Technology Tools for Remote Workforces – To IM or not?

Is Instant Messaging a good tool for a remote or dispersed workforce? The answer is Yes and No. It all depends on how it is used.

Keeping communication flowing between a dispersed team takes much more effort than when they are based in one office. This means that other technology tools must be utilized so that frequency doesn’t drop in the absence of regular face to face opportunities. One popular tool is Instant Messaging, which allows everyone to stay connected by quickly typing in a short question or chat that then pops up directly on the targeted individual’s computer. There are good and bad things about this.

The Good:

  1. It bridges the distance gap by making a team feel like they are constantly connected, similar to the cell phone texting craze! In an office people can stop by to ask a quick question or connect – IM allows them to do that virtually so communication isn’t restricted.
  2. It also can help build the team’s sense of community by keeping them more connected which keeps those working relationships stronger.

The Bad:

  1. It is a huge time zapper – even if it only takes 1 minute to read and respond to an IM, it has really taken 10-15 minutes of your time. This is because it takes that amount of time to get back to the same level of concentration toward what you were working on before the interruption. So six quick IMs a day could potentially deplete one hour of productivity.
  2.  Managers can fall into a bad habit of using it to see if someone is working and online. Don’t use IM as a time card or status checker. This leads to micro management and is just a lazy management style. Employees need to be able to log off of IM so they can concentrate on projects without interruptions.

The Ugly:

  1. People don’t realize that a company is liable for all communication sent electronically including IMs and can be liable if they ever go through legal discovery.
  2.  IM can be too informal and therefore cause conflicts between employees due to misinterpretations. We miss more communication nuances when using IM that we would have picked up through verbal or face to face interaction.

To ensure that IM becomes a useful rather than detrimental tool to office productivity, some rules should be agreed upon:

  1. Agree that employees should turn off IM when working on projects so they are not interrupted.
  2. Do not use it as a tool to monitor when they start or end work.
  3. Set standards about what types of content and communication IM should be used for.
  4. Let employees know that all IM is captured and potentially monitored by the company.

If a company or remote team is going to utilize Instant Messaging as a communication tool, it is important that they set up guidelines and expectations around its use, so it does not negatively impact productivity.

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