial detour via the aforementioned private consecrated grounds. The only downsides are having to ignore the hard stares of people through the church hall windows as I crunch noisily across the gravel and wade through an unnaturally dusty patch of shrubs next to a sign that reads – rather enigmatically in my opinion – "Garden of Rest".

This week a couple of survey reports were published bewailing the cavalier attitude of employees with regard to messaging. A third of organisations use consumer-grade apps for business communications headlined the Armour Comms Survey. It found that some 32 per cent of organisations were relying upon WhatsApp, SMS and (God forbid) Skype to communicate with colleagues, deliver commercially sensitive information and exchange willy shots.

OK, I made up the last one but it might be true because I'm told that's what consumer messaging apps are normally used for in the wild.

The figures swell to 53 per cent when surveying global frontline workers in the retail, hospitality and entertainment industries, according to Speakap's report entitled Bridging the Internal Communications Gap.

Often the reprehensible culprits, despite being generously permitted by an employer to acquire their own smartphones and pay for their own network contracts with their own money so they can make themselves available to their millionaire bosses 24 hours a day, have wilfully avoided buying any business-quality comms apps at their own expense. What a bunch of skinflints these employees are, eh?

Back in the days before BYOD (Bring Your Own Device), we toiled in an environment known as WAD (What's A Device?) that saw us all – implausibly as it might seem today – make use of communications systems provided by management. I fondly remember the almost fantastic but vaguely hopeless Lotus Notes installation from my time at computer magazine publisher Ziff-Davis in the early 1990s.

Ah, Lotus Notes. The cut-and-thrust of corporate managed databases, employee forums and sending email without having to use the command line. Most memorable of all was the way it sang out "der-der-der DER-der!" from each PC's internal speaker for every arriving email all over the open-plan office of 150 staff, and absolutely nobody knew how to shut the fucker up.

This would be especially unnerving when you sent a message to your colleagues to bitch about the editor, only for the entire office to break into a simultaneous electronic yell of "der-der-der DER-der!" – the editor's PC included.

Sure, Speakap and Armour Communications have products to promote via the time-honoured ploy of privately commissioned survey results but let's face it, they're right. These consumer messaging apps are free, immediately available and have pretty reliable up-time; in fact, Apple's FaceTime is so intent on maintaining availability, it even listens and watches when you don't want it to.

Clumsy though my analogy is, it is gratifying to be assured that I am not alone in taking a personal diversion from the official line. WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger et al are the church gravel paths of modern industrial communications.

If the work-provided messaging system is crap, obstructed by metaphorical marching bands or, much more typically, utterly non-existent, it stands to reason that employees will make do with alternative routes when left – quite literally – to their own devices.

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Alistair Dabbs
Alistair Dabbs is a freelance technology tart, juggling tech journalism, training and digital publishing. He acknowledges your congratulation for not inserting the video for Message in a Bottle by The Police. He likes the song but there are only so many clichés he can fit alongside sexual innuendo into one weekly column at a time. Next weeks's video will be You've Got Me Hanging by The Doolies. @alidabbs

* Refers to "pants" or "trousers" depending upon your location. Hoots mon etc.

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