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?


Building a skill set...

Just a real quick note - here's a fairly timely post from the New York Times, given my recent post about career diversification. Even when staying focused on a single career, it can be important to develop many seemingly disparate skills in order to make that career as successful as possible, whether working for yourself or for "the man."  Some good insight here.

Enjoy the read. 

Cheers,  R


Piggybacking off my last post, I thought I’d expound a little more on the idea of picking one career for our entire lives. This really does seem kinda crazy to me, that we still do this, especially given how our professional lives seem to be growing longer and longer (people living longer, putting off retirement longer, etc.).

I’m a photographer; not by trade, but I am avid hobbyist, and I have done it semi-professionally on the side in the past. When I was first really getting serious about the craft and hooking up with other aspiring photographers to learn, teach, go on photo expeditions together, etc.; one recurring theme I encountered was that many of them dreamt of shaking off their current careers as engineers, accountants, office admins, etc., and embarking on a new career as a professional photographer. Now, of course, many of them would never end up actually doing this for a variety of reasons ($$ being a big one, realistic skill level being another), but it was impressive how many of them had this desire. This told me not just how passionate they were about their newfound love of photography, but how dispassionate they had become about their existing career fields. They were tired of it, but going through the motions because that’s all they knew and that’s what paid the bills.

Is this what we want in a workforce - a batch of workers that are experts, but hate their work and are only continuing to do it for the paycheck? Is that we want for ourselves as people - to trudge off to jobs we hate every day? It seems to me that our system is skewed, that we need to rethink how we educate and train people at early ages. We need some sort of more multi-disciplinary approach that would allow people to move between different career fields more easily, and perhaps even encourage doing so, so that people don’t burn out and end up leaving their careers entirely.

Now, of course, many people do remain passionate about their chosen career field through their entire professional, working lives; I’m not suggesting this is a one-size-fits-all problem or approach. All I’m suggesting is that we need to rethink how we educate and guide people early on, so that for those who do reach a breaking point, we’ve made it an easier slide to another profession, thus keeping the people happy and productive, and the employers and society flush with talent.


p.s. I know I could have made this a better piece with links to well-sourced studies and such, but as I only had about 15-20 minutes to kill on writing this, you just get a straight-up opinion piece. ;-)