As discussed in Part 1 of this series, many are
concerned about the impact of instant messaging on productivity. Yet, the research shows no evidence that it has a worse effect than any other communication tool.

Still, business leaders need to take into account the impact of interruption, of which instant messaging can be a cause.

Management in any company needs to choose the right tools and set best practices for instant messaging communication. These standards can ensure instant messaging doesn’t prevent employees from getting real work done.

Here are four key steps you can take to effectively use instant messaging on your team.

  1. Evaluate your current business process

Any tool you put in place needs to function within established business processes. If a new tool creates extra steps or disrupts the natural workflow, it will never succeed.

For example, the adoption of enterprise-wide technology from 1980-2000 led to significant productivity gains. However, the research shows that productivity growth only occurred in companies where management tailored the technology to the unique business processes of their sector. Thus, simple adoption of the technology is not enough. Company leaders need to consider of how to implement the technology to work with how the company actually does business.

For example, consulting firms often rely on significant collaboration with clients. This is because consultants need to have a deep understand of their client’s unique challenges. Thus, any collaboration or instant messaging tool used by a consulting firm needs to allow their clients to join the conversation. A tool that didn’t let outsiders in would not be as helpful. Another example is remote teams, which have unique challenges and requirements to communication.

Thus, business leaders should map out their established business processes before selecting a tool. Then, they should assess how instant messaging would affect that flow. If it creates extra steps, it is likely not the right solution.

  1. Don’t skip initial training

Although employees will likely be familiar instant messaging, it is important to require training. First, how they use similar tools in their personal life may not translate in a business setting. Second, employees are going to be resistant to change. It is important to have a conversation to explain how the new tool could benefit them. Otherwise, they will likely ignore the new tool. Also, it is important to have an initial forum to discuss best practices for using the tool so that people can go in with the right mindset.

This training can be in person or online. It would be helpful to encourage managers to have conversations with their teams before implementing the tool. Many modern software companies have plenty of online materials that employees can consult at their leisure. It is about making the organization aware of these options.

  1. Get buy-in and support from management

Getting buy-in from management is critical to the success of introducing any collaboration tool. Once they are on board, they can lead by example by using the new tool to accomplish actual business objectives. As management often has to interact across several teams and departments, their insistence on using the tool will impact many others. Even more important, employees will often look to management to see if a tool will actually stick. If they see them ignoring the tool, they will assume that it is not likely to last in the organization.

Before implementing any new tool, decision-makers need to sell key leaders in management on the benefits and recruit them to evangelize the product.

  1. Set up procedures to prevent interruption overload

Frequent interruptions and multitasking are damaging to personal productivity. This is because it prevents focus, which is essential for completing cognitively demanding tasks. As all communication tools can be a cause of interruption and can prevent focus, business leaders need to be thoughtful about how these tools are used.

Procedures that could make instant messaging and collaboration effective include:

  • Encourage employees to block of time in their schedule for concentrated work.

They can signal this to the team by putting on a “busy” status or turning off the instant messaging tool at that time. Colleagues would need to wait to contact them until they are available.

  • Define procedures for communicating “highly urgent” requests.

Employees often obsessively check email and instant messaging apps because they are afraid of missing some urgent matter. If employees block off time for concentrated work, it may increase these worries. One way this can be resolved by stating that any urgent request that need an immediate response must be handled with a phone call or in person. That way, employees don’t have to worry about missing something truly urgent. This will also help others understand what is actually important and what can wait a few hours.

  • Separate knowledge sharing from conversations.

Collaboration tools can be a great way to share knowledge across large organizations. This type of knowledge sharing can make obtaining needed information more efficient. Yet, when employees send updates through collaboration tools, they need to make sure that these updates do not create notifications that interrupt work.

  • Encourage rapid, synchronous conversations.

Instant messaging tools can resolve issues quickly when both parties have a concise back and forth discussion. As such, make it clear that employees shouldn’t be writing lengthy paragraphs in their messages. These can slow down conversations. Also, encourage people to wait to reach out until the person you want to speak to is online so that issues can be handled faster. However, if employees simply want to share knowledge than these concerns do not apply.

Instant messaging and other collaboration tools are great for rapid communication on a team. As long are they implemented in a thoughtful way, they can greatly enhance the productivity of your team.