The use of instant messaging in the workplace is on the rise. Many people, myself included, believe that IM will someday replace email as the main communication tool for companies -- large and small. Given my current occupation, I think IM is fantastic -- it allows me to quickly and easily share code snippets with other developers, easily communicate non-technical information with other members of my team, and keep in touch with a few friends that I don't have the luxury of working with.
Having said that, companies for the most part don't have any "formal" guidelines in place when it comes to the use of IM by employees. However, just because said guidelines may not be in place, there are some "best practices" that you should try and stick to when using IM at work:
- First and foremost, follow company policy: If your employer does have a policy in place regulating the use of IM, make sure you follow it. Not sure if there are any such policies? Find out for sure before you start firing off IMs to your friends about making it 'til closing time at the bar on Saturday night.
- Confidential information -- keep it that way: Under no circumstances mention confidential information over IM assuming it's safe. Chances are, it isn't. More than likely, your IMs are being sent over an unsecured line.
- Use professionalism: As I mentioned above, IM is great for communicating with co-workers and friends alike. But, don't go sending a bunch of IM slang to your unsuspecting recipients. Do you really think that your 40-something, middle management co-workers are going to know what you are talking about when you send a message like "yt? no? ok, np. ttyl" (read: "You there? No? Ok, no problem. Talk to you later."). I can almost guarantee that use of this kind of IM lingo will have you looked at like a college freshman in no time. Use complete words, and *gasp* complete sentences.
- Use a status message: Have a boat load of work to do, and can't afford to be interrupted? Put up an away message, and use some detail. Using a message other than the canned "I am away from my computer right now" away message will keep people at bay until you are able to return. Additionally, most IM applications allow you to hide messages when you are "Away", allowing you to respond when you are good and ready.
- Don't write anything you wouldn't want the IT staff reading: IT has access to every file on your computer, every email and IM you send, and every phone call you make. Unless you really want to come into work one day to find your IT staff kicked back with a bowl of popcorn and a big gulp while reading your IMs, leave the juicy stuff at home.