longer just a tool of the idle masses exchanging rumors and recipes,
instant messaging (IM) applications have encroached into the working
world, where professionals swap industry information, gossip, and
expertise in the blink of an eye. Instead of traipsing down the
hall, making an abrupt phone call, or waiting for an e-mailed response,
employees can communicate with one another via online text, "pinging"
each other questions and requests, speeding up reaction rate and
to a recent Jupiter Media Metrix report, more than 11 million people
use instant messaging services at work. For employees working on
location and supervisors stationed outside of home offices, instant
messaging is rapidly becoming the industry standard. The practice
is ubiquitous enough that Salary.com was able to conduct three interviews
for this article entirely through instant messaging - users we'll
call Boston_editor, Phoenix_CPA and Detroit_designer.
in touch with people
"Instant messages are fantastic for finding and corralling people
you need to reach instantly, or, conversely, who need to reach you,"
typed Boston_editor, as he simultaneously fielded e-mails and reviewed
his Web site's content. "I find I respond more immediately to an
IM than to the phone."
legions of the self-employed also find it useful for the same reason.
"IM takes less time away from productivity than someone coming into
your office," wrote Phoenix_CPA during a break from spreadsheets
and dollar signs. "I'm a one-person office, and any time I can save
in whatever fashion leaves me more time to play."
is instant messaging?
Instant messaging made its big splash in 1996. Mirabalis, an Israeli
startup, began distributing its real-time chat client ICQ (say it
out loud) through the Web for free. People all over the globe were
able to communicate in near-real-time over the Internet, forgoing
the e-mail lag as well as expensive long-distance phone calls.
wasn't the first online chat client, but it was the first one that
was completely free to anyone who wanted it. Previously, America
Online had offered its instant messaging program (with its well
known "buddy list") only to subscribers. Prompted by ICQ's mass
appeal and usage, AOL released a free instant messenger to the general
public, allowing AOL users to chat with registered AOL Instant Messenger
(AIM) users via their buddy lists. AOL later acquired Mirabalis,
effectively eliminating a major competitor.
the 1998 joining of the two companies, the market for instant messaging
widgets has exploded. While most of these tools aren't compatible
and cannot talk to one another, a few clients allow users to chat
across platforms, including the infant Imici instant messager. AIM
and ICQ are only the beginning, and today's users have a myriad
of choices. MSN Messenger and others continue to grow and acquire
new customers as more people give up the ringing of the telephone
for the "pinging" of the Internet.
- be right back
lol - laugh out loud
ttfn - ta ta for now
ttyl - talk to you later
tx - thanks
imo - in my opinion
ftf- face to face
:) - smile
:( - frown
;) - wink
:P - raspberries
easy, it's too easy
instant messaging programs allow people to chat quickly and freely,
their ease of usage may also be their biggest demerit.
you engage in blocking people from seeing you, the very blessings
of IM are also its curse," lamented Boston_editor over AOL Instant
Messenger. "All sorts of people can find you for all sorts of reasons
- not all of them important."
can and do abuse IM in the workplace, even if it's workplace-related.
In Boston_editor's experience, some coworkers "also lend themselves
to taking what could be a short, casual phone conversation and transforming
it into a drawn-out string that pulls you away from work."
it can be quite tempting to spend precious time chatting online
with friends and family, most non-work-related instant messaging
takes place between coworkers - which some employers encourage to
a degree, because it enables peers to bond and form stronger working
your working environment
However, unlike a phone call, you can ward off productivity-sapping
questions or requests before they're sent. Many of the instant messaging
clients come equipped with easily installed "away messages" that
allow other users to see that you're around, but not necessarily
enjoys the few extra seconds afforded by an IM exchange. "IM allows
you to know who is 'calling' before you answer and gives you that
few extra seconds to think about what they might want." The same
goes for busy days when you really can't take on any new projects.
"It's not as intrusive as a phone call," continued Pheonix_CPA.
"If someone pings me and I am in the middle of something, it's real
easy to say 'Busy...ttyl,' rather than have to change 'mind gears'
to answer the phone." For any net-neophytes, "ttyl" stands for "talk
to you later."
dangers of corporate messaging
While instant messaging tools generally increase workers' productivity
by allowing them to multitask more effectively, security is still
of the utmost concern. Because of the simplicity of the instant
messaging programs, there are many ways to hack into old conversation
logs, potentially exposing sensitive information.
companies are taking a stab at making this simple program ultra-secure.
Many desktop publishers have released corporate versions of instant
messaging services, confident that the added security measures will
protect trade secrets from Web pirates.
Not only is it quick, easy, and free, but instant messaging programming
opens up a whole new field of information retrieval and sharing.
As the workplace becomes less rooted and more virtual, for example,
it's normal for individuals to be working with clients and contractors
all over the globe. "My clients don't mind that I'm across the country
when they can reach me in an instant online," IM'ed Detroit_designer
in between uploads of her latest clients' websites.
messaging technology is an inexpensive - even free - perk that companies
can offer employees," said Jenn Schraut, Human Resources and
Compensation Associate at Salary.com. "And it's also a productivity-enhancing
tool. So, many employers trust that their workers can handle the
freedom, as long as they don't abuse the privilege. It's like the
telephone: the technology itself is neutral," she said. So
the onus is on the employee to use the tool wisely and effectively,
and keep the chitchat under control. But be aware of the potential
security risks, and save sensitive conversations or materials for
Regina M. Robo, Salary.com News Editor