Instant Messaging Gets Personal at Work

A META Group survey finds that more than half of people in the workplace use instant messaging for personal matters. The tool "can have a viral effect when not regulated," an analyst says.

Ping. Pong. Thats the sound that signifies that an instant messaging session has commenced. Its the quick-paced, back-and-forth communication standard that has grown rapidly in corporations over the past five years, and for many has become the preferred means of communication among co-workers and colleagues.

A recent survey by The META Group shows that 57 percent of respondents use IM at work for personal reasons, while 56 percent of those surveyed use IM at home for business purposes.

"Organizations should view these numbers as alarming," said META Group senior research analyst Ted Tzirimis. "Although IM can be a valuable tool for real-time communication and collaboration, it can also have a viral effect when not regulated."

Tzirimis said companies need to be more aware of how many employees actually use instant messaging and take steps to make sure viruses arent unwittingly spread through these programs.

According to the survey, companies that have tried to restrict messaging have taken a more stringent approach toward IM than, say, toward phone calls and e-mail. About 5 percent of companies prohibit phone and e-mail for personal use; and 16 percent of companies do not allow employees to use IM at all. In terms of limited use, 68 percent allow limited use of e-mail for personal matters, and 44 percent allow the same for IM. The survey also found that more than 35 percent of the companies have no policy about instant messaging in the workplace.

Companies also have started to turn to in-house messaging to ensure that employees keep their personal messaging out of the work environment, and also to make sure the company network stays safe from Trojans, viruses, worms, IP address disclosure and instant messaging spam, aka spim. Microsoft, IMB Lotus, Jabber and Antepo offer internal messaging systems, and companies such as IMlogic and FaceTime help secure IM programs such as AIM and Yahoo Messenger, which initially were designed for consumer usage.

/zimages/4/28571.gifClick here to read about how IMlogic is helping hedge-fund companies with their IM compliance.

Of course, instant messaging isnt always a productivity killer. It can free employees from having to work in the same location in order to be effective.

"I work with engineers who work remotely," said Dave Tonsmire Sr., a client executive at managed services provider Totality. "IM gives me the ability to get quick answers from people who are working together, but are in different geographic locations."

The META survey found other positives for IM at work. In terms of efficiency, a majority (78 percent) agreed that messaging gives a quicker response than e-mail, as well as speedier problem-solving (74 percent).

Most of those surveyed (63 percent) liked the ability to see whether someone was online and available. Thirty-seven percent surveyed said IM lowered the cost of the monthly phone bill due to less long-distance calling.

Despite these added benefits, Tzirimis said CIOs should not ignore the growing use of IM in the workplace.

"An IM policy is a good first step, but it is only that," he said. "The more difficult step is discerning how to successfully implement and use IM within the enterprise."

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