One of the things my team is responsible for is collaboration between employees in our division. As part of our rollout of SharePoint 2.0, we’re encouraging employees to use Windows Messenger. Those already using Instant Messaging get why it’s a good thing. Increasingly, I’m able to get things done using Messenger at my desk or in meetings, rather than using email. In fact, I’m monitoring incoming email less and less, and relying on IM more and more.
Those that have been using IM for a while know there’s a separate set of rules for instant messaging. And it’s pretty easy to spot those that are new to it by the way they use it. So how should IM be used in businesses?
David S. Marshak, Sr. VP and Sr. Consultant, Patricia Seybold Group recently addressed this exact topic, in an article called Instant Messaging at Work: Key Policies and Practices for Leveraging IM in Business.
“More and more businesses are beginning to see the use of instant messaging (IM) as an interesting—if not compelling—way to make their organizations more responsive and effective. By using IM, particularly its presence-awareness features, companies can significantly reduce the time it takes to deal with customer issues, sometimes resolving them in real time. Effective use of IM can also eliminate much of the internal churning (emails, voice mails, walks past someone’s office) it takes for one employee to get information and assistance from another. And for many companies, IM provides a direct mode of communications with their customers—a mode that enables far closer relationships than we’ve seen since electronic communications became the norm.”
David recommends that companies establish policies in several areas: Expectations of privacy and responsiveness; Logging in; Availability; and Courtesy and Respect. I’ll summarize many of his thoughts (I’ve starred those), and add a few of my own.
1. Load the client when you’re online and working. Collaborative software doesn’t work if everyone doesn’t use it.*
2. Use the Status features of your client: Available, Busy, In a Meeting, On the Phone, etc.* David’s got some great tips on this topic.
3. If “available,” reply promptly (David recommends 2-10 minutes, depending on your business). *
4. It’s okay to say “I’ll reply later” or “Sorry, not now.” *
5. If you leave a message, and someone becomes “busy” without responding, and you get your question answered, reply “never mind”*
6. If you have more than a simple request (“is the document you sent final?”), “knock” by saying “got a minute?” or something similar.*
7. Don’t use IM to replace email. If you need to include more than a line of text, use email.
8. Don’t use email to replace IM. If it’s a quick question (“ready for lunch?”), don’t clog up their Inbox.
9. Don’t be too chatty. If a conversation is taking more than a few responses back and forth, pick up the phone.
10. Don’t be afraid to end the conversation if you got your answer. “Instant” messaging should be quick in and quick out.
11. It’s good to end the conversation with “bye” or “cya” or whatever you choose.*
12. If someone’s typing (you can usually see they are with a status indicator), wait for their response before changing the conversation.*
13. You might choose to turn off “notify when someone comes online” unless there’s a need. As the technology gets widely adopted, you may get a bunch of these, and if everyone’s online, you won’t need to see their status until you need to IM them.
14. I have separate clients for work (Windows Messenger) and personal (MSN Messenger). I have both running at work (though when really busy I’ll only have work client running), but on weekends, I only load my personal client.
I’m sure there’s a lot more to this, and if you have tips, let me know!
In the meantime, you can IM me at email@example.com (or my work email if you’re using Windows Messenger behind the Microsoft firewall).