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February 22, 2009

Instant Messaging in the work place

No No No, this is not some blog about how instant messaging is a waste of company resources, or how to do it without getting caught. This is a blog about how great a tool instant messengers can be for instant-messengersa  company.

As a tech, instant messaging has been a tool that I have used in the work place for as long as I can remember. It, along with email, are the primary way I contact other techs. Recently, many clients have thought about implementing a good instant messaging software for their employees to use, but are concerned about the risks IM software poses, as well as the loss of productivity that may occur is people can just chit chat all day.While both of these concerns are valid, there are solutions in place for both, but before we worry about the risks of using Instant Messaging software, lets look at some of the benefits.

The Benefits:

  1. Fewer Interruptions - A lot of the work I do requires me to concentrate on several things at once. Because of this, other interruptions, big or small can cause a problem. If I'm "in the zone" and get a phone call or even worse, someone comes over to talk to me, I usually get distracted and then have to take the time to regroup my thoughts before I can get back to what I am doing, some times it takes only a minute, but sometimes, it takes longer depending on the task at hand. If someone IM's me, I can wait until a natural break in my work occurs, like when I complete a thought and write it down, I can then look at the message, respond, and then move on. And lets face it, most things can wait a couple of minutes, so that delay usually isn't a big deal, and if it can't wait, you can still call.
  2. Convenience - For me Instant messaging is easier and more convenient that making a phone call. I have a list of names in front of me so I don't need to look up a number, and most times I only have a  quick question, so its just simpler to ask. It also gives the other person a minute to look up and answer if they need to, and you aren't wasting that minute sitting on hold. You also aren't interrupting the person like mentioned above.
  3. Tracking Employee Conversations - Yes, I know, most people absolutely hate this, but it is a perk for a business. My company logs all conversations held via IM for every employee, the boss will occasionally read through the logs just to see what we are up to. Do we stop joking around, sending funny links and pictures, nope, and he doesn't expect us to. Then why does he do it? So he can see what we are up to. If we are asking each other a lot of questions, or a lot of people are asking about the same thing, maybe its time for an email explaining something, or a training. If we are all complaining about a customer, maybe its time to reevaluate them as a customer. It is also helpful for when we ask a question to a superior and then do what we are told and it turns out to be wrong, we simply pull the log and say "I did ask, and was told to do this" or if a dispute occurs between what was said and what was done. It gets resolved quickly.

The Risks:

  1. It is Informal - People sometimes forget that not everything should be discussed via IM. Confidential client information, or confidential company information usually shouldn't be discussed over IM. IM should be an unofficial communication channel. Things that need to be "on the record" should be communicated in person or in formal writing, like email.
  2. Data Security - There are some risks when using IM. Most are not encrypted by default, because they are meant to be informal forms of communication. The logs are also not encrypted in many cases, so information that shouldn't be shared may be. Depending on the software you use, this data could also get out of the company (although much of the IM software available currently has the ability to make it internal only)
  3. Viruses and Malware - There are a lot of viruses and Malware that target popular IM software. If you allow communication with outside users, this can be an issue. To prevent this, make your IM internal use only and have a good AV software running.
  4. People will use it for Chit Chatting - Yes, people will chit chat with one another and talk about non work related things. As long as it is within reason, its no big deal, they are going to do it anyway, and there are far worse things your employees can be doing aside from communicating with one another.

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