Instant messaging at work is a powerful communication tool with big pluses and possible minuses. Sending a message is a direct intrusion into a boss or co-worker’s current project, which can be either a helpful and appreciated message, or an unwarranted distraction. Below you’ll see some of the pitfalls and rewards that come along with workplace IMing, and tips to help you excel at quick communication.
Begin with the general context to make sure the receiver knows what you are talking about. Though you may know what your message is pertaining to, you need to give enough information in the message so the reader does as well. Explain the project, refer to the earlier email, list the date of the meeting – whatever information is needed to orient the receiver to the topic you are talking about. Also, it’s extremely helpful to include a link to whatever you are referring to, when necessary, and use a real example to help explain whatever it is you are messaging about. For example, link to a webpage that shows an example of what it is you want to do or need help with. With a question, make sure to copy and paste the question you are answering or the comment you are responding to. If more than one question has been asked or the question was asked some time ago in the conversation, make sure to be clear. It is also helpful to ask a question that can be answered with yes or no to save on time for both you and the recipient.
You should also copy and paste an important conversation to other people or other places. If you discussed something that involves other people, e-mail them a copy of the IM conversation. If the conversation is related to an issue documented on a wiki, forum or project management system, copy and paste the IM into that location as well. Along with that, don’t send out your words in little chunks – write your whole thought out before sending your message to the other person.
You should use IM for time sensitive communication. If you do not get a response back after an IM, assume the recipient never saw it. Try again, or try e-mail. Know the preferences of your co-workers, e-mail versus IM versus phone, and make sure to use IM only during standard work hours, unless needed for an emergency.
Make sure you turn on archiving so you don’t have to repeat yourself by asking the same question twice. Look up the answer in your logs if you can’t remember. Pidgin is a system that has this helpful capability. Remember to summarize at the end of an involved conversation so the recipient and yourself know what you have solved, what still needs to be done, and are on the same page.
By making your messages thorough yet concise, and using IM when appropriate, much more can be accomplished during the work day.
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