Instant Messaging for Small Businesses
With most of us having too much email to deal with efficiently, a growing number of small businesses are turning to instant messaging applications to exchange ideas and get things done.
Text-based chat applications provide a fast and convenient way to communicate or ask questions without sending yet another email into a colleague's overloaded inbox or making a phone call.
In fact, relying on IM for basic office communications can reduce the number of email messages that are sent back and forth among team members, and could potentially cut down on the amount of time that people spend (not always productively) in meetings.
Quick messages about the status of specific projects, customer questions, or other common office communications are better suited to instant messaging then email. Because these types of questions can be answered quickly, IM offers a fast way to exchange information.
And as the popularity of instant messaging increases among small businesses, a growing number of IM tools have been developed to allow users to connect with one another, and to exchange messages and files, on a variety of devices and platforms.
Popular tools such as Slack, HipChat, Google Hangouts, Skype and others allow people to communicate in real time, and to share files (either individually or among small groups).
Some offer the ability to set up dedicated rooms or channels for specific projects or departments, letting people know what's going on easily as well as the ability to ask for help.
Along with real-time communications, Instant messaging clients also provide an archive of past conversations.
Set Ground Rules
As with most forms of office technology, setting the ground rules about how people expect to communicate with each other can go a long way to help reduce misunderstandings as well as inefficiency.
For example, for security reasons, you may prefer that team members refrain from sharing personal or confidential information about customers. If so, it's a good idea to let them know ahead of time rather than having to address inappropriate or misunderstood actions after they've occurred.
Similarly, if someone is finishing up the key projects, they should feel comfortable going offline and hiding their availability for text or group chats.
Instant messaging can provide a powerful and flexible tool to help your team members stay productive and accomplish more during the day.