Quick and To the Point: Texting and Instant Messaging Protocols in the Workplace

Email, instant messaging, and cell phones give us fabulous communication ability, but because we live and work in our own little worlds, that communication is totally disorganized.” — Marilyn vos Savant, American newspaper columnist.

Quick and To the Point: Texting and Instant Messaging Protocols in the Workplace by Laura Stack #ProductivityCommunication may be the most important factor in any partnership, and it’s certainly a glue that binds a team together. But it comes in many forms, especially in the workplace. Two of those are texting and Instant Messaging (IM), which are common means of modern business communication today. How do we make the best use of each in a teamwork environment?

At first glance, IM and text seem very similar, and sometimes we use the terms interchangeably. But they actually refer to distinct methods of electronic communication. Text is of course phone-to-phone, and IM is screen-to-screen. When you IM someone, you make use of a shared messaging software app that lets you send a text message that instantly pops up in a dialog box on top of anything else they have open on their computer desktop. You can then proceed to have a discussion. Many companies set up the IM app in an Intranet limited to the company or a particular location.

A 2009 study of 2,600 IBM consultants conducted by MIT showed that those who kept in constant communications with coworkers and their managers (including using IM) averaged $98 more revenue per month than those who did not. A similar study the year before by Ohio State University and University of California, Irvine researchers revealed that IM also helps decrease workplace “drop in” interruptions.

IM and texts can be a very useful tool for confirming small details, getting a phone number, and handling minor issues that don’t require a meeting. It offers a kind of middle ground between emails and face-to-face meetings, and is best used for little things. If you have a customer on the line and need an answer that second, it can be extremely helpful.

Despite their benefits, IMs and texting are often used inappropriately and can quickly become a nuisance. ( ←CLICK TO TWEET THIS SENTENCE.) Don’t forget it alerts the recipient in real time, so it distracts from whatever the person was working on. If you’re just saying “hi,” you just broke the person’s focus for nothing. Some people use it instead of sending an email, so their issue gets attention, but it’s not an appropriate use of IM.

So like all communication channels, IM and texting have its etiquette. For teams, the most important include:

  1. Only use when you need an answer to an important question that can’t wait (urgent and important).
  2. Keep the small talk to a minimum. Social niceties aren’t necessary.
  3. Keep the discussion short. IMs and text don’t contain long paragraphs with much explanation and multiple questions.
  4. Ask your question, get an answer, and say goodbye before logging off.
  5. Take care to use only abbreviations you both know.
  6. IM/text doesn’t replace face to face conversations for bad, embarrassing, or emotional news.
  7. Be patient. If you don’t get an answer right away, don’t send an email.
  8. Don’t text anywhere you wouldn’t take a call (in a meeting, in a movie, while talking with someone, etc.).
  9. Don’t ping someone whose has set their status to “away” or “busy.” Put your phone on airplane mode if you can’t be disturbed.
  10. Don’t keep your status on “away” or “busy” all day.
  11. If a meeting invitation was sent via email, don’t use IM/text to change meeting times or places. Update the original meeting invite instead.
  12. Assuming they meets the above criteria, answer new messages as promptly as possible.

IM and texting add two more tools to our communications arsenal, but despite their usability, are less popular than email, meetings, and conference calls. This may be because meetings allow attendees to read non-verbal cues, and email allows for more detailed answers than IM. Nonetheless, they’re good options for communication, especially for virtual teams who can’t get together at the drop of a hat. As teams become less centralized, more virtual, and more dispersed, IM and texting will remain viable communications options well into the future, so we must learn to use them productively.

© 2015 Laura Stack. Laura Stack, MBA, CSP, CPAE is an award-winning keynote speaker, bestselling author, and noted authority on employee and team productivity. She is the president of The Productivity Pro, Inc., a company dedicated to helping leaders increase workplace performance in high-stress environments. Stack has authored seven books, including her newest work, Doing the Right Things Right: How the Effective Executive Spends Time (Jan. 2016). She is a past president of the National Speakers Association, and in 2015 was inducted into its exclusive Speaker Hall of Fame (with fewer than 175 members worldwide). Stack’s clients include Cisco Systems, Wal-Mart, and Bank of America, and she has been featured on the CBS Early Show and CNN, and in the New York Times. To have Laura Stack speak at your next event, call 303-471-7401 or visit her website.