Instant Messaging in the Workplace: Helping or Hurting Productivity?

Instant messaging can be a benefit or a curse in the workplace, in terms of productivity. Most employers are ambivalent, wanting to use it as a resource, but wary of the possibilities of creating a workforce which relies on informal messaging more than normal working methods.

The pros and cons of instant messaging


Collaboration uses: Messaging in its various forms can allow staff to maintain real time contacts at a distance. This is often the case on projects, or when staff need to travel and stay in contact with other parties at the same time. That does contribute, greatly, to productivity.

Speed of contacts: The instant transfer of information can be valuable of itself. This is a highly effective medium, allowing good functional levels of interaction on the job. Staff can create and send complex information rapidly.  


Quality of contacts: Some people are not great communicators, even with a great medium. Employers may not be comfortable with cryptic messages from staff on the other side of the country.

Record values: The instant message can be the equivalent of the Post It note, in terms of business records unless it's properly formatted. It's usually brief, with no references outside the messaging system. That's very counter productive, if it's necessary to trace the reasons for actions or decisions later and the information has to be extracted from the messaging system.

Continuity of information: At least half of the messages will be in relation to other messages. This is like coming into a conversation in the middle, and trying to figure out what it's about. If the message is turned into hard copy, and anything is missing, it will be useless information.

How to achieve productivity using instant messaging

There's a relatively simple way of covering the negative aspects of instant messaging, and taking advantage of the positives. You can also make sure that the messaging is used for work purposes only:

  1. Create a messaging format with a document tracking type of reference system. A formal record will be required to be created before the messaging will operate.
  2. Train staff in the proper operation of this system. It will greatly facilitate manager and supervisory actions and provide an accurate record of decision making.

Example 1:

Ref: ABCDE 12345

Ann: Is the Anderson quote approved yet? Mr. Anderson needs a figure.

Ref: ABCDE 12345


Bill: The Anderson quote was approved by Fred Jones this morning, $140,000 for the entire job. Fred says use the standard contract, you're hereby delegated to sign on behalf of the agency.

That's a $140,000 contract under way in a couple of minutes, thanks to instant messaging. The reference ensures that the quote and authorization are recorded, and that Mr. Anderson's inquiry is recorded.

Example 2:

Ref: XYZ1234

Alan: Please advise ASAP database references for specifications for X80 communications systems plans. Need for staff briefing at 10AM.

Ref: XYZ1234


X80 Refs:

  • ADDD 57773
  • ADDD 57774
  • ADDY 67729
  • ADDT 67730
  • ADDY 67731

X80 communications system master plan ref is ADDY 67740

This is a cut and paste exercise, taking seconds, and saving laborious searching through database systems. Alan can find everything instantly.  

Instant messaging can achieve great productivity, used properly.