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Showing your presence

Showing your presence

Next to banter, biscuits and good company (the office BBC!), the great advantage of working in the same office as your team is that you can see who’s busy, on the phone or has just popped out for lunch. Just one glance across the room tells you who’s available to discuss a project or task.

If you’re working remotely, having that quick chat can be difficult. You might find yourself trying countless times to get hold of someone on the phone, or accidentally disrupting people by ringing while they’re trying to concentrate.

The Facebook generation, who grew up with SMS, instant messenger, chats and status updates don’t have this problem. Thanks to contact lists with “online” status, they know when their friends are available to chat and can signal themselves if they’re free to speak or prefer not to be disturbed. There’s a lot we can learn from that.

Figures from a recent study (Ofcom Report 2012) on communication behaviour show a clear trend towards unintrusive, short, text-based communication – often used to coordinate in-between face-to-face or phone conversations or to arrange them. The volume of voice calls in the UK, for example, is declining for both fixed and mobile telephony, while the number of text and picture messages continues to grow, by 17% in 2011.

So, how could this apply to office communication? It’s pretty straightforward: using an instant messenger or chat with availability status allows the type of contact with colleagues and teams that you would otherwise only get by being in the same office.

Taking your most frequent team communication onto instant messaging will free up your e-mail for client business and important longer messages. Simple.

But this may still be unfamiliar territory for some. To help, here are our top tips for using instant messaging in the office:

-       Manage the group of people who are connected via instant messaging tightly – a good measure for team size is: do you still feel comfortable having your status on “online” without having to fear you’ll get too many messages and requests?

-       Don’t forget that chat and IM are not suitable as an official “paper trail” – they are more similar to phone conversations and even though you are writing it might be necessary to get something confirmed in writing separately.

-       Don’t fall in the chitchat trap – it’s great that instant messaging leaves room for water-cooler conversations, but because you’re at your desk, the small talk can quickly take over. Stay focused.

-       Use your availability status actively, so your colleagues know they can rely on it – set it to busy when you don’t want to be disturbed and back to online when you’re free to talk.

-       Look after your work/life balance – we all know the lines are blurring. To keep you sane, use strictly separate IM systems for private and professional purposes.


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