Communication in today’s organizations is enhanced and enriched by computer-aided technologies. These include electronic mail, instant messaging, intranet and extranet links, and videoconferencing. Electronic mail, for instances, has dramatically reduced the number of memos, letters, and phone calls that employees historically used to communicate among themselves and with suppliers, customers, or other outside stakeholders.
Instant messaging (IM) is essentially real time e-mail. Employees create a list of colleagues and friends with whom they want to communicate. Then they just click on a name displayed in a small box on their computer screen, type in a message and the message instantaneously pops up on the recipient’s screen.
The growth of IM has been spectacular. In 2001, for instance, just 8% of American employees were using it. In 2003, it was up to 18% and experts estimate that by 2006, more people will be using IM than e-mail as their primary communication tool at work.
IM is a fast and inexpensive means for managers to stay in touch with employees and for employees to stay in touch with each other. For instance, furniture retailer Jennifer Convertibles uses IM to communicate with managers in its 200 plus stores nationwide. Rhonda Sanderson, who lives in the suburbs of Chicago, is able to run her public-relations firm in downtown Chicago almost completely by IM. With her seven staffers all on computers, Sanderson is never more than a few keystrokes away from all her employees. And Jeff Wenger, vice president at tax preparation and software company Tax Technologies Inc., uses IM to manage a team of software developers and testers who are scattered all over the United States. Wenger says IM has cut his daily telephone time from 3 hours to less than 30 minutes.
IM provides several advantages over e-mail. There’s no delay, no in-box clutter of messages, and no certainty as to whether the message was received. Managers also find that IM is an excellent means for monitoring employees’ physical presence at their work stations. With a glance at their contact lists, users tell who’s logged on and available right now. E-mail is still probably a better device for conveying long messages that need to be saved on the downside, some IM users find the technology intrusive and distracting. IM’s continual online presence can make it hard for employees to concentrate and stay focused. Instant messages are easily broken into many organizations are concerned about IM security.
E-mail: Electronic mail (or e-mail) uses the Internet to transmit and receive computer-generated text and documents. Its growth has been spectacular. Most white collar employees now regularly use e-mail. And while the common belief is that people are being swamped with e-mails, a recent study found that the majority of American workers who have access to e-mail at work receive 10 or fewer e-mails a day. Only 6% of employees with e-mail access report receiving more than 50 messages per day.
As a communication tool, e-mail has a long list of benefits. E-mail messages can be quickly written, edited, and sorted. They can be distributed to one person or thousands with a click of a mouse. They can be read, in their entirely, at the convenience of the recipient. And the cost of sending formal e-mail messages to employees is a fraction of what it would cost to print, duplicate, and distribute a comparable letter or brochure.
But nearly16% of companies have banned the use of IM, 68% companies allow limited use of e-mail for non-work activity, but only 44% make a similar concession for IM.