Is instant messaging an IT irritation, a distraction or an excellent productivity tool? It depends on who you ask.
For IT departments, IM is often seen–and rightly so–as a huge security hassle. Users may want it, but it means extra work for the techies who have to clean up the messes it can leave behind. In short, their ideal answer to employees who wish to use it would often be “No.”
They’d get little argument from most managers, who see IM as a distraction–something their employees do when they should be doing their work.
But a new study discounts at least the latter view, finding that IM actually improves workers’ productivity.
The study, conducted by researchers at Ohio State University and the University of California, Irvine, randomly surveyed individuals by telephone who were employed full-time and used computers in their offices at least 5 hours a day. Nearly 30 percent said they used IM to “keep connected with coworkers and clients.”
The study theorized that because IM allows users to flag their availability–to let people know when it is and is not okay to bug them–and it is considered socially acceptable to ignore an IM message when one is busy, it can improve, not hinder, productivity.
“IM provides a means of obtaining task-relevant information rapidly and with minimal disruption, allowing a worker to ask clarifying questions without the expectation of engaging in a longer conversation. Alternatively, it can be used to participate in a sustained form of low-intensity collaboration…” wrote the researchers.
What any of this means for the IT workers who must deal with the security aspect of IM is unclear. What is clear, however, is that IM is becoming more and more acceptable in the workplace, and in the end, it will be up to IT to find and implement solutions to the threats it poses.