When crafting any new internal communications platform or policy, there are guidelines that everyone should follow to ensure a successful implementation and practice adoption by coworkers.
Instant messaging is still being actively used in the marketplace and requires inclusion into your communications plan by developing good guidelines for acceptable use. A well-defined structure can help coworkers streamline work habits and improve independent problem solving.
Protocols for implementing an instant messaging system in your organization:
Everyone should have a work-based IM.
Organizations should choose a IM platform to use and expect staff to use that tool for work-based communications. Usernames should be issued in a standard and consistent format so if a coworker doesn’t know a user’s IM they can figure it out intuitively (example: using work-based email addresses as the user’s IM handle). Organizations should issue a username to each team member and insist that they use that platform when communicating. While your buddies might think your IM moniker is cute or funny, your work contacts might be offended or form a less-than-stellar image of you after seeing your screen name, so insist that users maintain a professional image as well.
Save the transcript of an IM conversation.
Just like email it is important that users maintain a archive, or transcript, of past IM conversations. These transcripts are typically manages and maintained within the users’ IM application and can be managed in the preference pane.
Follow Office Policies.
Most IT departments are leery of allowing associates free reign to download software to their computers. It is best to have one IM platform that is supported by the IT department that all coworkers will use.
Risks associated with instant messaging:
Like any tool, there are risks associated with the use of Instant Messaging in the workplace. Be aware of the risks associated with implementing an instant messaging platform within your organization:
- Not enough oversight – Be sure your staff can handle it and won’t chat up their friends all day rather than focusing on their work.
- Diminished employee productivity – Sometimes staff can get lost in conversation and interruptions from IM. Be sure that staff understand it’s OK to set their status to “unavailable” and make time to get work done.
- Vulnerability to malware and viruses – Not that much more than email, but it is a valid concern. If you’re up-to-date on on your anti-virus software (as you should be) you’ve really got nothing to worry about.
- Accidental transfer of sensitive documents – Common sense would suggest this would be no more of an issue than email, but people can sometimes make mistakes. Ensure staff knows the risks associated with your particular organization.
- Disregard of compliance/legal issues – Harassment and other compliance issues are potential issues with frequent use of IM because it creates a perceived “private” area to talk. Reiterate any compliance or legal policies to ensure staff is aware of the risks.
- Pain due to the number of conversations that a person can handle – If one person is getting too many IMs at once, it can be stressful. The person needs to feel empowered to manage and respond to IMs just as they would email, by sorting and prioritizing. If they need to take a break, they can always change their status and step away for a moment.
- Seen as a permanent work interruption – If not managed and used properly, like any piece of technology, IM can be interruptive. Setting strong policies and procedures will help ensure that this isn’t the case for your organization.
- DON’T use instant messaging to deal with conflicts – seems like this should go without saying, but people like to hide behind technology sometimes. If there is a conflict, steer as far away from technology as possible. Pick up the phone, or go see the person if you can. Deal with the issue, don’t use technology as a crutch.