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Workplace Instant Messaging Etiquette



Instant messaging in the workplace is a quick way to keep your team informed, answer questions from other departments, and chat about the weekend with remote coworkers. Of course, there are right and wrong ways to use this technology, and messing up can cost you your job. Instant messaging etiquette ensures everyone stays professional.


What Is Workplace Instant Messaging Etiquette?


Etiquette is a set of rules that dictate what is and isn't appropriate in a situation. Instant messaging work chats have their own rules to ensure everyone feels comfortable. The guidelines can also apply to emails, letters, and other forms of written communication.

Of course, instant messaging differs slightly from other communications because it delivers information in real time. You have less time to reconsider your words, making etiquette even more critical.



Proper Workplace Instant Messaging Etiquette


Some employers have strict instructions dictating when to use instant messaging in the workplace. For example, your employer may only allow IMing for work purposes. Small talk must remain either offline or on your personal device.


Others may restrict who you can instant message. Internal information technology teams often have these limitations, as they must answer tickets according to urgency and chronology. A coworker from another department can't jump the line by instant messaging an IT representative, which undermines the system and is unfair.

If you don't know if IMing is appropriate for your situation, it's best to clarify. Your employer may have a document outlining the rules, or you can ask your supervisor. It's always better to err on the side of caution than to get in trouble for something as small as IMing.


Your office may also have rules about what you can and can't include in messages. The following are pretty standard:


  • No swearing

  • No sexist or racist language

  • No inappropriate images

  • No links to outside websites


While your employer may not specify this, the adage is true: If you have nothing nice to say, don't say anything at all. The only exception is when someone asks you for critiques, and you should deliver those politely and constructively.


Unprofessional Workplace Instant Messaging Etiquette To Avoid


There are a few faux pas that can earn you an instant reprimand. When using an instant message, avoid the following:


  • Discussing sensitive matters and gossip

  • Not logging out of IM before sharing your screen

  • Forwarding attachments without verifying they are secure

  • Messaging someone listed as "offline"

  • Starting a message without a greeting


Everyone makes mistakes, so don't be too hard on yourself if you make one. The best way forward is to acknowledge your mistake, apologize for any harm caused, and try to rectify the situation.



Tips for Workplace Instant Messaging Etiquette


Since instant messaging has been around for a while, there are plenty of great tips to help you use it appropriately. For instance, sending short messages is best, as a wall of text can be challenging to read in a small pop-up. At the same time, you don't want to send bursts of messages, as the notifications can disrupt the recipient's concentration. If you find yourself struggling to find a happy medium between these two options, you may need to send an email instead.


Written communication has its benefits, but there is a risk of misunderstanding. To ensure you make your point clearly, follow these tips:


  • Incorporate emojis to express tone.

  • Use proper punctuation and grammar

  • Avoid abbreviations the recipient may not know


It's also good to ask if the recipient has time to talk to you. Doing so demonstrates respect for the other person's time.


Instant messaging etiquette in the workplace is essential to keep coworker relations friendly and professional. By adhering to these simple guidelines, you project a professional image and display consideration for your fellow employees.

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