Replacing email with a new-fangled alternative can be worthwhile. Sometimes. Image: Shutterstock

Wednesday 27th January 2016

Another fine messenger

Are internal social networks and IMs good for anything?

Instant Messaging, or IM, is pretty old hat. But even though kids have been using it since the 90s, most organisations don’t use it to full effect. Many still plod along with nothing more than email and F2F. (That’s face-to-face, apparently).

But these days, there’s a proliferation of instant messenger/social networking service providers making their cases for your business. Basically, they want you to know that they aren’t just Facebook chat with the word ‘Corporate’ or ‘Professional’ poorly taped over the banner.

So, what’s good about them? Can you send smiling poops? Should they be officially sanctioned platforms to whine about co-workers?

Well they might be that last one, but the ECHR just ruled that you’re legally allowed to peek at what everybody is sending to one another on company software. Which is either a good thing or a bad thing, depending on how you’re looking at it.

So what benefits are you looking at beyond that ‘instant messaging’?


Clients these days like HipChat, Yammer, Slack, Microsoft Lync and many more offer video-chat, or integration with other video chat clients like Skype or Google Hangouts. This can open an avenue for video interviewing that you might not yet have plumped for.

Different group chats are even a way for you to keep in contact with your alumni. After all, the hiring of ‘boomerang’ employees is apparently on the rise.


Group chat history can be used to help people get up to speed quickly. Since many of these clients incorporate text documents and PDFs in-line, making them searchable, it is easier for someone to jump in and follow what’s been going on. Well, compared to dumping a thirty email chain into their inbox.


Teleworking with instant messaging can feel more like talking to somebody in person. It brings with it a more social feel, which makes it a better substitute than email at combatting the problem of isolation that comes with teleworking.

It also allows for conversations between multiple team members at once on a level-footing, whether they are teleworking or not.


Real-time chat will always be faster than back and forth emails, and the conversations will be less stilted and more authentic. Quick-fire idea exchanges encourage creativity and brainstorming in a far more dynamic way.

There have even been academic studies that corroborate this. So the next time somebody catches you procrastinating, you can smugly tell them that you’re “collaborating” instead. Perfect.

Status Updates

Pestering or being pestered for updates by email can be inconvenient. Instant messaging offers a good way for people to make brief updates as they go on projects, which can be useful for getting a handle on timings and expectations.


Gerry McGovern waxes thoughtful on the pitfalls of email:

‘cc-itus’, also known as ‘cover-your-arse’ syndrome, and its close relative ‘reply-all-itus’ are becoming the bane of many an email system. The need to be visible in order to be measured against your peers combined with the need to share blame if you fail (‘but I copied you on that email and you never said I shouldn’t do it…’) has led to the average business person spending 1.5 hrs each day processing email. If you want to improve productivity, demonstrate that you trust people to get on and do whatever it is they are producing.

Encouraging flexibility and informality via IM lets people get more done. Your natural instinct is probably that IM = bad. Checking texts and Facebook and Snapchats are a bane to productivity, so it seems strange that adding another string to that bow should help.

However, several studies have found that business IM clients have actually improved productivity by causing fewer distractions. Employees using IM communicated with more people, but with briefer interactions. Shorter is sweeter.

Just to prove we’re not shills for the colossally powerful instant messaging lobby (they keep sending us Snapchats of knives with the message ‘watch ur backs’, pretty spooky), we’d be remiss not to consider a few of the possible drawbacks.


While email comes built in with the “think before you write” clause (usually), arguments on instant messaging can lead to rather regrettable foot-in-mouth moments that might otherwise be avoided.

Accidentally talking smack about somebody in a group conversation is about ten times easier than accidentally cc’ing them in onto an email, or them overhearing you, so you should be prepared for a few more occasions where people actually let other people know what they think about one another.

More often than not, it isn’t nice things.


Sensitive information may get passed around to the wrong people, either in your organisation or outside of it. IM clients can be a cybersecurity risk and have less anti-virus protection, meaning they can be an avenue of attack for hackers. People tend to more security conscious about attachments on emails.

Of course the best way to see whether it will work for you is to try it for yourself. Many IM clients will actually offer you a free version of their software for you to get a feel for it, while restricting some of the fancier features. But if you want to try before you buy, that is an option.

Thx 4 reading, cu l8r. (Sent from my iPhone)

About the author

Jerome Langford

Jerome is a graduate in Philosophy from St Andrews, who alternately spends time writing about HR and staring wistfully out of windows, thinking about life’s bigger questions: Why are we here? How much lunch is too much lunch? What do you mean exactly by ‘final warning’?