Establish your presence with IM
As technology gives us new ways to communicate with our colleagues, we not only select different formats for the messages we send, but we can also establish how we want to be contacted ourselves. So while we might choose email to pass along background information for an upcoming meeting, we’ll turn to our cell phones instead if we need to let colleagues know we’re running late for that meeting. But what about Instant Messaging (IM) in the workplace? Turns out it’s not just for keeping in touch with your personal contact anymore—today everyone from CEOs to sales people are turning to IM not only on their desktops but also to IM on their BlackBerry devices as a business communication tool that’s both time-sensitive and collaborative.
RIM Product Manager Balaji Gopalan likens the choice between email and instant messaging to the difference between writing a letter and making a phone call. “It depends on the situation,” says Gopalan. “You’re not going to write a letter to say ‘meet me for lunch.’” He notes that one of the major drivers towards IM is something called “presence,” which describes the fact that IM users can alert contacts to whether they’re available for a chat.
Showing your colleagues and your clients that you’re there if they need you can be an important part of maintaining good working relationships, says Gopalan. “If I’m sitting there working on my PowerPoint presentation, or updating my accounts, it’s going to be tricky for me to manage my communications as I should.” Yet if a client—or your boss—needed to touch base you’d definitely put your routine tasks on hold for that, and what IM provides is a less formal way to make them feel comfortable reaching out to you. “What IM brings to the table is this notion of ‘presence’ where I can choose to be as available as I want to the most important people.”
To get started with IM on a BlackBerry device, most people just download the IM service that they’ve been using on their desktop, such as Yahoo!® Messenger, IBM® Lotus® Sametime®, Microsoft® Office Live Communications Server 2005, Novell® GroupWise® Messenger, and Google Talk™ for BlackBerry Devices. Just like using IM on your desktop, using IM on your BlackBerry device allows you to do everything from carrying on multiple conversations at once, accessing your existing IM contacts lists and adding new contacts, and sending messages in real time. Your BlackBerry device will allow you to verify who is free to chat and be alerted when they come online. You can even keep chatting with others while you’re using other applications on your device, or set up notifications for your IM messages. If you want to get your colleagues on board, send them the exact link so that they can also download the IM software to chat with you.
Ultimately IM makes users more in charge of their schedule, says Gopalan. “If people want to reach me, they’ll ping me and I’ll say ‘I’m kind of tied up but I know we’ve got an important contract going on so we’ll chat back and forth.’ We’re starting to see a lot more of that happening.” Using your IM settings to let colleagues and clients know exactly how available you are makes it easy for them to know that while you might be busy at the moment you’ll be happy to chat with them in a couple of hours, allowing them to feel like you’re available while you maintain control of your schedule.
Turning to IM in the workplace can ultimately make you more efficient. “Communication is much more effective when it is targeted,” Gopalan says. “You can equate productivity to speed, so the faster I can prepare the report and send it to you and get your comments and send out a second revision, the more productive we’ll be as a company. I can’t do that by email because it might sit in your inbox.”
He adds that rather than having less face time with people, IM actually increases collaboration since it takes advantage of people’s abilities to multitask. “It’s not replacing face to face communication; it’s supplementing it. People are communicating more because they have new ways of communicating.”
Links to IM programs
IBM® Lotus® Sametime®
Microsoft® Office Live Communications Server 2005
Novell® GroupWise® Messenger
Google Talk™ for BlackBerry Smartphones