What's up with WhatsApp?

By Jessica Harper

Since the creation in 2009 of WhatsApp, the brainchild of Jan Koum and Brian Acton, the users on the platform have been skyrocketing and the app has arguably become one of the biggest staples of the workplace.

It's fair to say that almost all workplaces have a ‘work group chat' in which managers post reminders, alerts and rotas. Employees can also get rapid replies to questions, due to having access to their managers and other colleagues 24/7 worldwide, alongside life updates and general work chit chat.

But, naturally, any form of social media has its disadvantages. Although WhatsApp can be seen as a friendly and casual online interaction with colleagues, personal chat or complaints about another employee – even the ‘tone' of a message being taken the wrong way – can trigger it to become formal and direct very quickly. This can be down to a lack of understanding of the level of formality of the group chat, with different people having different views of what's acceptable and what's not.

As of now, there is no real data protection law highlighting the ‘boundaries' of WhatsApp, i.e., what can be disclosed and what cannot. In rare circumstances, text message screenshots can be used in tribunals as evidence and have been regarded as highly and professionally as contracts would. For example, during a case in Scotland involving whether or not an employer had breached the employee's right to privacy by using WhatsApp messages as grounds for disciplinary proceedings, the argument relied heavily on Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

It may come as a shock to some workers that a casual group chat can hold up to such high standards in employment law cases. Perhaps this is because of the blurred lines on the boundaries and lack of education on how to behave on social media sites? Whatever the reason, it's apparent that training on WhatsApp needs to be in place to educate employers and reduce any unethical toll it takes on businesses.

Although WhatsApp comes with its difficulties on how to use the app ethically, it's obvious why the app has seen such growth in the workplace environment. No one can really remember a time before they had a work group chat and it seems ridiculous now that emails were the ‘fast track' way to communicate with colleagues. WhatsApp has been particularly important for younger people in part-time jobs, who may be less familiar with the concept of emails but are more comfortable on WhatsApp, and therefore are able to involve themselves more in the corporate culture of the company.

We can all agree on the fact that the benefits of the use of WhatsApp are far greater than anything else. It's efficient, easy to use, and has gained a lot of popularity over the past few years due to COVID-19. The app has kept us in touch more than email ever could and, ultimately, brought us closer together.