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Eight Etiquette Rules for Using IM at Work

Best Practices for Courteous IM in the Workplace


In addition to telephones, fax and emails, new research shows instant messaging is a great way to manage workplace communications and streamline processes to getting your most important assignments done.

However, as with all communication mediums, there are a couple of rules everyone should follow to be seen as a courteous coworker. By developing good habits with your IM, you can help bring new consideration to using this wonderful tool in the workplace.

Using IM for Business

  1. Seek Permission to Enter. Just as you would over the telephone, always ask whether it is a good time to IM with the user on the receiving end. Try, “Michael, do you have a moment? I would like to ask a question about last month’s finance report.” Not only are you asking for availability, you also drop the subject of the query. If they are busy, ask them when a good time to follow-up would be.

  2. Mind Availability Settings. An extension of number one is to consider any “busy” or other availability settings before sending an IM to a contact. Even if you can see your coworker is clearly not “in a meeting,” now may not be the best time. In return, always set your availability settings when necessary.

  3. Keep it Brief. The boss says you have his attention…now what? Whatever you do, practice brevity. It is called “instant” messaging—so get to it! Ask your questions and get on with business.

  4. Keep it in Proper English. When sending instant messages regarding work, keep slang and IM acronyms at bay and use proper English instead. Not only is it more professional, it helps avoid the distraction of a “What is IMO?” conversation with a less-than-net-savvy IM user. Don’t forget the punctuation, either.

  5. Avoid Long Conversations. If your IM session begins to drag into overtime, suggest a face-to-face meeting so you can maintain an efficient work environment.

    IM at Work Best Practices

  6. Follow Office Policies. Most IT departments are leery of allowing associates free reign to download software to their computers. Find out your company policies and follow them. Use web-based and portable IMs when you cannot download them to your computer.

  7. Get an SN for Work. While your buddies might think your IM moniker is cute or funny, your work contacts might be offended or form a less-than-stellar image of you after seeing your screenname. Consider getting a work-only screenname. You can always give it out to friends and family later or use multiple screennames at once with a multi-protocol IM.

  8. Business-Friendly IMs. Remember, your communications to other associates, your boss or outside clients and vendors should always boast professionalism, even when instant messaging.

    Therefore, put away the political IM icons, the bright orange text and the pop culture wallpapers in lieu of Arial or Times New Roman (10 to 12 pt. font). You can always use a little splash of color for wallpaper, but nothing work inappropriate. Consider sprucing up your IM with a business-savvy profile, complete with company logo and contact information. Maybe even a mug of your pretty face for your IM icon? Now you’re set for business.

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