Social protocols for instant messaging

One of the keynote panels on at the Collaborative Technologies Conference focused on the battle for instant messaging technology in corporations.
And yet the long question and answer session focused on the emerging social customs around the use of instant messaging in the workplace — the relationship between IM and productivity, and then tension between usage patterns and traditional IT protocols.
One audience member asked about the distraction factor — how email and instant message harm knowledge worker productivity. The panel responded that the answer is social protocols for the use of the technology.
Anoop Gupta: Just because you have a colleague’s cellphone number, doesn’t mean that you call colleagues continually over the weekend.
Melanie Turek: “Remember when everybody did used to work in the same location? There were colleagues who would stop by to chitchat, office birthday cakes, and other in person distraction. This is just a different way of getting interrupted.
Gordon Quinn: It’s good to use the practice of a “quiet period”, and manage “away messages” to communicate when you’re available.
Another series of questions focused on IM blurring the lines between the organization and the outside world, and between parts of the organization.
People use consumer IT tools in the workpace in part because they want presense available outside the enterprise.
Anoop Gupta of Microsoft believes that the policies are going to be set by IT. Just as IT controls the company directory, and defines standard group mailing lists according to the organization chart, so IT will control who is visible to whom using instant messaging.
Gupta also talked about “whitelist” and “blacklist” controls that enable individuals to manage their own experience. Hopefully this means that individuals will be able to create their own presense groups in the organization.
In my experience, valuable people in an organization are the ones who are able to bridge functional groups and organizational boundaries in order to get things done, regardless of the org chart. A functional role can help define repeatable processes and support mentoring, but actually getting things done entails finding resources and making connections across an extended network.
Using yesterday’s technology, these people always know who to call. Using today’s technology, these people have key contacts on IM, too. The connectors will find a way to route around barriers.

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