It’s rather unfortunate that today I’m coming to think of Instant Messaging, which is a great enabling technology, as an irritant, and something which many companies could do without in the workplace.
Okay, before I go any further let me step back and take a look at this from a work point of view in a company. When I was sysadmining in Belfast the company I worked for had 3 main ways to communicate besides face to face. The internal phone system, email, and Instant Messaging. This was a couple of years back and the people I was working with weren’t exactly the most tech savvy, and had little use for Instant Messaging, but I can tell you that the internal phone system got a huge amount of use, very little of which was actually work related. Got little to do for ten minutes, phone up the gym and flirt with the trainers… get the idea?
Now IM is a great enabling technology for those who need to communicate instantly, but like email (and the phones) it’s a distracting force in the work environment and can cause countless lost work hours. Email disturbs your work flow. It distracts from your current focus, and any body who does any programming will tell you that it tends to take time to get into the frame of mind to do productive and good code. Email, when it arrives, pulls you out of that focus, and makes you have to “reset your mind” to get back to what you were doing.
IM is even more invasive. It’s no longer down to one distraction every 15 minutes, or whatever you client is set to pull email in at. Now people can buzz you when they’re bored, have nothing to do and are feeling lazy.
I work from home, and as such can only refer to my own IM usage levels, which are higher than I would like them to be during my “work” time. However, some of the people I chat to during the day are not self-employed but working for companies, and seem to spend the entire day on IM. My IM client is off now, but I guarantee then if I turned it on , I would get a couple of messages within 2 minutes.
Most of the people who will message me, will be doing so first to say “hi”, and then because they’re not up to much at their jobs. The flow of messages will continue, even when they’ve got nothing to talk about, they’ll start sending links to pictures or jokes. Fine, you’re not doing your job.. let me do mine and earn some cash already.
IM, has a place. But from a productivity point of view I feel that the workplace may not be the most suitable environment for it. Email is “almost instant”, and not quite as invasive as IM, however at the end of the day, if possible I don’t think there is any replacement for the value of face to face communication.