Effective Use of Instant Messaging

Phone Calls, video chats, email chains and instant messaging are all methods where work is assigned, successes are congratulated, and personal conversations take place. Work or not, humans want to stay connected and the environment we are in right now has made this more apparent than ever.

Moving to a mainly remote work environment, there is an increased importance placed on quick and effective communication. In continuance of a previous blog, “Make the Connection Ways to Build Trust & Understanding in Video Meetings,” this article explores the heavily relied upon use of instant messaging as a team tool.

Here are tips on how to use instant messaging to collaborate with team members while respecting that there is often a right and wrong time to use this mode of communication.

  • Tone - When instant messaging a colleague, it is helpful to remember that including a greeting and asking if the receiver is available can start the conversation in the right direction. By doing this, you show that you respect your coworker’s busy schedule. Once you wrap up your conversation, it’s also polite to close with thank you, or chat later! This allows the conversation to be concluded and not leave the recipient feeling like they are hanging.
  • The Meat and Potatoes - The content of the message is equally as important as the tone. Note that the nature of instant messaging allows for short texts to be sent back and forth. These short messages often include abbreviations that a receiver may not know. Furthermore, though use of emojis is prevalent, these tiny faces still may not allow for a complete thought. This brings up the most crucial question about the content of an IM. What is this tool being used for?
  • All Work, Some Play - These quick messages often don’t convey the same tone or nuances of the writer’s intention that an email would and should be used for simple direct questions or words of encouragement. Instant messaging can be great for brief check-ins or congratulations on a job well done. It is not as suited for assigning tasks and should not be used for delivering bad news. Lastly, sometimes these messages aren’t saved and can’t be referred to later; therefore they may not be the best method of assigning work.
  • Do Not Disturb - Respecting a user’s status - Presenting, Busy, In a Meeting etc., is the key to being a successful IMer. Absolutely refrain from IM’ing when a coworker has set their status to Do Not Disturb. This allows space for colleagues to have uninterrupted focus time. And, keep in mind that while this is an urgent scenario for you, this may not be priority for the colleague you are instant messaging.
  • Boundaries, we all need them - Instant messaging creates an opportunity to reach our team members and managers seemingly at any time of the day. These short interruptions can be more difficult to ignore than an email, because of this, it is important to know that it is okay for a response to be “now is not a good time, may I setup a time for us to chat later?” or “would it be okay if I sent you an IM when I am available to message?” By creating these boundaries, we set a stage for equal attention and participation that can be beneficial for both parties involved.
  • Expecting Immediacy - When messaging, there is a perceived pressure for the receiver to respond immediately, even when you might not have an expectation of an immediate reply. This can be disruptive to what is currently being worked on, or cause distraction from a call or video meeting. When waiting to hear back from a coworker, remember that it can come across as pushy if you send multiple follow-up messages. It’s always an option to send an email or a calendar invite for a discussion about the instant message’s subject.

The sound of a ping can be an exciting thing, especially when used to build up our teammates. Instant messaging is just one of the many tools, when used properly, that can help us stay connected in this remote work environment.

References:

“Business Communication: Instant Messaging Etiquette.” GCFGlobal.org, edu.gcfglobal.org/en/business-communication/instant-messaging-etiquette/1/.

Giang, Vivian. “9 Instant Message Etiquette Rules Every Professional Needs To Know.” Business Insider, Business Insider, 15 Nov. 2013, businessinsider.com/9-instant-message-etiquette-rules-2013-11.

Singh, Ankita. “The 7 Rules of Business Chat Etiquette Your Team Is Definitely Breaking.” GetApp Lab, 26 July 2018, lab.getapp.com/business-chat-etiquette-rules-for-small-business/.

York, Dustin. “Best Practices for Instant Messaging at Work.” Harvard Business Review, 16 Apr. 2020, hbr.org/2020/03/best-practices-for-instant-messaging-at-work.


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