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Apple @ Work: iMessage is a terrible tool for the workplace and might even cause legal problems

iMessage has become a popular way to communicate since its release with iOS 5 in 2011. In the following years, it’s added new features and been added to more devices. Today, you can use iMessage to communicate over LTE or Wi-Fi using an iPhone, iPad, Mac, or even an Apple Watch. iMessages boasts end-to-end encryption, so not even Apple can read your messages. It’s become one of the most comfortable and secure ways to communicate with friends and family. The problem with iMessage is it has become a business communication tool, and terrible at it. iMessage at work might also cause your company legal problems in the future as well.

About Apple @ Work: Bradley Chambers has been managing an enterprise IT network since 2009. Through his experience deploying and managing firewalls, switches, a mobile device management system, enterprise-grade Wi-Fi, 100s of Macs, and 100s of iPads, Bradley will highlight ways in which Apple IT managers deploy Apple devices, build networks to support them, train users, stories from the trenches of IT management, and ways Apple could improve its products for IT departments.

Using iMessage at work might sound like a good idea. Still, it falls apart in practical usage, and it should concern IT departments if their end users begin using it as a primary communication tool.

Lack of work-life balance

Over the years, people have started using iMessage to communicate with people on their teams. Group chats have certainly increased in popularity and cut through the clutter of email while avoiding more complex solutions like Slack and Microsoft Teams. The problem with using iMessage and iMessage groups as a business chat tool is that it removes any semblance of work/life balance. Because iMessage is such a popular personal communication tool, it then blends in all of your work communications on top of it with no way to distinguish between the two or disconnect from work. One of the challenges I find is that if someone uses iMessage to alert something work-related off hours, you have no way to snooze it until you’re back in the office. One trick I’ve tried since the release of iOS 14 is to pin a message that I need to deal with when I am at work, but that doesn’t work if the conversation includes other messages.

One thing Apple could do here allows you to snooze a particular message/set a reminder until a pre-set time or location. Another idea might be to mark specific contacts as “Work” contacts, and all of their messages are in a separate tab inside of iMessage.

Lack of visibility for IT

Another major problem for using iMessage at work is the lack of visibility for an IT department. Because iMessage is encrypted, there is no way to archive these messages for compliance reasons. For people using Google Workspace, Google Vault is a turn-key solution for archiving all email. For Microsoft 365 customers, an online archive solution is offered as well. In many industries, email archiving is a legal requirement. If organizations start relying on iMessage, these conversations are hidden on the employees’ devices, and it might not be possible to unlock them.

I am not sure how Apple would solve this without fundamentally breaking what makes iMessage a secure chat service, but it should concern all IT professionals.

Wrap-up on iMessage at work

iMessage is an easy to use and fast way to communicate, so it’s not surprising people have naturally wanted to use it to chat at work, but it’s not a perfect solution for multiple reasons. What would be ideal is if Apple could leverage something in Apple Mail to create chat groups that worked over email similar to how Spike Groups work for Spike Email. It would satisfy the legal requirements for archiving while streamlining communications.

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