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Instant Messaging During the Pandemic: How to Embrace Your Collaboration Tools Without Over Doing It

First and foremost, I’m well aware of the terribly unfortunate context that is forcing many employees to work from home. Also, I should acknowledge that for many people the work-from-home environment is less than ideal, and they will struggle during these times.

Taking a glass half-full perspective, this scenario has created for many a rare opportunity of uninterrupted productivity. That is to say until notifications from your collaboration apps start beeping out of control.

So, the question is: how do you maintain collaboration, oversight, or even basic social interaction that we so desperately need more now than ever while limiting unnecessary noise and distraction> You need to set team standards for your instant messaging (IM) collaboration tools.

  1. Leverage your settings. Perhaps the most obvious solution is turning your alerts off. This, however, will undermine the purpose of workplace instant messaging to a large degree. Review the settings of your IM tools, and find a middle ground appropriate for your position and your communication needs. Encourage your team to do the same, so you can all know what to expect in terms timeliness of response. The image below shows Microsoft Teams’ notification settings. You have options – use them effectively.
  2. Image courtesy of Microsoft Teams

  3. Respect status. Whether it’s “in a meeting,” “do not disturb,” or something else as equally obvious, don’t message individuals when they have explicitly told others not to. And to that point, keep an eye on your status to make sure you’re projecting the right one.
  4. Group chat etiquette. This is not to discourage group conversation at all. Teams need to stay intact. However, there are clearly conversations that need to be had with the team and conversations that should be conducted one-on-one. Have your team determine appropriate guidelines:
    • If it only pertains to only one person, take it to a private chat.
    • If it requires over five back-and-forths, take it to a private chat.
    Be sure to let conversation on a topic run its course before bringing up a new point and avoid the confusion of multiple conversations taking place at once.
  5. Proper medium/channel. IM has a distinct purpose and guess what, it’s meant for quick and simple conversations. Be sure to use the appropriate channel for the appropriate purpose. Have your teams agree upon how what tools are used for what. Example:
    • Meetings are still scheduled via your calendar and scheduling tools.
    • Documents are still shared via email or document management systems.
    • Topics that require a meeting are done so via your VC solution.
    • And your personal cell number is your still personal cell number. (Emergencies aside.)
    Luckily some tools like SamePage or Cisco Webex Teams have strong feature coverage across these different channels or communication needs. Image from SoftwareReviews Team Collaboration Report
  6. Work-related content. This a tough one, as you don’t want to discourage the social outlet. However, some scenarios may call for limiting non-work-related subject matter. Some have warned against the dangers of the slackification of work and how quickly subject matter on chat groups turned away from work-related topics. However, most argue that the positive from social cohesion largely outweighs the relatively minor disruptions to productivity.
  7. Have fun (know your boundaries). It goes without saying these are hard times. IM with your teams allows for some socialization that we need most currently. Antics and hijinks will keep things light.
  8. Always wear pants – That goes to VC, IM, or any communication to your colleagues. Let’s not lose our humanity.

If it seems like all of this is overly obvious, it is. But the reality is we have entered a scenario where these types of tools no longer a nicety but essential for teams and organizations to function. Common sense should still prevail, but adding structure to the use of these tools and building your guidelines as a team is necessary to communicate effectively and allow you to make the best of a bad situation.


Want to Know More?

Collaborating During COVID-19: A How-To
Establish a Communication and Collaboration System Strategy