Appropriate Uses for Instant Messaging in the Workplace

Used properly in the workplace Instant Messaging can help you become more productive.  Technology has come a long way in the past decade.  At the start of the new millennium many businesses were still using fax machines, and email had become the primary form of immediate communication.  Now instant messaging is taking over as our most immediate communication vehicle. 

What is instant messaging?

According to Wikipedia, instant messaging (IM) is a form of real-time direct text-based communication between two or more people using computers or other devices.

Advantages of using IM

Instant messaging is a convenient and fast way to obtain information.  After logging into IM you will see the option to hide from other IMers or make your presence known.  The presence awareness feature also allows you to see if someone in your chosen lists of correspondents is presently at their desk and available.  If you have a question that needs an immediate response, you can then send a message and obtain an immediate response.  This proves to be a great advantage over email which sits in the individual’s Inbox waiting to be physically opened, and read before receiving a response.   The immediateness of the process can be a true time saver for employees and customers. 

According to researchers at the University of California and Ohio State University, IM have some definite benefits to be used in the workplace.  IM has proven to save time when someone substitutes it for more traditional communication, such as the telephone or email.  Research showed that when IM was used the conversations were briefer than phone conversations and was less disruptive to the employee.  The shorter conversations and fewer disruptions increased the workers’ productivity.  The most proficient users of IM used it to check in with co-workers to see if they were available.  In addition, workers used the technology to obtain quick answers for projects and status updates on work tasks. 

The key is to use IM to cut the time of normally lengthy phone or face-to-face conversations.

Disadvantages of using IM

Although Instant Messaging may save time with one conversation it may waste time when multiple conversations are going on simultaneously.  Over usage of IM can become a problem by causing the employee to lose time due to the constant stopping to respond to messages.  In addition every time an instant message is received concentration on whatever work was being performed is interrupted.

Due to the popularity and growth in users of IM it has become more attractive to hackers and criminals.  The basic technology structure of IM makes it easy for hackers to see the presence awareness signal and attach to it.  Therefore, when or if sensitive information is transferred using IM it is at risk of being intercepted by hackers.  Also, IM creates an opening into the computer system exposing it to viruses, worms, phishing scams and harmful malware.  To be safe, enable your anti-virus software to check all income files and folders.

The final word on instant messaging is that it is best used sparingly for immediate and non-sensitive information.

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