Most of us are familiar with the insistent ping of our cellphones alerting us to a message on our work WhatsApp group at ungodly hours. Indeed, the service is becoming an increasingly common way to set up meetings, send urgent messages or bounce off ideas.
Although some people do not mind how the platform is managed, or even the occasional joke from a colleague, others find it an unwelcome distraction, according to a social media poll by the Mail & Guardian.
“It is the most annoying thing ever,” Comfort Lebese said. “When people just find the need to send random chain videos or stupid messages, I generally do not like it because it chows my data.”
Lauren October @Lauren_October concurred: “There are no rules but I wish there would be. I wish there was a policy of no messaging after 7pm, as sometimes I get messages when I am in bed already.”
Arthur Goldstuck, the chief executive of World Wide Worx, said WhatsApp is widely used in many organisations, schools and other institutions.
It is already on most people’s cellphones and is a convenient way to co-ordinate activities, ranging from school sports matches to staff meetings.
There is no standard to regulate the use or the choice to opt out of work Whatsapp groups, said Goldstuck, so it is up to groups or organisations using it to set their own rules.
For some, including Hlangepasika Loleka, @hlangepasika on Twitter, her work WhatsApp group comprising herself and 24 other colleagues, is effective. “We use it for work-related matters only, and we are not allowed to post photos, videos or porn.”
Lucky Makhalema @LuckyMakhalema says having a work WhatsApp group can be positive. “We use it to send urgent notices among the members regarding work,” he said, adding it can also be useful for notifying colleagues of other issues such as traffic jams.
But “sometimes it gets … abused [by] people sending stuff that is unbecoming of the group or [its] purpose.”
Goldstuck said that, although there are cases when individuals abuse the use of the platform, this is usually regulated by the company’s standard use policy regulating the use of cellphones, computers and other devices by individuals at work. He said companies can dictate how employees use these devices, especially if they are connected to their internet server.
“However, there are companies that treat any distraction as taking away from company time and these tend to have unhappy workforces, because social interaction is part of who you are. You cannot ban people from any form of social activity,” he said.
Employees should also be careful because messages sent in a work group may be used against them if an employer finds out that sensitive information has been discussed or defamatory remarks have been made.
Technology law specialist Lisa Thornton agreed. Last year, FNB dismissed four employees after it found them guilty of gross misconduct for making political comments about and insulting Democratic Alliance leader Mmusi Maimane on a work WhatsApp group.
The Regulation of Interception of Communication and Provision of Communication-Related Information Act allows employers to intercept electronic communications, which can include emails and WhatsApp groups, under certain circumstances, Thornton said.
Thulebona Mhlanga is an Adamela Trust financial reporter at the M&G