12 Tips for Instant Messaging in the Workplace

Hands on laptopInstant messaging (IM) is the latest and fastest growing form of business communications sweeping the globe.

To clarify, texting is an electronic message sent from one cell phone to another, allowing for disjunctive sentences and many abbreviations including LOL, which I first thought meant Lots of Love versus Laughing Out Loud.

Instant messaging, on the other hand, is an electronic message sent through the Internet in real time onto a computer screen which allows you to type messages with as much accuracy and ease as when composing any computer-generated document or message.

Although IM can be used on electronic devices, the focus of this article is on how to use it within companies for business communications.  IM is truly a great tool to help communicate more efficiently, faster, and nurtures closer team relationships with everyone working anywhere in the world.

1. Be brief, be quick, be gone! This adage is used by public speakers, yet fits with IM as well. IM is as the name implies, an instant (immediate, fast, prompt, split-second, straightaway, hit-and-run, quick, rapid, speedy, swift) message. It is not intended nor should be used to replace email, nor is IM intended to be kept over time.

2. Introduce yourself. This is no different than when you meet in person, by telephone, or by email. When writing an IM for the first time, let the recipient know who you are, such as, “Hello. This is Syndi Seid from the Sales Department…”

3. Respect a person’s time, even when the system shows IM is available. Who knows? The recipient may not even be at his or her desk. Ask: “Got a minute? I have a quick question.” Whatever the reply, respect it accordingly. You’ll know the person is away when you don’t get an immediate response.

4. Be on the same page with all office mates. Master the use of all features your IM system provides. Conduct mini training sessions in your office and distribute a brief guideline sheet on how best to use IM. This way everyone will understand what’s expected and how to use the system to its best advantages.

5. Don’t barge in. Whenever you see a “do not disturb” alert, do not send an IM. It’s like barging into someone’s office when you see the door closed. Wait until later. If you are afraid you’ll forget what you wanted to say, keep a notepad beside your computer at all times to jot down reminders for future messages. Also, do not leave your “do not disturb” alert on constantly. It defeats the purpose of the system, isolating you from fostering greater productivity and teamwork. Instead, learn to manage when IM will and will not be available.

6. Stick to one short subject. IM is intended for quick and cordial correspondence among congenial participants. It is not intended for idle chitchat or long and drawn out conversations. Make messages purposeful and cover one subject at a time. If you have several subjects and questions, use email instead.

7. Write in complete, grammatically correct sentences. This isn’t texting. Use proper capital and lower case letters. Never use only all upper or lower case letters. It reads as though you are lazy, shouting, or being too informal.

Check for misspelled words, poor grammar, and abbreviations or acronyms. Lose emoticons. In business it bothers me to see even one emoticon in a message, much less a ton of them. And don’t get me started about the audio kind. They are often a surprise and most loud and disturbing when others nearby hear them.

8. Use line breaks. Do not send one long run-on paragraph. Separate the text with blank line breaks. On my system it is CTRL-ENTER. I hate having to insert my own line breaks just to understand someone’s message.

9. Be careful about distribution. Take time to review the distribution list before sending, to ensure everyone is or is not intended to see the IM. Remember, all content on company systems belongs to the company and can be monitored at any time without your direct permission. Never send something you won’t be proud to share with the world.

10. State how fast you need a reply. Waiting one or even two days for a reply on email is reasonable. For IM, the key is to be as responsive as possible. Unless your intended recipient has a “busy” alert on, assume you can hear back within a few minutes and certainly within 15-20 minutes. Waiting 30 minutes in IM time is considered long.  Always state how fast you need a reply. If you receive a message and are too busy to reply soon, let the sender know.

11. Cover your bases. IM is not for important information the recipient might want to keep. Use email instead. When sharing important last-minute information, such as a change of time or location of a meeting, use both IM and email to send the notice. Some systems only work on dedicated computers, whereas emails are more easily accessible from any device, any time.

12. When and how to end: It is not always clear when an IM conversation is over, unless one person ends with a thank-you or good-bye. Once you receive a reply, it may not be necessary to continue past a simple “Thank you.”

Happy Practicing!

QUESTION: Do you have other tips to share or questions you want answered about IM? Post them here. I’d love to hear from you.

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8 Responses to "12 Tips for Instant Messaging in the Workplace"

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