Talking about chat apps at work in the Global South

Digital Social Innovation

Collaborators Stockholm University, Microsoft Research India, Boston University, University of Windhoek

Abstract

We explored how chat apps work in the distributed workplace and how it fits alongside the rhythms of both local and remote work in the Global South.

Method

We took an ethnographic look at how two chat apps fit into the communication ecosystem of six large enterprises in India and Kenya.

Takeaways

We found mobile text-based chat applications such as Whatsapp, promised to foster greater communication and awareness between workers in the field.

We explored how chat apps work in the distributed workplace and how it fits alongside the rhythms of both local and remote work in the Global South.

In this study, we took an ethnographic look at how two chat apps fit into the communication ecosystem of six large enterprises in India and Kenya, and provided insight into where and how chat might best fit into an organisation’s communication ecosystem.

From the perspective of management, Mobile text-based chat applications such as Whatsapp, promised to foster greater communication and awareness between workers in the field, and between fieldworkers and the enterprises administration and management centres.

Each organisation had multiple different types of chat groups, characterised by the types of content and interaction patterns they mediate, and the different organisational functions they fulfil.

We’ve definitely at the start of a two-hour meeting had a question. Just posted a poll, and halfway through the meeting had an answer to a question we were kind of debating. In that way, it’s just been wonderful for us to get direct access to our staff. Participant in study

The organisations studied used two chat apps: WhatsApp and Kaizala. Kaizala is a chat app for work, supporting the usual chat functionality of one-to-one and group messages of text, photos, documents and videos.

Broadly there are two types of chat groups: conversational, and non-conversational, such as announcements or groups where people did not choose to interact.

Most of the organisational groups tended to work around non-conversational chat groups.

Chat is a powerful addition to the communication ecosystem for remote workers and chat groups can become a valuable shared space. However, chat’s promise of more direct communication and greater awareness was only moderately successful.