Instant Messaging (IM) is a technology that allows instant communication between employees and customers in the workplace. It can be utilized to improve the efficiency of communication where employees work remotely from each other. Once viewed primarily as a communication medium used by teenagers, IM has matured into a viable communication tool for all businesses, small to large as part of a social networking and collaboration strategy. According to the Second Annual AP-AOL Instant Messaging Trends Survey, 27 percent or one in every four adults, use IM at work. In addition, many IM technologies include both video chat and video conferencing. However, although IM offers many benefits, it also introduces the potential for a number of negatives and risks which must be addressed with employees in order to provide an efficient and effective communication system. All implications must be considered before instituting a company wide IM system. The following sections outline some of the pros and cons associated with IM.
• More Efficient Communication
IM is more efficient because workers can communicate instantly and remain in constant contact without the delays associated with waiting for email messages. It also avoids the unnecessary small talk that occurs with phone calls as well as the tiring game of phone tag associated with voicemail. • Improved Collaboration
IM provides a means for remote teams of employees to communicate and collaborate. Many IM solutions provide not only traditional IM clients but also Video chat including the ability to share desktop applications and virtual whiteboards. • Fewer Interruptions
Phone, email, and in person visits are typically more time consuming than IM communication. IM communication can typically be done without completely stopping tasks performed by a participant which is a departure from the disruptive and time consuming work stoppages associated with answering phone calls and face to face conversation which frequently devolves into small talk. • Improved Customer Service
IM allows customers to interact with customer service in real time to address issues instantly. It also allows customer service workers instant access to others resources such as managers and area experts to request information while the customer is online. This serves to reduce customer response time and increases the quality of the overall customer experience. • Cost Effective
IM saves the travel expenses required for remote teams to collaborate as well as some travel costs associated with conducting meeting with customers. Remote employees and customers can conduct meeting and collaborate on documents all in real time without the need to travel to other offices.
• Legal Risk
The casual nature of IM communication can lead employees to type inappropriate remarks which can cause legal issues especially those associated with discrimination, harassment and the sharing of confidential information about clients and co-workers. Companies are at risk under the legal principle of vicarious liability for the actions of their employees if someone sends an instant message that triggers a sexual harassment complaint, a trademark infringement lawsuit, or other claim. Employees should be reminded that all IM exchanges should remain professional and appropriate. They should also be made aware that they should have no expectation of privacy in IM communication and that all exchanges are discoverable as evidence in legal proceedings. Therefore, it is important that the business properly retains and archives their employee’s IM messages. • Security
IM systems, like any networked application, are not completely secure and therefore at risk from cyber criminals. This leads to potential risks to privacy as the information exchanged in IM messages can contain confidential and private information about the business, employees, and clients including the loss of proprietary information to competitors. The use of IM can also expose the network to viruses, worms, and phishing scams. Therefore, businesses must set policies which restrict what type of information that employees can share through instant messaging. • Information Retrieval
Unlike email, in most IM systems it is generally more difficult to organize and retrieve past conversations. Therefore, finding and retrieving specific conversations is more challenging than email. • Decreased productivity
IM can be a significant distraction for employees while work when they engage in personal chat at work. According to Workplace E-Mail and Instant Messaging Survey, 58 percent of IM users engage in non work related communication causing a decrease in productivity.
• Effective Policies and Education
Clear and enforceable policies surrounding the appropriate use of IM be implemented to protect the security of the company and the privacy of client information. These policies should also address the appropriate use of IM by employees to ensure that all communications are professional. The policy should also inform employees that they do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy and that company’s has complete control over IM use including the right to monitor and retain records of IM communications. • Security and Management
Since IM accounts are easy to hack, companies should use an enterprise IM solution installed behind a firewall that integrates with the domain security model so that employees can identify the person they are communicating with. The IM solution should also provider retention and archival features, screen for viruses, and block content. Employees should be educated about the proper use if IM to minimize risks from viruses by instructing them not to open attachments, files, or links sent through IM communications.
The market today requires that businesses quickly adapt and innovate in order to respond in the face of fierce competition. Innovation in turn is dependent on the ability of employees to quickly collaborate. Social networking tools are a necessary medium in today’s business environment in order to promote creativity and innovation in teams that often have members working remotely from each other. IM is one of the key social networking tools to support the innovation organization especially with enterprise IM systems which also support video chat, group chat, and video conferencing. The pros of using an IM system outweigh the cons in light of the need to collaborate as the cons can be mitigated using the same management methods and policies used to mitigate issues with email. The policies required for proper use, expectations for privacy, personal use and security are all nearly identical to those encountered with email. A business should be able to update the section of their current enterprise technology policy regarding email with little revision to include the use of IM when the system is implemented.
• http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/14576541/ns/technology_and_science-tech_and_gadgets/t/text-message-generation-entering-workplace/ • http://smallbusiness.chron.com/pros-using-im-workplace-10534.html • http://smallbusiness.chron.com/cons-using-ims-workplace-11858.html • http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/81050#