Is instant messaging a valuable collaboration tool or an invasive time-sucker?
It can be both, say researchers from Ohio State University and the University of California. According to The INQUIRER, the researchers found that IM was a distraction for workers when it was part of a communications cocktail including the phone, e-mail and face-to-face conversations. However, it boosted productivity when it was used as a substitute for other types of communications.
Kelly Garrett, an assistant professor of communication at Ohio State who co-authored the study, says many folks use IM in lieu of longer conversations when they need a short answer to a question. They can also quickly check in with co-workers to see if they are available for a confab.
This finding meshes pretty well with another study I wrote about last month. Researchers Sinan Aral, Erik Brynjolfsson and Marshall Van Alstyne found that too much multi-tasking lengthens work projects. I also mentioned the Burton Group's contention that companies should work on creating an optional mix of "attentional" and "attention-shielding" technologies to maximize employee productivity.
A technology like IM puts the productivity ball directly in an employee's court. That's pretty much been my experience and the experience of others here at IT Business Edge as well, judging from a blog post by our Ken-Hardin. Realizing that IM was dominating his work day, Ken halved his messaging volume simply by putting a little more thought into how he used IM. He wrote:
Like in most cases, the underlying problem with this tech was the person using it.