I Am What IM

Up to this point, I have avoided blogging about work because office satire can ruffle feathers.  And… I really like getting paid.   But I suppose there’s no harm in mocking something work-related that is in no way unique to my firm.  It is prolific in Corporate America.  It is instant messaging, and it is devouring our souls.

For anyone who has not encountered instant messaging on a corporate network, allow me to paint you a picture.  IM allows any colleague to draw a bead on you, at any time.  For example, a little radio button will appear next to your name in the “to” field of emails: pink if you are offline, yellow if you’re away from your desk or red if you’re in a meeting.  Creepy, right?  And in my workplace, as in many others I’m sure, instant messaging capabilities are the default.  There is no opting out.

If you are online, colleagues can send you instant messages that pop up at the bottom of your computer screen while you are working, regardless of the program you are working in.  This is generally considered a convenience, although I suspect only the person sending the IM would characterize it that way — not the recipient.

Because corporate IMing is still fairly new, it’s kind of the Wild West out there in terms of etiquette.  Many IM exchanges begin with a polite “hi”, a pardon-the-interruption acknowledgment that the recipient might be otherwise occupied.  Unfortunately, this is usually where courtesy ends.

I work for a bicoastal company so I spend an inordinate amount of time meeting by phone, and I am constantly IM’d when I’m in “red” status.  I consider this rude.  In other words, “I know you are already on the phone, so you won’t pick up if I call you.  And you may not see an email arrive in your inbox.  But I don’t feel like waiting because my needs are so important.  So I choose to interrupt you.”

What’s worse?  When fellow attendees on a conference call IM me while someone else is speaking.  “I joined late, did he talk about X yet?”  “Who is that speaking? I don’t recognize the voice.”  “Joe is such a name-dropping jerk!”  Pretty soon I completely lose track of the discussion at hand, and just have to cross my fingers that the meeting minutes will fill in the gaps.

This week I finally employed the last line of defense against abrupt IM intrusion:  the impenetrable “do not disturb” status.   That little button is now my best friend at work.

Don’t get me wrong.  Instant messaging can be valuable.  Some people even use it to power the office grapevine… but I wouldn’t know anything about that.

Any die-hard IM users out there?  Misery loves company, so send me your best corporate IM stories.

6 thoughts on “I Am What IM

    1. That’s funny. Yesterday I was on a screen sharing calls led by someone who just resigned, although it has not been announced. He forgot to shut off his email notifications, and popped up that referenced his new role. Ooops!

  1. V

    I have no idea what you’re talking about. What is this IM phenomenon you refer to?! And chatting while on a call? The nerve! Oh wait, what I meant to say is, worst offender of all time here (as you well know). It’s my source of entertainment and news and I am never giving it up (until a new way to have fun during meetings is introduced…like somehow integrating IM with Words With Friends or something awesome like that!). I do love the DND option though. Potentially prevents a lot of embarrassment when I’m hosting a meeting for all parties involved.

    1. That does KIND OF assume everyone else wants to have fun that way during meetings, which may not be true. (Or maybe they want to, but can’t during that particular meeting.) I think it really started to bug me this week when I had a lot of meetings that I was expected to be a very active participant in or lead, and people on that call were IMing me like mad. I think there’s some basic etiquette needed here like 1.) if someone is red, you don’t IM with unless they initiate it and 2.) don’t IM someone on your call who is currently speaking! Since I doubt some of these folks will ever get a clue, it’s the DND button for me… I do find it kind of humorous that the worst offenders are going to be annoyed to see my DND status during these calls going forward, but what can they say? I can take the righteous stand that I just want to be present and engaged in my meetings…

  2. Gary

    I’ve had to develop/learn/adapt a different workflow. My employer highly encourages IM (not to mention they develop an IM client and promote working in remote locations). I wasn’t a big IMer when I joined the mothership but quickly learned that I had to do certain things WRT IM….

    -if I’m giving a demo, I logout out of mail and IM (which also means it’s on me to log back in at the appropriate time)

    -I update my IM status appropriately (if I’m busy, I’m busy, etc) .

    -I’ve configured my IM client to show incoming IMs as systray pop ups so if someone ignores my DND, I can still see out if the corner of my screen the first few words and continue with my work & decide if it’s worth reading at that time

    For me, it’s a matter of sticking to the workflow. It also helps most of my coworkers also are professional in their IM behavior.

    1. That makes sense, and since we can’t control the behavior of others we have to adapt. Hence my new best friend the DND button. But I still contend that IMing someone who is busy, or on DND (who DOES that?) is the epitome of selfishness/cluelessness. It’s my hope that common sense and basic good manners will start to influence IMing, the way they have cell phone usage in public. If someone is in their office with their door closed, and talking on the phone, would you just barge in and say “I know you are in a meeting but I need some info from you.”? Then why do it on IM? Likewise if I were in a hotel with a DND sign on my door, and someone knocked anyway and woke me up… unless the building was on fire, I’d be pissed. I would argue that we all just need to apply general rules in hi tech circumstances, and we will all be better off. When I get IM’d by folks on the same call as I am on, I wonder if they have kids and if they lecture them about interrupting and cross talking at the table, for example? There really is no difference, except the adult hides behind technology when doing it.

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