Tuesday, August 5, 2008

New study reveals instant messaging reduces interruption, plus workplace IM etiquette

If you think instant messaging at work is distracting and lowers employee productivity, think again. A new study from researchers at Ohio State University and University of California, Irvine actually found the exactly the opposite to be true.

Before the study, many researchers and business professionals believed that if given instant messaging, workers would use it on top of emails and phone conversations, increasing interruption and lowering productivity.

Instead, researchers found that workers who used instant messaging on the job reported less interruption than coworkers who did not. Instant messaging was often used as a substitute for the phone and email, decreasing workplace disruption.

“We found that the effect of instant messaging is actually positive. People who used instant messaging reported that they felt they were being interrupted less frequently,” said Ohio State researcher Kelly Garrett in ScienceDaily.

Researchers found that most workers would use instant messaging to see if a coworker was busy, before interrupting them at their desk, and to get quick answers to simple questions. Instant messaging gave employees more control over workplace communication by showing others when they are available or not. It also allows workers to postpone conversations and ignore or dismiss unimportant messages, with little distraction.

If you’re thinking about adopting instant messaging in the office or already use it, be sure to train employees on correct workplace instant messaging etiquette. Here are a few key points to remember:

  • Knock first. Ask if the person is available before interrupting them with a detailed question. Simply ask “Are you available to chat?”

  • Keep it short. Instant messaging is meant to be brief. If your message requires more than about two lines of text, maybe you should consider moving your conversation to the phone or email.

  • Take your time. Your coworker may not be as fast of a typist as you, so give them enough time to respond before sending another question.

  • Use away messages. Going to be in a meeting for the next hour? Put up an away message that tells everyone you’re away from your desk, so everyone knows when you’re available again.

  • Mind your manners. Don’t say anything in an instant message that you wouldn’t put in an office email or say over the phone. Remind employees that IMs sent from office computers should follow workplace communication policies regarding offensive language and improper conversation topics.

How employees choose to use instant messaging will determine the effect it will have on productivity. If everyone agrees to follow a few rules, instant messaging can enhance employee communication, reduce distractions and improve productivity.

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