With its quick and convenient nature, it’s no wonder that instant messaging, or IM, has made the leap from home computers to corporate desktops. But while at-home messaging is known for its casual nature and acronym-filled texts, these qualities aren’t always suited for workplace communications.
Business users have developed their own set of IM protocols, and it’s worth familiarizing yourself with these rules if you plan to engage in at-work chat. (For a refresher on the niceties of e-mail communications, please read E-mail Etiquette.)
- Just because someone is online, don’t assume they’re available. One of the most appealing features of IM is that it allows users to assess “presence.” However, just because someone is logged on, don’t assume that they are available to chat. Your contact may be away from his desk, on the phone or on deadline for a big project. That’s why it’s important to “knock” before you launch into a conversation by asking, “Do you have a minute?” or “When would be a good time to chat?”
- Know which kinds of conversation are appropriate. IM is best used for quick interactions such as asking questions, setting up meetings, or relaying messages. Serious or lengthy discussions should not be conducted over IM. In these situations, it’s best to walk down the hall or set up a phone call to communicate in-depth.
- Keep it short. Remember that businesses have embraced IM because it’s a great productivity tool. Workers can share information quickly without interrupting their workflow — unless, of course, they become immersed in long, drawn-out chats. Keep exchanges brief. Your boss will be happy, and you’ll get more work done.
- Be aware of tone. Instant messaging is similar to e-mail, in that it’s very difficult to communicate tone over IM. Be careful to avoid language that might be interpreted as angry or flippant. Avoid sarcasm at all costs, because it can easily be missed.
- Write professionally. IM culture favors acronyms and emoticons, but overuse of either can be annoying and confusing. With acronyms, your best bet is to align yourself with the corporate culture. There are probably some regularly abbreviated terms that are common to your business and acceptable to use. Emoticons should be used sparingly.
- Keep it confidential. Avoid sharing any sensitive or confidential information over IM, because chat texts can easily be saved, forwarded, or made public.
- Pick an appropriate screen name. “Snugglebunny2000” may be a fun screen name for home, but it’s definitely not appropriate for work. Select a screen name that’s as close as possible to your real name, so you can be easily identified.
- State Your Status. Almost all IM software includes features that allow you to indicate your status with messages such as “busy” or “away from my desk.” Make it clear when you are available to chat by using these functions.
- Communicate, don’t aggravate. It may be tempting to say “hi” whenever your coworkers come online, but too much idle chat can get distracting. Try to keep your conversations focused on business, or you could run the risk of being ignored!
- Be polite. IM is not the place for quips and negative comments. Aside from being rude, these comments can potentially be saved, forwarded and used against you later.