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How to use instant messaging at work

A study by Radicati Group revealed that in 2019 the number of worldwide instant messaging (IM) accounts totalled over 7.0 billion. The availability of a multitude of instant messaging platforms has given companies an ample number of choices to choose from.

Modern instant messaging platforms offer a range of features for better communication. Users can not only text but can also make calls and share files on the same platform. It has also lent a helping hand to companies that were compelled to go into remote work. Unlike the formal nature of emails, IM tools can be more spontaneous and conversational. They have interactive add-ons like emojis and GIFs. These features provide a fully text-based chat with an element of light-heartedness.

Why an ‘Instant Messaging rulebook’ is a must-have in the workplace?
In more than one way, using instant messaging in the workplace makes communication much quicker. However, while fast communication is an advantage, it comes at a cost.
The following are some of the problems with instant messaging apps:

    • Employees are pressured into being available all the time.
    • Notifications can be an unnecessary distraction while working.
    • Messages piling up in the inbox causes information overload and stresses employees
    • App switching kills employee efficiency. Employees switch between multiple apps to exchange information. There is a high risk of missing information when it is scattered.

To resolve these issues, it is critical to have an instant messaging policy in place. An instant messaging policy documents the basic etiquette that is essential when using instant messaging tools for team communication. A clear set of guidelines about the do’s and don’ts of instant messaging at the workplace is necessary. In this way, communication is more effective and productive.

5 Tips to make the best use of instant messaging in the workplace

Most companies use instant messaging tools for ease of communication. But using IM in the workplace must be reviewed and improved regularly. If a company relies on instant messaging for internal communications, keep these tips in mind to ensure you get maximum advantage from such tools.

1.  Less is more when using workplace communication technology

Leverage the right instant messaging platform. Instant messaging apps are designed to simplify the communication and collaboration process.

Choose a platform based on the needs of the workforce. Employees in a team will have different preferences. Study employee preferences and the nature of work. Ensure that the technology keeps all data private and secure from potential cyber threats.

An ideal communication platform should offer multiple functionalities so that employees can use a single app to meet all their communication needs. This can prevent them from toggling between too many apps and avoid loss of information. Several instant messaging apps offer many other third-party integrations. Tools like Clariti allow users to access their emails and chats in a single workspace, integrating features like Calendar, To-Dos and so on. Such integrations eliminate the need to toggle between multiple apps and avoid long searches for information.

2.  Choose the right mode of communication for every message

Every message is not meant to be conveyed in writing and many others are better verbalized. Using verbal communication to share information can sometimes provide better clarity. And sometimes, it is best to use instant messaging to convey information to elicit a short and immediate response.

It is important to think twice about interpretation before sharing a message. For example, for sensitive messages like performance feedback, a one-on-one meeting is the ideal mode of communication. A written comment like ‘This can be done better’ may be interpreted in a negative tone. The same remark in a one-on-one exchange sounds more polite. A verbal exchange allows employees to respond appropriately.

3.  Set expected timelines for responses

In a recent study, Buffer revealed ‘unplugging’ to be among the biggest challenges faced by remote employees. Disconnecting after working hours has become a difficult task. Especially with remote work, there is very little distinction between a workspace and a home. An employee who is done for the day may still be inclined to check unread messages because of a fear of missing out.

Another common problem is a misinterpretation, employees may misread the urgency of the message. The urge to respond immediately compels them to stay online all the time. A basic instant messaging rule that can be followed is to ensure that every important message mentions when the sender expects a response from the recipient. Setting an ‘expected response time’ for messages can relieve employees of this pressure.

This helps employees to curate an accurate response and respond according to the urgency of the situation. Consequently, employees can focus on work-life balance which is crucial for their physical and mental well-being. This will lead to higher employee engagement and business productivity.

4.  Encourage socialization but set the ground rules

Instant messaging apps play a vital role in building personal connections. Traditionally, emails are known to be the standard communication medium in workplace. However, the element of personal touch is absent. Instant messaging apps attempt to fill this gap. With instant messaging apps, employees can exchange informal messages, check in on each other and discuss work too.

But companies must ensure that their instant messaging policy clearly outlines instant messaging etiquette that needs to be followed by employees. It should include fundamental rules against bullying, harassment and using profane language. Additionally, it should also inform employees about what kind of information they are allowed to share on the platform to protect company information.

Managers must also monitor group communication channels and proactively intervene in situations that can lead to conflicts.

5.  Cut-off distractions on instant messaging platforms

If used wrongly, using instant messaging platforms at work can be distracting. Employees can waste time in off-work conversations. Sometimes deviating to an informal conversation can impact focus. For example, employees using IM to discuss a sports event or a new tv show can take up a considerable amount of working hours. Employees tend to lose focus and lag on deadlines.

Instead, use an alternative platform like Donut for non-work activities like games, debates and discussions. No doubt, these interactions are great for team building. But, when friendly banters go off limits, it is detrimental to employee productivity.

Likewise, foster an environment where employees can respond to messages at their own pace. In this way, they can work with an uninterrupted focus. It also helps fellow employees respect the time and boundaries of their teammates.

Instant messaging: A faster and easier mode for workplace communication

Instant messaging has not substituted emails in its entirety. But it has become one of the primary modes of communication in workplaces. Employees must be trained and informed about its appropriate usage. They must be aware of the company’s virtual communication decorum to communicate respectfully.

Leaders must make a conscious effort to ensure that the platforms are utilized effectively. If used rightly, an instant messaging platform can be the staple communication mode. Most of all, it bridges physical, personal and time-related gaps that come with distributed working.