Is Instant Messaging a Distraction or Productivity Enhancer?

Question:  I have a small business with several employees and they have been using Instant Messaging on their computers.  Do you think that’s okay? I’m afraid they are goofing off and not working.   images

THE Small Business Expert:  You bet I do.  Instant messaging is becoming popular in the business world and the technology may actually increase workplace productivity.  A study by researchers at Ohio State University and the University of California found that workers who use instant messaging on the job reported less interruptions during the workday than their fellow colleagues who did not.

A lot of employers worry that instant messaging is just another distraction because workers would add it to other types of communications such as email, the phone or in-person office visits.   But the researchers found that isn’t the case.  Employees use  instant messaging as a substitute for other forms of communication.

The ease and convenience of using instant messages may increase the number of conversations your employees have, but those interactions are much briefer according to the co-author of the study, R. Kelly Garrett, assistant professor of communications at Ohio State.

“The key take away is that instant messaging has some benefits where many people had feared it might be harmful,” Garrett said.  “We found the effect of instant messaging is actually positive. People who used instant messaging reported they felt they were being interrupted less frequently.”

To gain the benefits of instant messaging in your company, engage your employees in a discussion about proper usage of the technology.  For example, suggest that instead of dropping in unexpectedly on a co-worker, use IM to determine their availability.  Instant messaging can also be used to get a quick answer to a general business question.   And if you get into the swing of using the technology too, you could help your employees increase their productivity by replying through IM to specific questions related to a project or task.  This enables employees to keep the ball rolling instead of waiting until they can speak to you face-to-face to get the information they need to proceed with their work.

Instant messaging also allows users to control how and when they communicate with coworkers. The technology gives people the ability to flag their availability or postpone responses to a more convenient time.

Of course, as with any type of communication in your business, stress to your employees the importance of minimizing personal IM conversations because that can be a work distraction.  Most every employee has the occasional need for outside contact during the workday.  However, on-going instant message conversations with friends or family members can eat up time and impact job effectiveness.

My suggestion to you is to embrace this new technology as an effective tool for your employees and start instant messaging your way to success.

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