WhatsApp is breaking barriers in organizational communication

WhatsApp is breaking barriers in organizational communication

By: Dr. Shamshul Bahri Zakaria, Dr. Nur Syazwani Ahmad, Dr. Ali Fauzi Ahmad Khan

Organizational communication is the exchange of information and ideas within and across organizations. Different platforms and tools can facilitate this process, such as email, video conferencing, and instant messaging. However, the preferences and practices of organizational communication vary across different countries and cultures.

Our study revealed a unique phenomenon in Malaysia’s organizational communication. Unlike many other countries, where desktop or notebook-based platforms such as Microsoft Outlook and Zoom are the dominant tools for official communication, Malaysia has embraced Mobile Instant Messaging (MIM) applications, especially WhatsApp, as the primary communication platform within organizations. WhatsApp is a popular MIM app that allows users to send text, voice, image, video, and document messages, as well as make voice and video calls, through the internet. Originally designed for social and personal use, WhatsApp has become widely used for professional and organizational purposes in Malaysia. We found that Malaysian organizations use WhatsApp for various functions, such as chatting, discussions, information sharing, decision making, and coordination.

The widespread use of WhatsApp as an organizational communication tool in Malaysia has significant implications for the theory and practice of communication. It challenges the conventional paradigms of communication that rely on formal and structured platforms and tools. It also introduces a new era of communication that blurs the boundaries between personal and professional spheres. Moreover, it raises important questions about the impact of WhatsApp on information security, data management, and communication effectiveness within organizations. Therefore, it is essential to understand the benefits and risks of using WhatsApp for organizational communication and to develop appropriate strategies and policies to optimize its use.

We also found that WhatsApp as a communication tool has played a pivotal role in reducing the gap between the top management, middle management, and lower-level employees. The open nature of the app allows for more direct communication within the organizational hierarchy. In other words, the app breaks down the barrier of communication between the different levels in an organization. As a result, there is a free flow of information from the top to the bottom of the organization, and vice-versa from the bottom of the organization to the top.

The informal nature of the app provides a more relaxed and approachable atmosphere within the organization. This kind of atmosphere makes the lower-level employees more comfortable in voicing their opinions, sharing their ideas, and provide feedback, despite knowing the inclusion of the top management in the conversation. They know that the app encourages allows for more open communication without the constraints of formalities. As a result, the lower-level employees feel more engaged with the organization, fostering a sense of inclusivity while empowering them at the same time. In other words, the use of MIM in an organization can contribute towards creating organizational citizenship behaviour (OCB).

The use of WhatsApp has also enabled faster decision-making in organizations. The app allows members to share vital information such as documents, diagrams, and photos that are relevant to certain decisions immediately. This accessibility and immediacy stand in stark contrast to the cumbersome steps required in the more formal meetings or conventional technologies such as emails. In fact, organizational decisions can be made on-the-go, thus creating a more agile decision-making process. Hence, MIM has the capability to create a more transparent, collaborative, and efficient workplace.

As organizations continue to adapt to evolving communication trends, our study suggests that the integration of instant messaging platforms like WhatsApp can serve as a catalyst for positive change in organizational culture, fostering improved relationships and communication between top management and lower-level employees.

Dr. Shamshul Bahri Zakaria is from the Department of Decision Science, Faculty of Business and Economics; Dr. Nur Syazwani Ahmad is from the Centre for Foundation Studies in Science; Dr. Ali Fauzi is from the Department of Library Science and Information, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Universiti Malaya. They may be reached at [email protected]

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