The dangers of using Whatsapp for work purposes

WhatsApp, the instant messaging app used by circa 1.9 billion people (according to Statista, July 2017), is in my opinion, the next best chat invention since MSN.

With 58% of global users logging on more than once a day, the uses of the chat app are beginning to be recognised in the workplace. With WhatsApp often favoured over cumbersome and unreliable email phone applications, it also provides a more casual method to exchange information with colleagues away from the office, or to quickly inform someone that you’ll be five minutes late.

Furthermore, with its end-to-end encryption only the messenger and the individual recipient or group can see what has been sent – away from bosses’ surveillance.

The Financial Times reports that one study of emergency surgical teams using WhatsApp found that it enabled junior trainees to access more experienced clinicians, who provided support and supervision. Separate research, published in the Journal of Information Technology Education, also sanguine, found that WhatsApp enhanced relationships between students and their teachers.

However, the downside is, that such apps further blur the lines between home and the office. Gillian Keegan, an MP for Chichester who lauds the use of WhatsApp as a work tool, describing one group chat as a “Mumsnet for politicians” says she would never send WhatsApp messages to her office over the weekend as “it would oblige [the team] to respond. As a manager, you have to be careful how you use it,” – FT reports.

A study by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development surveyed practitioners on the use of WhatsApp at work, and 26% thought they enhanced the workplace, encouraging collaboration and providing an opportunity for mutual support. However, 40% said the app undermined corporate culture.

One anonymous HR manager said: “[It] can be a great benefit for employees as long as [it is] used for the correct reason. It can, however, be too easy for people to act inappropriately and find themselves in breach of policies without realising the impact of their behaviour.”

Another respondent added: “WhatsApp is primarily used for gossiping and bitching. I work in an office where the millennials sit there all day on WhatsApp, messaging each other and sniggering like school children.” Another described it as a “tool for bullying” and excluding colleagues.

However, bolstering WhatsApp’s case is that the risk of leaks or surveillance are low, especially when using your own phone. However, from a work phone, the risk of your messages being read increases. Simon Kerr-Davis, Employment Counsel at law firm, Linklaters, told the FT that using WhatsApp on a work phone provides ample scope for breaching employer guidelines by causing offence to the recipient of a message, reputational damage to an employer or releasing confidential information.

Carole Theriault, infosecurity communications expert at Tick Tock Social, warns that: “If you want to keep something private from work, keep it entirely off their radar and their systems.”