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Wherever I have worked, I've been fighting a lost battle to keep people from using instant messages for non-urgent issues. Example: my co-working place has a Whatsapp group with 117 participants (denoted as "urgent only" by the building manager, who unfortunately does not enforce it). Some people don't understand that a single message will interrupt 116 persons from their work and their remark about the weather is better suited for email/facebook/coffee corner. The result is that people leave the group, thus killing an (otherwise) very useful communication channel for urgent matters.

What have you done to protect real-time communication channels?

I've tried educating people with politeness, humor, and in some cases force, but have not found a satisfying method yet.

Update Thanks for all replies. I'd like to add:

  • Example urgent message: "who's the owner of the car that is blocking the parking lot" or "I should have received a delivery today, did anyone take it" The building is quite large and there is no intercom.

  • Disabling alerts on the comm channel doesn't work, as the whole function of real-time communication is lost. The ability for mass, real-time communication seems like a precious good to me, but only works if it isn't spoiled by chatter.

  • I am not looking to "enforce" anything as that clearly doesn't work in a co-working setting. And I am not the owner of the chat. However, new tenants get a policy guide (from management) that says the chat is only for urgent business. Still, enough people don't understand why this rule is there. And management does not enforce it.

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    I think this is more of an issue with your notification settings. I classify instant messaging as non-urgent by default, with physically coming over to your desk as highest priority, phonecalls being next highest and emails being normal priority/documentary. – user1666620 Sep 18 '18 at 10:57
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    Everywhere you have worked you've made an issue of your personal preferences against 100+ other peoples perception of what it's for? You may want to take a hint from that. Since you obviously don't have the power to enforce anything. – Kilisi Sep 18 '18 at 11:23
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    I cannot imagine that a single message is urgent to all 100+ people. It looks like you should create smaller groups and write only messages that matter in that group. Notifying so many sounds pretty crazy. At the same time using an app for chatting for sending urgent message is a really bad idea. – red-shield Sep 18 '18 at 11:26
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    Disagreeing with the OP's ideas about com-channel usage shouldn't invite downvotes. I'm not understanding where they are coming from; the question seems valid enough to me. – Erik Sep 18 '18 at 12:41
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    I'm not familiar with WhatsApp, but I presume it has the ability to create multiple channels and manage the notifications from them independently (like Slack)? If so, maybe try recommending an official channel which is not used for general chatter, and then one or more less formal channels. Then you can subscribe to and receive notifications from the official channel and mute/ignore the others. – delinear Sep 18 '18 at 13:20
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You don't seem don't have the power to enforce anything so this is just your personal opinion against 100+ other peoples. Since you have had the same issue everywhere you have worked you may want to take a hint from that.

I'm unsure what would be classed as urgent that 117 people need to see straight away, but it's possible I guess in a disaster.

Real time urgent communications can be and usually are done face to face, phone, conference calls, instant messaging etc,. etc,. there are multiple avenues. Disaster events by sirens, explosions and other stuff.

So, in answer to your question, unless you have the power to enforce how people choose to use it, you have no real recourse and pushing the point may antagonise people.

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    Thanks for your comment. I am not asking how to enforce as that clearly doesn't work. Urgent matters are e.g. "who's the owner of this car that has blocked the parking lot". Problem: people leave the comm channel because of the chattiness and there is no other real-time comm channel left (the building is too large and does not have an intercom). – Willem Sep 18 '18 at 13:48
  • Ok, that makes more sense, but with the exception of people stuck and the owner of the car, that's just noise to everyone else. And realistically how often would that sort of event happen? No one is going to keep a chat open if it's not enforced and there is nothing that interests them on it. – Kilisi Sep 18 '18 at 13:52
  • These kinds of things happen at most once a week. Apparently enough for 117 people to stay in the chat (20 have left already). – Willem Sep 18 '18 at 13:56
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    +1 for "disaster events by explosions" - while I haven't had the pleasure of working in a place that announced disasters with deliberate explosions, well, it's definitely now on my bucket list. – bharal Sep 18 '18 at 15:20
  • Keep in mind the OP never stated that the instant message app is even acknowledged by management as a "urgent only." I feel that such practice with 100+ people is too fragile as not everyone would be reachable in a emergency (natural diaster, people are going to be taking care of themselves and families, not loggin in WhatsApp to see what's what at the work area). – Dan Sep 18 '18 at 17:36
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It might be that you find WhatsApp to be a super urgent channel, and are trying to teach people that, but that won't matter one bit if some other users consider it to be a low-urgency channel and are instructing people to take their nonsense there.

So to fix that issue, get together with the people organizing/maintaining these communication channels and decide what the real priority level of each channel is.

Then, communicate these priority levels to everyone, in a clear and obvious manner.

Finally, enforce these rules, that have been set by the people in charge of this communication, towards everyone.

Unless there is a general consensus (and enforcement) on what a channel is for, there is no reason to assume that other people are going to treat it the way you're treating it.

But once that consensus exists, it becomes much easier to just enforce it publicly through the channel itself. And it becomes easy for the maintainer to discipline people who aren't using the channel properly.

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    Sorry, forgot to mention that for my example, the "urgent" priority is official policy but not enforced. So I guess my question boils down to: how to convince people in a democratic manner about the virtues of a real time channel. – Willem Sep 18 '18 at 19:25
  • @Willem you can't do this in a democratic manner; you need to do this with whomever is maintaining this group. – Erik Sep 18 '18 at 19:48
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TL;DR Create a group where people can only listen, If you can.

I am not sure if it's ok to answer a 3 year old question. Since there are no accepted answers, I am doing it anyway.

Let me start by saying our ancestors used to communicate and get ready to face danger by screaming especially in groups. Humans are social animals (well most of them) and you won't believe how stupid an average human is. If you want a human who won't talk in a group if it's an emergency, your best choice is with a dead one.

So it boils down to the question, can you create a group of 100+ people without anyone talking unless it's an emergency. And the simple answer is NO.

What can you do for such a situation?

Create a group in such a way that only a handful of people (group admins) can talk and the rest can only listen. If you use only one admin then it's a single point of failure.

If there is an emergency relay that information to one of the admins and they will inform the group.

I think telegram have this feature from the start and watsapp added it in 2018.

I am just a participant

Send message to the manager/important people in the group saying you are muting the group since the unwanted chatter in the group is affecting your work. Since you think each of those messages can be an emergency.

You won't be able to notice an actual emergency with all that chatter. If something really happened then this group will get flooded with messages.

You won't be able to teach all the co-workers but you have better luck trying to teach the manager.

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  • I agree that talking to the manager is the best option here. But I disagree that you can't have a group of 100 people without anyone talking unless it's an emergency. My current employer has a channel for live problems with the platorm we make. No-one uses it unless it's a live issue (apart from occasional mistakes) because everyone understand the need for it. I suspect the issue for the OP was that no-one defined what an "urgent issue". As one of the comments says, a car blocking the car-park sounds quite urgent to me. – matt freake Feb 12 at 17:57
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    (ftr, I work with @mattfreake above). The problem may be that people want somewhere for water cooler banter but have nowhere else to go. If you want your staff to use a specific channel for high priority messages, ensure they have somewhere for low priority and off-topic messages too – tddmonkey Feb 14 at 15:46
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    (@tddmonkey can't mention both of you). I am talking only about an emergency channel. You can create whatever groups you want for rest of the communications, never said you can only have 1 group in an office. And "urgent issues" like "car blocking the car-park" and "fire in 3rd floor" are totally different. – lal Feb 15 at 3:35

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