The rise of instant messaging apps like Troop Messenger, Slack, and Microsoft Teams has completely changed the way businesses communicate with one another. Instant messaging at work can streamline business operations and help employees get their questions answered more quickly and efficiently than in person or over the phone. However, you’ll want to put some guidelines in place so that your employees don’t misuse this new communication tool. Here are six best practices for instant messaging at work.
1) Make your business chat app a priority
If you work in a larger company, your employer probably provides an instant messaging app. It’s smart to make it a priority to register with your business name or username and consider making that your business contact information rather than your email address. If you don’t have access to a team chat app at work, talk to your IT department about getting one set up. Even if your company doesn’t provide it, there are several free chat apps that are used by businesses for communication, such as Troop Messenger, Slack, and HipChat. Regardless of which one you choose, remember that communication is key—and no one will know about your updates unless you let them know! Establish a sense of community within these apps: Chat apps are often more informal than email addresses or phone calls.
2) Follow standard procedure
Make sure that you follow your company’s standard protocol for business communication. For example, you might use an Instant Messaging App like Slack to communicate with coworkers. Whatever software your company uses, make sure you know how to use it and that there are procedures in place to help keep confidential information private. Instant messaging can be a useful tool, but when employees use them carelessly they’re likely to share details they shouldn’t or forget important details they should share. Follow company policies and remember that even though you may not be dealing with your boss, being professional and following guidelines is still important!
3) Establish a protocol
A common misconception is that when you’re using instant messaging apps like Slack or HipChat, you’re off-the-record and can say whatever you want. In truth, though, it may not be as free and easy as everyone thinks. It’s a good idea to establish some ground rules that everyone in your company follows so there are no assumptions. For example, would it be ok to post jokes? What about personal conversations? Would it be appropriate to forward an email from your boss? If there’s any confusion or grey area around what is and isn’t allowed on an instant messaging app, it’s best just to clear everything with each other before anyone says anything they might regret.
4) Create rules based on your company culture
Rules can be fluid and subjective, but it’s important to agree on some basic guidelines before you start instant messaging. If your team is particularly chatty, consider instituting a rule that messages shouldn’t exceed a certain number of words—this will force everyone to keep their messages concise and productive. If your company values business communication over entertainment or personal talk, consider making IM part of work-related duties only. You can also require people to cc teammates if they’re addressing them in a conversation; this will help avoid confusion or miscommunication later on. Regardless of your rules, make sure everyone understands what they are before you start chatting!
5) Select the right tool
After deciding that you need to set up an IM service, it’s important to choose one that will work best with your company and employees. If your business has more than one location, consider a service like Skype or Google Voice so your employees can message you (and each other) on their mobile devices while they’re away from their desks. If you want employees to be able to chat back and forth all day long with customers, try Yammer or Chatter, two services specifically built for businesses. Or if you have a small business, Microsoft’s Messenger tool is sufficient. No matter which platform you pick, invest in training for both new and existing employees so everyone knows how to use it.
6) Put it in writing
One mistake that many people make is failing to communicate important information in writing. Whether it’s a formal or informal business chat, get things on paper. That way, you can refer back to your notes as needed and avoid any confusion over what was said and agreed upon. For example, let’s say you have a casual chat with your boss about a new project. If you don’t write down your thoughts or share them digitally (such as via email), you could easily forget about your idea later and be met with resistance when you bring it up again.
If you’re going to use IM in your professional life, don’t do it during business hours, and don’t be a pest. Keep it short, and stick to business communication. Also, keep in mind that some of your co-workers might not like to be contacted outside of work unless you discuss those preferences with them. Remember, off hours means off hours—not 9–5 but 5–9! Unless you have something important or urgent to say, leave people alone when they’re out enjoying their time away from work.