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IM Etiquette at Work

By Jennifer Pollock

When my boss at my first job asked for my AIM screename, I was a bit taken aback. It was hard to imagine translating what I’d known as a night-before-the-paper’s due procrastination device into a professional communication tool. And my debut into corporate AIM usage was a bit rocky, to say the least. This was mostly because my bosses’ AIM icon image was a close-up photograph of his eyeball (hard not to get flustered when the Eye of Sauron is proliferating over your computer screen). But it also had to do with the fact that I was blindly navigating an entirely new world of “netiquette,” as Evite likes to call it. Here are a few pointers to smooth instant messenger interactions at work.

Reassess your screename (and don’t use a close-up of your eyeball as your icon)

SeXyGuRl69 might have been the screename du jour back in the day, but do you really want to communicate with a 45-year-old man under that alias? Opt for something more straightforward, and remain tactful when selecting your image—don’t use a throwback like Kirsten Cohen from the OC unless it is relevant to your work. Best bet is to nix the picture.

“Knock before you enter”

Just like you wouldn’t barge into someone’s office without knocking, don’t type someone a message without first asking if you are interrupting. Phrases like “hi there,” or “hello, got a second?” are good openers. Avoid jumping straight into something drastic like, “Why is the budget 30 million dollars off?”

Status is your friend

If you’re busy and can’t talk, or are stepping away from your computer for one reason or another, set your status to “away.” This is an indication to people that you’re not going to be able to respond to them right away. You can still talk to people while you’re set to busy, but they’ll know that it’s because they’re special….or because you are discussing why the budget is 30 million dollars off and all other questions are going to have to wait.

Be brief and clear

Take hormones and booze out of the equation and IM is still a recipe for mixed messages. This isn’t the time for being coy and open-ended—get to the point and say what you mean. Similarly, if you’ve got something lengthy to say, it’s better to send someone an email, pick up the phone, or go talk to them.

Avoid the caps lock, unless it’s International Caps Lock Day

Caps lock over IM freaks people out. It means you’re shouting. Best to steer clear.

Deal with your friends

Now might be a good time to weed out some of your 592 AIM buddies from college, or maybe open a new AIM account for work purposes. It’s nice to be able to communicate with your friends during the day sometimes, but it can get messy if Ghosts from Buddy Lists Past start to IM you when your boss is showing you something on your computer screen.

Don’t become a IM hermit

Just because you have access to your colleagues via IM, don’t hibernate and conduct all business from your desk. Be sure to get in some face-to-face time to foster relationships (and make work more enjoyable).

Chill with the acronyms

IMs can be shorthand, but try to keep them professional. Limit your use of potentially confusing acronyms and avoid sloppy writing. Remember most of the older folks in the office picked up IM solely as a work communication tool. They do not have your background in high school flirting and college procrastination, so it can reflect poorly on you when messages are full of typos.

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