Email is quick, but you still have to wait for messages to download from a server. Instant messaging, on the other hand, lets you communicate in real time without delay. But because business users are already inundated with email, voicemail and pager messages, instant messengers are only helpful if you know how to use them effectively. If you want to use a messenger to save time and cut costs, you need to encourage your employees to use it, especially for long-distance conversations.
Consider some of the other steps you should take when using an instant messenger:
* Mandate company-wide software. Instant messaging is only helpful if you work with a number of people who use the same messaging program. Setting one tool as the standard within your company will eliminate compatibility problems, and employees can create and exchange buddy lists.
* Create buddy lists. You can create buddy lists to keep track of your team. Once a coworker is added to your contact list, most programs will notify you when they’re online, and you’ll be able to quickly send them messages—usually just by double-clicking on their name.
* Save on long distance. Using instant messaging to communicate with employees and clients in other parts of the world can reduce your long-distance phone bills. Some IMs (like Yahoo) have voice and/or video features.
* Control your status. Instant messengers let you change your online status without shutting down the program. Use the status options to tell your contacts you are at lunch, on the phone, gone for the day or just really busy. Some messengers even include an invisible status, which shows your status as offline on other people’s buddy lists but still allows you to send and receive messages.
* Customize your preferences. Most instant messengers have a wide variety of preferences that you can customize according to how you like to work. For example, you can set messages to open automatically or blink in your status bar.
* Host chats and conferences. Public chat rooms are often chaotic, and it’s difficult to conduct a focused conversation—especially for business purposes. Although instant messengers are most commonly used for two-way conversations, most programs offer a conference or chat setting where your workgroup can meet.
* Block spam. Full-service instant messengers let you set your security preferences to block unwanted messages and protect your private information. You can choose to accept messages from only those people who are on your contact list. If spam still manages to find you, just add those senders to your ignore list, and any message they send will be discarded before it reaches you.
* Store your messages. Most IM clients allow you to save your conversations, and you can also buy additional software to automatically back up your instant messages so you can keep a record of your exchanges. This will let you use an instant messenger for those real-time conversations when you need to remember or have a record of exactly what was said.
Using instant messengers instead of email can save time and simplify communications with clients and co-workers. Here’s to better productivity!
~ Aadia Ovaska