Many companies today reap the benefits of instant messaging. As one might guess, the use of instant messaging in business is at an all time high, and it’s expected to grow for an indeterminate span of time. And why is this the case? Well, first of all, everyone can see the more obvious benefits of instant messaging, such as its connectivity and interactiveness. But, there are many more — less apparent — advantages instant messaging has for business communication.
This article lists both the obvious and the less obvious benefits, in an attempt to provide a clear picture of why instant messaging is so popular and prevalent in today’s business world. Also included are a few tips on how to effectively use instant messaging, once you’ve implemented it in your organization.
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Instant messaging (IM) systems enable immediate communication between two parties, in written form. In simpler terms, instant messaging allows two or more people to chat with each other in real-time. In addition, IM tools tend to provide file and link sharing, mentions, status setting, and other similar capabilities. With these features, IM can serve as an efficient and centralized means of communication, which can be used both for casual and business purposes.
Here are some examples of how businesses might use instant messaging:
🔶 Example 1: Team members working on the same project using direct messages in a IM system to communicate on a daily basis.
🔶 Example 2: The members of the HR team using polls in an internal IM tool to establish employee opinions and attitudes.
🔶 Example 3: A cosmetics company that uses their website to sell products, using an IM system to provide customer support.
In business communication, instant messaging is used for many different purposes and operations, grouped into two major categories: internal and external communication. Instant messaging has specific benefits for these two types of communication, as well as general benefits that apply to both of them.
Internal communication using IM refers to communication that takes place between coworkers, and deals with organizational processes, company projects, as well as informal exchanges. The most notable benefits for businesses that use instant messaging internally include features such as:
- Direct messages. This feature, as per its name, provides users with the ability to directly message another user, providing ease of access and information exchange;
- Group chat. IM tools also allow several users to communicate with each other at the same time, making collaboration a breeze;
- Sharing files. Instant file sharing is crucial for a productive day at work;
- Organizing polls. With the use of a little text and a few emoji, you can organize quick and engaging polls.
The other out of two categories — external communication — is the type of communication between employees of a firm and its customers, collaborators, press, and all other entities and individuals outside the bounds of the organization.
As such, instant messaging for external communication purposes can be used, among other things, for:
- Customer support. IM is commonly used for customer support, due to the fact that around 53% of customers prefer chat over phone calls;
- Sales. Sales are also more efficient with the use of IM. Customers who use live chat spend up to 60% more than those who don’t;
- Communication with contractors and freelancers. An IM tool may have a guest access feature which lets people work with collaborators from outside of their organization.
In this segment, we review the general benefits IM has for both internal and external business communication. This wide range of advantages goes to show just how powerful of an asset instant messaging is when properly implemented in a business environment.
Instant messaging is a type of synchronous communication. This means that it takes place in real-time, without any time delays. You can already see how critical this is in business communication, especially when dealing with time-sensitive matters.
When coworkers communicate using IM, they get benefits such as:
- Real-time updates on necessary information;
- Instant feedback from team members;
- Fewer opportunities for miscommunication;
- Immediate access to shared files.
These benefits make the workplace highly dynamic, flexible, and responsive to all kinds of situations and issues a company can run into.
IM provides room for direct and personal interactions, which significantly increases the communication quality. How? Well, IM tools supply users with a rich and vivid, and interactive communication environment, thus improving the quality of the communication that takes place in it. They accomplish this by allowing users to exchange files, messages and other information in an interactive way that mimics face-to-face communication patterns.
Within the context of remote work, studies show that this simulation of in-person communication patterns contributes to messages being perceived as more accurate, timely, complete, and effective. Additionally, issues that come up can be discussed as soon as they spring up, with more space for mutual understanding between coworkers.
The study cited in the previous segment focuses first on interactivity and communication quality, but it also shows that these two characteristics combined build mutual trust among remote coworkers. The study posits (and proves) that:
- Mutual trust is critical for effective group work;
- Co-located workers are more familiar with each other, which leads to more mutual trust;
- Trust, however, is hard to achieve in remote work settings;
- Remote work requires coworkers to communicate across multiple networks and locations;
- The use of IM in remote work establishes space for real-time, two-way conversations;
- The conversations employees have using IM incorporate informal interactions, and overcome the limitations of space and time;
- This leads to an increase in mutual trust, and a concurrent improvement of group outcomes.
💡 If your team members are dispersed all over the globe, make sure to read up on the Best team practices when working across time zones.
The instantaneous nature of IM makes collaboration among team members much smoother. According to research published by the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers), this happens because instant messaging promotes the creation and maintenance of social relationships, by providing easy means of communication.
As a direct result of improved relationships between team members, employees have an easier time overcoming the psychological barriers to knowledge sharing, making them more effective and efficient.
Even more important is the fact that relationship networks work to enable knowledge sharing. This is true because employees don’t need to wander and spend a lot of time searching for answers to an issue — they can simply turn to expert team members. In addition, people who know each other well tend to provide more detailed and better quality information to each other.
💡 When people hesitate to share information, it can lead to silos. To find tips on how to combat this issue, take a look at our article on How to break down team silos and improve collaboration.
Defined by the legendary psychologist Csikszentmihalyi, flow is the ‘‘holistic sensation that people feel when they act with total involvement”. A person experiences flow when they commit to performing a task which balances out the level of challenge and the level of skill a person possesses. When this balance is achieved, the person enjoys an out-of-the ordinary high levels of concentration, as well as a great amount of pleasant emotions.
Several factors play a part in instant messaging facilitating flow. The more technical terms for some of them include the following:
- Perceived control — The level of reassurance a person has about possessing the correct skills and resources to master a task;
- Telepresence — The experience a person has of being present in an environment via a communication medium. Instant messaging features, such as emoji reactions, sharing images with facial expressions, memes, as well as instantaneous feedback, create a rich sensory environment, providing users with a sense similar to being in the same room with the other participants in the conversation;
- Positive affect — The composite experience of several positive emotions, such as joy, interest, excitement, and confidence;
All of these are represented in the following diagram, where we can see that telepresence and perceived control directly facilitate creative flow. This in turn kicks off a feedback loop of positive affect, perceived expected creativity, and exploratory behavior all leading back to the state of creative flow.
Instant messaging apps with a chat log history feature (particularly when access to it is unlimited), are a great way for new employees to get to know the company dynamics. Going back and reading messages in the chat log can provide new hires with insight into social relationships and knowledge pathways between older employees. New workers can then use this knowledge to quickly and efficiently sync up with the existing team, making communication and collaboration much smoother and more straightforward.
“It’s fine, I’ll take care of it.”
“It’s fine, I’ll take care of it 😁”
These two examples look a whole lot different, don’t they? When reading the first example, we cannot tell what kind of emotion the sender is experiencing. Are they frustrated, angry, neutral, optimistic? The second example takes care of this uncertainty, by providing us with an emoji that signifies a pleasant mood. Or, at least, that is what the sender wants to project to us.
This anecdotal example is supported by research that shows that IM messages that contain emojis generate more emotional effects compared to text alone. This study then goes on to show three of the emojis most commonly referred to as being positive neutral, and negative:
😆 — 75% of people perceive this emoji as “positive”;
🙂 — 68.8% of people perceive this emoji as “neutral”;
😡 — 62.5% of people perceive this emoji as “negative”;
No surprises here, but think of how much this improves communication quality for your team. To be able to include a well-recognized visual cue into a message, allows people to convey their intent much more directly, leaving little room for misinterpretation.
First of all, what is organizational agility? In broad terms, organizational agility is the efficiency of response a company has to business challenges, changes, and uncertainty. It marks how effective companies are at adapting to the environment.
OK, and how does this relate to instant messaging? Well, organizational agility can be improved through two digital options:
- Reach – the extent to which internal and external organizational activities are woven into information flows;
- Richness – the quality of the information collected during this process.
IM has a positive effect on both these two characteristics, allowing workers to share accurate and timely information regarding business issues. With this improvement in work-related communication and the rates of information circulation, the organization becomes more agile and better prepared to meet business demands.
Instead of a long list of tools, such as email, phone, or even a fax machine for the old-fashioned, instant messaging can become a unified solution to all daily business communication needs. With the help of features such as file sharing, and direct and group messaging, one IM tool can centralize communication and replace a whole slew of traditional, less efficient tools.
IM device continuity is important to users. As many as 93% of participants in a collaborative Samsung — GfK Public Communications and Social Science study say they use their mobile phones to check for work updates. This provides an opportunity for IM to shine, as it can be used, both simultaneously and separately, on different types of devices.
It’s convenient, for example, to have access to the same conversations and files both on your work laptop and your mobile phone. You wouldn’t want to find yourself in the situation where you step out for a bit with only your phone at hand, only to find out that it doesn’t support your business messaging app. So, the fact that IM can be accessed from multiple kinds of devices gives it a definite advantage over other communication tools.
If the benefits listed above sounded good enough for you to decide to implement IM in your business, here is where you can find some tips on how to do this effectively. Alternatively, these tips can help you make IM use more productive — for companies that already use this type of tool.
Make sure to pick the tools that best suit the needs of your organization, by considering all possible everyday uses you might have for these tools. Take a look at all the company processes, and set expectations of what you want from the IM tool.
Rudd is a sysadmin, assigned with taking care of all-things-technical in the small startup he works for. With the company suddenly growing, he decides to use Pumble as a means of communication for all employees. He chooses Pumble because of its unlimited free chat history feature, expecting plenty of daily message exchanges.
You should always make sure you provide detailed guidelines about how coworkers should communicate with each other, including how they use IM tools. This can help make information flow easier, and prevent miscommunication.
Kenny’s medical research team enforces a chat etiquette, to make sure everyone can stay up-to-date with their work, but in a productive manner.
In moments when you need utmost focus on your work, make use of features such as muting notifications, and setting your status to being unavailable.
When Sarah, a copywriter, feels she needs 100% focus on her task, she changes her Pumble status to “away” and carries on writing without disturbances.
💡 For additional tips on how to stay distraction-free during work, check out our article on How to ensure business chat is not distracting your team.
This tip consists of two parts. First, you should focus on finding ways to effectively share information among coworkers. The other part is that you have to stay mindful not to overload your employees with too much information.
Miriam is the CEO of a mid-level business, and she decides that Pumble is the most effective IM tool for her team members to share information. She then goes on to implement a “right to disconnect” policy, which makes sure employees don’t have to be available outside working hours.
Instant messaging has a positive impact on so many aspects of a company, we can say for sure that it is critical for establishing a successful and efficient business. By building trust, and providing space for interactive communication, IM improves the social relationships employees form at work. This effect cascades into increased productivity and satisfaction on behalf of the employees, who can use the many helpful features of IM tools to communicate without a hitch. Both the social and the outcome improvements, when combined, warrant the necessity for IM implementation wherever it is suitable, and especially in professional settings.