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.