Thursday, October 06, 2005

To IM or not to IM

So, on several occasions now, folks have been asking me to use IM at work. and i'm torn. in a way, i see the value of the quick exchanges it can provide...but i also see that it could wreak havoc on productivity and produce expectations i have no intention of exceeding. technolgoy is always a two way sword and beneifts are context dependent. for some, i say 'yes', this makes my life better. for others, i reject them. i don't want cable tv, i DO want high speed internet. i do want messaging on my phone for friends, i DO NOT want it from co-workers (friend has precedence, so a friend co-worker is okay). also, clearly at a conference or something its also okay for work but not while i'm working on deliverables. NO. send it, and i will respond/read it when i can.

email for work is okay during the workday, NOT okay on the weekend. and so now i have this IM thing, does this mean if i am on at night and such and such has a question....they will think rude of me if i ignore them. and what if i am doing things at work that are more important than explaining what NTSC is or why your vertex buffer can't have 100,000 vertices....for these questions you can email me and i will get to them when i have an opening between higher precedence projects.

an analogy would be a professor trying to get his work done. HE HAS OFFICE HOURS. this is when you can come and ask the questions you have, not randomly in the middle of the day. it distracts you from higher value thinking and working, constructively actualizing yourself in a way that Maslow would smile.

seems to me this is an issue of what i want to be in my support (tactical) or creating new ideas and new innovations (strategic). IM facilitates tactical performance and is actually DETRIMENTAL to strategic time. i WANT tactical to be less of my life, not more. it seems IM gives value to those around me but provides ME with little value. am i missing something here? sure, there is some merit to making those around me more productive but in the end their output is a second order in terms of performance, its MY output that is most important to how i am measured.

so IM seems a lot like 'chat' when i was in school. chat was novel for awhile, but any rational person that needs info quick can pick up the phone and call me or send a quick email. i chatted with people on line for awhile, but when the novelty wore off and my finacnes improved and long distance fees dropped....just pick up the phone.

and as far as messenger, it seems email is more optimal IN MY SITUATION. not always, again, if i was tech support it would be fine. another time i think it would be valueble is if i was, for example, on a team working on a project like a new SDK or an API or something like that where somebody is trying to figure out who broke the build or if billy is in his office so he can stop by to talk about a new feature, etc. etc. email allows me to answer the questions asyncrhonously and when i am not in these situations.

anyway...thoughts???? maybe i'm not seeing some of the value.


KimPallister said...

I was torn as well. I eventually gave in, and quickly learned IM was *definitely* a plus, with 2 caveats:

- You need to understand the status flags and use them. Busy? Flag yourself as busy. No IM. You need to also respect others' status and there's a whole "people will learn the etiquette over time" thing. When someone sees your IM flagged as busy, they should also know not to call you or walk over to your office (oh, sorry, cube).

- You need ot have self-discipline. This is no different than mail. It's very easy to see incoming mail, and alt-tab over to it when you are trying to put off something you need to get done. Same goes for IM. (in some ways, email and IM aren't that different, what with always-on high speed internet and popup incoming mail notifications).

With those two caveats in mind, it can be a time saver as it doesn't require the formality of email. Think of the following scenario. A co-worker borrowed a CD and hasn't returned it. If you IM "CD?", that perfectly appropriate. Emailing "CD?" might make it sound impatient and curt. You might feel better writing "hi bob. Do you have that CD you borrowed? No rush. Just when you get the chance". 10x the time to type it.

Chad said...

I'm not sure what advantages IM has over the phone. I guess phone is a little more invasive than IM. But it's much faster to communicate via phone than IM, and there's less ambiguity in the message. For example:

In Kim's post, if he had simply said CD? I would not konw whether he wanted my opinion about it, if he was asking for me to return it.

Maybe I'm a poor digital communicator, but I think phone is still the superior medium. I think it's primarily introversion or some strange fascination with using the computer to do everything that has moved us away from the phone.

adam lake said... i'm IM'ing now...i decided to bite the bullet and give it a whirl. so far what kim (and a few others) have said is correct. its a weapon...depends how you use it. easy to get caught up in it but i ddefinitely see its value. can be quite valuable in how it subtly changes how you work. used it the other day in a meeting and had some positive results.

okay, back to work.

KimPallister said...

Oh yeah! The phone.

The phone rocks. It's definitely superior 90% of the time.

- cant always phone when you could IM (I'll get to an example in a minute)
- certain formality is customary on the phone (like email, but different). "hey bob. How are ya. bla blah"

- Tone, inflection, human-ness.

We have to be careful because as self-professed computer nerds and introverts (many in this field gravitated to machines because they were easier to deal with than people). Often the phone would work, but email is easier. No confrontation.

Another big plus for IM - depending on corporate culture (works at Intel, but not at MS). If your company is one where it's considered normal for everyone to be heads down in a laptop while in a meeting with others (Intellites - this is NOT normal!) you can use IM for "back channel" commentary and politicking.