This Week's Herman Trend Alert

Leadership in Normal 2.0

  The Herman Trend Alert

August 27, 2008

Use IM to Reduce Interruption

Most people believe using "instant messaging" (IM) software to chat at work leads to an increase in disruption. In fact, a study published recently by researchers at Ohio State University and University of California, Irvine found that workers who used IM on the job reported fewer interruptions than their colleagues who did not.

The research showed that IM is often used as a substitute for other, more disruptive forms of communication such as the telephone, email, and face-to-face conversations and thus it actually leads to an increase in productivity. Dr. R. Kelly Garrett of Ohio State and James N. Danziger of UCLA, Irvine co-authored the study.

The findings, published recently in the "Journal of Computer Mediated Communication", states "using instant messaging led to more conversations on the computer, but the conversations were briefer than telephone conversations". Moreover, "employees are quite strategic in their use of instant messaging. They [use] it to check in with their colleagues to find out if they’re busy, before interrupting them in a more intrusive way".

Some workers use the IM technology to find out when their coworkers will be available, instead of unexpectedly visiting in person. Others use the technology to get quick answers to general questions or to inquire about current work tasks, rather than engaging in longer face-to-face conversations. Resolution of complex problems or situations is not a good use for IM.

The technology allows users to control how and when they communicate with coworkers. and gives people the ability to flag their availability or postpone responses to a more convenient time. Because it is more socially acceptable to ignore or dismiss a text message, than a telephone call, many use this technology to put off more disruptive conversations.

People who used instant messaging reported that they felt they were "interrupted less frequently". "The key take away is that instant messaging has some benefits, where many people had feared that it might be harmful,” said Garrett. Bottom line: "the effect of instant messaging is actually positive". We expect to see more employers testing this technology to help their employees do more with less.

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