IM in the Workplace: Tool of Productivity or Tool of Distraction?

Instant Messaging… When it first entered the online universe all those years ago, back in the early days of AOL and whatnot, it was hailed as the best thing ever. Indeed, it provided a great new way to have spontaneous, real-time conversations with friends and family across the country and even across the globe. The early IM tools would pave the way for later messaging platforms like Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and even basic texting on cellphones. These are great tools for personal communications.

Somewhere along the line, though, the earlier modes of IM got updated and re-marketed to businesses as productivity tools in apps such as Lync, Skype, Jabber, etc. They were given new functionality such as desktop sharing, video conferencing, Exchange Server integration, etc. No more dealing with the “huge” delays of email; now you can get that coworker’s attention instantly!!

Instantly… No matter what that coworker is doing, no matter who else they might be talking to or working on, you can immediately grab their attention away to focus on YOU.

Honestly, I see both sides of this coin. At my workplace we use Skype (formerly Lync), and it is incredibly useful for collaborating with remote coworkers (and in today’s increasingly spread out and remote workforce, that ability is very important), conducting meetings, etc. I personally work with people in the Midwest, the Southwest, and the Southeast, and it really enables true collaboration.

All that said, there’s a flip side to that coin, which I alluded to in the paragraph before last: no matter what you’re doing, you can be interrupted by whomever wants your attention right now. Your concentration can be broken at any time just like that. Yes, most (if not all) of these modern messaging tools have a “do not disturb” option you can employ, but many companies frown on very much use of this, as they want you available. I find this can be very annoying! When you’re in the middle of coding a routine or writing a report, the last thing you need is someone breaking in, saying, “Ryan, I need this RIGHT NOW! Drop everything!!” Think back 10 years when they might have to rely on email instead, and perhaps you didn’t get to their request for an hour… Did our companies crumble? No! So why do we insist on this new paradigm in today’s workplace; why are we willing to pull our workers out of their most productive states? Is that really beneficial?

Now, I have to admit to being guilty of being on the flip side of that myself. Of course, I’ve also been plenty guilty of IM’ing someone to deal with a problem RIGHT NOW. It’s easy to slip into that space when it becomes the corporate culture. So what’s the solution? Maybe there isn’t one and I just need to vent… ;-) Or, perhaps we need to reserve these tools for what I consider their highest, best use: collaborative meetings. They’re definitely invaluable for that, so giving them up entirely would be foolish. Perhaps companies need to discourage the willy-nilly interruptions they’re often used for, though.

What are your thoughts? Do you use these tools in your workplace? If so, how are they used and what do you like/dislike about them?


Social Media: Business and Authenticity

Continuing with my theme of social media for another post or two...

I recently read about an incident where a photographer on the east coast had his business dry up after he hit the road following and shooting the Trump campaign.  His claim was that once he was profiled by the local media (news bit akin to "Local Photog Shoots Trump Campaign") and people learned that he was an avid Trump supporter, people no longer wanted to give him business.  I'll be honest with you: I checked out his work, and frankly, I was amazed that people were giving him work before.  I don't mean to be judgmental, and I think everyone should experience the joy of shooting regardless of talent or skill, but objectively, his work really wasn't at the level that people should be paying for it (and FYI, the Trump campaign wasn't paying him).  But I digress...  Regardless, apparently he had been getting business before, and now it was drying up.

In the article I read, an interesting discussion (by photographers) followed in the comments section.  A trend in some of the comments was the the collective sentiment that basically clients should never know your political leanings, that such things one should keep totally private.  The conversation here was specifically about professional photography, but the logic could be applied to any business.  This got me thinking: can one put themselves out there online (Twitter, FB, etc.) and be truly authentic?  For example, I have a Twitter account (@RyanFonkert), and my posts range the gambit, from political posts about the election, to my bicycle adventures, to my personal and professional photography.  Now, many social media savvy business advisers would specifically recommend against the political posts.  If I stop myself from commenting on such things, though; if I censor myself; am I truly being authentic, being my true self?  And if I do lose a couple potential clients over something like that, are they clients I would really want to work with anyway?  Some would suggest to just have a secondary, anonymous account for such opinion posts if one really feels a need to post about such things, and I already have a few accounts for specific purposes, but honestly, it gets tiring, switching between accounts and thinking about what has to be posted where, etc.  And in the case of an anonymous account (which I don't do), I simply don't like the idea of not owning what I'm saying, of hiding behind an avatar.  It just feels like cowardice to me.

There's also a flip side to that social media authenticity coin, offering up in-authenticity by offering up comments that really just aren't in your true nature.  For example, if you read enough articles, books, etc. about how to successfully blog, post on social media, etc., you'll specific suggestions about what tone to use in your posts, to end with questions that prompt user engagement in the comments, etc.  I see these methods commonly put to use by photographer friends of mine - photographers whose work I greatly respect - and they really do work, but knowing these people personally, I see how phony it is, as that type of engagement is NOT how they actually are in real life.  So they're putting on a mask to get that engagement in hopes that it leads to business; and to be fair, I think it often does.  But what's given up for that success?