I just read the newsletter from Manager Tools on June 7th, and was very surprised.

The topic of the newsletter was Instant Messaging, and to my surprise it argues: 

Instant Messaging is almost always a bad idea for a manager. It's a distraction.

I think that is a very old school and totally wrong conclusion.

Just to make sure that we all speak about the same thing. Instant Messaging (IM) is used for presence status and chat, and is known from free consumer tools like: 

  • Skype
  • MSN Live Messenger
  • Google Talk

as well as corporate tools like: 

  • Microsoft Communicator and Lync
  • IBM Sametime

IM can be really effective for checking the availability of your colleague before you contact him, as well as for quick conversations where an e-mail is too slow and a phone call is to disturbing.

IM is just another way of communicating that supplements our existing ways of communication like: 

  • Mail
  • Phone
  • Web conference
  • Video conference
  • Face to face

The important thing is that the whole organization learns to use the new possibilities in the best way and for the right purpose.

It is true that IM can be disturbing if used in the wrong way, but so can e-mail, phone and face to face meetings, and we do not want to exclude that?

Management is about communication, and for that IM can be a very important tool.

Have a look at our website that focuses on organizational implementation of Unified Communications & Collaboration solutions:


stephenbooth_uk's picture

 I just used IM (Lotus Sametime) to talk a colleague through how to edit a Sharepoint Webpart's appearance.  He's about 7 miles away and had we not had IM it would have been Friday before I could have helped him and it would have taken 2-3 hours out of my day, including travel and accessing the site he's on.  With IM, 20 minutes.

I think IM is like any tool.  If you use it correctly then it's helpful, if you don't then it's a hinderence.  Two key things to remember are to turn it off or use the "Do Not Disturb" (DnD) facility when you're busy and to honour other people's use of DnD.



Skype: stephenbooth_uk  | DiSC: 6137

"Start with the customer and work backwards, not with the tools and work forwards" - James Womack


TomW's picture
Training Badge

You disagree that IM is a distraction? Maybe you have too much free time, but I dread getting IMs since it means that someone wants me to stop what I' doing and answer a question for them. By definition, that is a distarction.

How is an IM from someone less disturbing than a phone call? Both allow a direct to intrude on the manager. The difference is that the phone goes to a voice mail, while the IM just leaves the "got a minute?" message sitting there all day.

Why would you check with someone to see if they are available? If they don't answer the phone, then they are not available. You claim that IM provides an effective way to do that, yet it's an ineffective action to begin with. "Online" or "not in a meeting" does not equal "Willing to stop what I'm doing and talk"

Email at the speed of light is too slow for you but IMs at the same speed are OK? At least an email lets the manager respond when it's convenient for them, not for you. Email is only disturbing if you leave the notifications on. Without the notifications, email is not disturbing at all.

The whole point there is that the manager's time is more valuable to the company than the direct's time. You seem more concerned about promoting your IM implementation than the value of the manager's time to the company.

RichRuh's picture
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 I don't think anyone thinks IM isn't a distraction- of course it is.  The question is- is it more or less distracting than the phone?

* I can see if a direct is away from their desk or busy faster than I can make a phone call.

* Other people can see that I'm busy without disturbing me (yes, I can ignore the phone and let it go to voice mail, but I can't stop the ringer without unplugging the phone).

* I can ignore an IM just as easily as a blinking light on my phone saying I have a message.  And in fact, I can check if an IM requires my attention faster than I can check a voice mail.

* If long-distance or foreign countries are involved, IM is cheaper than calling and leaving a message to call back.

I've turned off all the sounds and notifications for my IM program (as I have for e-mail), so the disruption for me is much less than a phone call.  

Non-urgent things should use e-mail.  Many topics require the richer communication capabilities of the phone (e.g., feedback).  But when used properly, IM can be an efficient and effective means of communication.

All of that being said, 99% of the world doesn't use it properly.  So maybe banning it isn't such a bad idea after all. (sigh)




tlhausmann's picture
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] All of that being said, 99% of the world doesn't use it properly.  So maybe banning it isn't such a bad idea after all. (sigh)

Perhaps Manager Tools Managers are in the top 1% who _would_ use IM properly!

TNoxtort's picture

At first I didn't like IM, and always had it turned off. Then I got a project manager who is always roaming between site, and buried in meetings for other projects. IM has been a great way to communicate, as she can do it while in meetings and things. I use it only for her, and once in a while, for a couple others. It's been  better than phone, though often, it leads to a phone call.

jhack's picture

IM is a scourge, and it's incredibly useful.  

Mark pointed out recently (here: ) one way to use IM effectively.  

IM, like email, creates the illusion of accomplishment by generating activity.  We create the most value when we can actually be "in the zone" where we are concentrating on the task at hand, the team we're with, and the goal.  A phone call, an IM, a tweet, a text message...each can disrupt that flow.  When you're in the meeting, or writing the report, or researching that presentation, or having that 1:1, you will be much more effective if you are focused on that activity. 

Set aside time to do email, phone, voicemail, texts, IM.  An instant message while you're processing email is fine.  It's not fine when you're writing a status report for the board of directors. 

Having it on all the time, letting others control your calendar...that is a mistake.  Allocate time for your priorities, and choose the tools that are right for the job. 

John Hack

PS:  Artsmith22, is it really a good idea for your PM to be distracted during meetings?  Are you helping her or hurting her, in the long run?  You admit that it often results in a phone call anyway...why not just schedule the phone call?  

GlennR's picture

I head a department with many internal customers spread over six states and five time zones. Our department delivers superlative customer service and I use IM as one tool to do that.

However, I also try to remember to change the status so that when I'm in a meeting or on a call my status reflects that. I also use IM to set up long distance phone calls. (Possible separate topic here: The value of verbal conversations over e-conversations.)

IM is a distraction. Yesterday while I was working on an assignment, a close co-worker IM'ed me about his summer reading list for his vacation. That was a 10 minute distraction (although I enjoyed it).

Try this:

1. Strive to keep your status accurate. (I don't believe in multi-tasking. If I'm on a call or in a meeting, I am not IM'ing. (Well, okay, if the meeting is boring.....)

2. If you're on deadline, change your status to reflect that. With Sametime, I can leave a status that says, "On deadline." Our staff seems to respect that.

3. If you're in the middle of something and you get an IM. have the courage to reply, "Is it urgent? I'm in the middle of something." (Honesty IS the best policy.) And by the way, that person's request to you may be more important than the task on which you're working.

Bottom line at the bottom: IM can be a distraction but it's you who allows it.  It's the poor carpenter who blames his tool.


(High S, Strong D, that's why.)

stephenbooth_uk's picture

 I find the phone to be much worse than IM. 

A ringing phone is pretty much just like sitting on the corner of someone's desk and chanting "Speak to me now.  Speak to me now.  Speak to me now."  Most of the phones where I work (I'm mobile between 4 offices right now) don't have a ringer off setting.  Even my work mobile is configured and locked down by my employer so that silent isn't actually silent, it's just a different ring tone.  Only mobile phones have voice mail (mobiles it's part of the default package but land lines it's an added extra) so I can't even set my out going message to say "Sorry I'm busy working on a deadline right now, please leave a voice mail and I'll get back to you as soon as I can.  I'll be checking my messages hourly at about 10 minutes past the hour".  If I don't answer my phone after it's been ringing out the person on the other end doesn't know if it's because I'm away from my desk, busy, in one of the other 3 offices or just being antisocial, so, a few minutes later they try again or they'll try one of the other offices or my mobile.  If someone calls I don't know who it is (no caller ID, and anyhow looking at the caller ID would break my concentration and our landlines are configured to not send the calling number) so have to treat every call as important enough to break my concentration.  A number of my colleagues, and project managers, are very High-Is with a tendency towards verbal diahorrea so it's easy to miss important information in the flood, especially when the sound is less than 100% clear due to poor mobile reception or background noise in the open plan offices.  Additionally, three of the 4 offices I'm using are open plan with no barriers or dividers so my phone ringing is distracting not just me but also everyone else in the office, and 2 or three other offices if the person rings them because I didn't answer the first number they tried.

With IM I can set a DnD message (the equivlent of the out going message mentioned above) and can set the IM client to not 'Toast' or make a noise when a message comes in.  I understand that some clients can be configured so they won't notify you if someone tries to contact you unless that person is on a list (it's probably not worth breaking my concentration if a peer or direct (don't have any directs right now, but if I did...) tries to contact me but if it's my boss,the PM I'm assigned to or a peer I'm working with on the deadline then it probably is).  The person knows that their message has been recieved, which ever office I'm in (if I'm on IM I'm on my PC) and has seen my DnD message telling them I'm busy and when I'll see their message.  As there's no noise no-one else has been disturbed.  On IM I have a ready transcript of the conversation so can refer back easily for information.

Maybe your situation is different.



Skype: stephenbooth_uk  | DiSC: 6137

"Start with the customer and work backwards, not with the tools and work forwards" - James Womack


Mark's picture
Admin Role Badge

Since Mike told me about this thread - while on air recording a cast for next month - I figured I had better have a look.  Glad I'm on a plane so I can't yell while I'm typing.

I like IM.  But I don't have it turned on all day.  If YOU have it turned on all day, and you find yourself checking it frequently, it's hurting your productivity.  You may like feeling connected...but there were people managing terribly complex things several years ago, and being within a moment's notice of any event.  The spontaneity of IM is largely unnecessary for managers.

And please don't count me a luddite.  I have an Iphone, and an ipad, and a mac air, and crave being in touch.

But being in touch is different than being constantly distracted.

Further: IM is NOT a distraction.  YOUR own brain is your distraction agent.

John and Stephen have it about right... it's a tool.  YOU be the master of IT.  And if you are working on X, and you get an IM, and you look at it, you're not managing your most precious resources: your time and attention.

And enough with the "using IM in meetings."  No wonder everybody has too many meetings.  The right people might BE in the room, but they're not PRESENT.  Thus, another meeting.

IM is a good thing.  The use of it througout the day, with IM messages every minute, and you checking them, is a recipe for lousy decisions.  Your directs don't need your guidance on everything.  If you can respond with a yes or no to their request, you could also trust them to make a decision, hopefully based on your guidance, and teach them self-reliance and consequences.

Written on a plane,


430jan's picture

Related to Mark's post >>Your directs don't need your guidance on everything.  If you can respond with a yes or no to their request, you could also trust them to make a decision, hopefully based on your guidance, and teach them self-reliance and consequences.>>

I love this statement most of all. I have made it clear to my directs that I will back them publicly for any decision they make that is off the mark and (with prior attention to standards and expectations) we'll learn as we go. If I'm just a few keystrokes away by IM it's too tempting for my high S, high C directs to avoid making a decision. Everyone has a different work product and environment, just my two cents.