Instant Messaging cuts workplace interruptions: Study


Washington : Instant messaging could be a way to reduce interruptions at the workplace, rather than cause them, as is popularly believed.

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A new study has found that instant messaging, or IM, is now being often used as a substitute for more disruptive forms of communication like the telephone, e-mail and personal chats.

This finding flies in the face of earlier research which concluded that IM – along with phones and e-mail – was the cause of increased interruptions at work and resulted in reduced output.

But according to R. Kelly Garrett of Ohio State University and co-author of the study, using IM led to more online conversations, which were a lot briefer than other forms of communications.

“We found that the effect of IM is actually positive. People who used IM reported that they felt they were being interrupted less frequently,” he said.

The study involved 912 people who worked at least 30 hours a week and used a computer for at least five hours daily.

The key to unlocking IM’s effects lies in how people are using the technology, Garrett said.

Instead of dropping in unexpectedly, many are using the technology to check in with co-workers to see when they are available.

Many also use the technology to get quick answers to general questions or to inquire about current work tasks instead of engaging in longer face-to-face conversations.

“We find that employees are quite strategic in their use of instant messaging. They are using it to check in with their colleagues to find out if they’re busy before interrupting them in a more intrusive way,” Garrett said.

Because of its unique set-up, instant messaging allows users to control how and when they communicate with co-workers.

The findings of the study have been published in the latest issue of the Journal of Computer Mediated Communication.