Instant messaging (IM) has suffered unfairly over the last 20 years, afflicted with a rocky reputation as a social media platform for gossiping teenagers and bored university students. Its abilities as a powerful enterprise collaboration tool have largely been underestimated, with email owning the workplace.
IM has been particularly pigeonholed in the US, where some 70% of teenagers already send more instant messages than emails. With that kind of engrained loyalty, it could be set for a resurgence in the workplace in the near future and could even overtake email as the dominant communication tool.
Being a free-to-use and immediate real-time platform, but being unable to store conversation trails, IM has both advantages and disadvantages over email – not least in security and bandwidth usage. IM doesn’t store conversation trails in the same way but now more companies are investigating it as a possible support to email and video conferencing or even to replace them completely.
Most of us have inboxes that are almost always full and contain several hours of work to sort each day. In fact it has been estimated that handling emails for an average of 30 minutes each day could cost businesses the equivalent of two weeks’ pay.
Instant messaging allows the creation of private chat rooms where a group of colleagues can discuss a project or an issue, rather than bouncing around email chains where roles and responsibilities can get lost.
More platforms are looking towards business and Skype, now owned by Microsoft, is busily re-pitching itself to the business sector. There are already plenty of less well-known IM applications with excellent functionality for business purposes, particularly Slack HQ, which is enjoying a significant growth in popularity.
Instant messaging can be a fantastic way to easily collaborate with multiple people on one project, avoiding lengthy email chains, whether it’s a web designer in Texas or an editorial contributor in Tokyo. They can immediately feed back on topics and contribute to discussions. It also helps avoid the confusion over roles and responsibilities that can happen with lengthy email chains.
It is clear that both IM and email have their place in office communications, depending on the needs of the business. Combining the strengths of the two may be the way forwards. Email provides a clear trail and a static base from which to work whereas IM provides clean, quick discussions in a more collaborative format.
For immediate project work or for updates, instant messaging could work much better, providing a quick response to questions and clearing out many unnecessary emails from your inbox.