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Instant Messaging (IM), also called "chat", is a tool to allow text chats among two or more individuals, such as between coworkers or employee and manager. As you type, the text appears both on your screen and in a window on the other person's screen. As they respond, their text appears on both screens. If you don't want to be bothered, or if you are going to be away from your computer you can easily adjust settings so your current status will be posted if others try to contact you.

IM can be used to reach out for quick exchanges with team mates. Because the messages can be saved as a printable document, it is also suitable for long decision-making discussions where it is useful to remember what each participant said. Files can also be passed to each other using this tool.

IM users can create user profiles, which can be limited to professional content or may contain personal/social information. Although user profiles are not a requirement for use, they do allow employees to search for others based on shared personal or professional interests, which can create team-building connections.

Instant Messaging has several advantages as a collaboration tool: It is easy to use with almost no learning curve. Because IM is silent, it is less distracting to other in the office than telephone calls. Coworkers in the same office can use IM to have a conversation. Because more than two people can participate at the same time, it is great for impromptu meetings (each person's name is tagged ahead of each line of text they type).

Although some users find IM distracting, at least initially, they can easily change their settings to indicate they are not available.

Instant Messaging hosted on public servers (usually free) are not secure and may be inappropriate for peers discussing confidential corporate information. Versions are available that provide message encryption, as well as other features such as greater administrative controls, the ability to launch desktop sharing from within IM, and profile sharing.

If the profile sharing feature is deployed, employers should create standards for the type and extent of personal information that may be listed. Without guidance, some shared views may be inappropriate or too controversial for the organization.

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Two pilot project teleworkers recommneded the IM encryption product from Secway.

Other IM encryption products:


Cool Messenger

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This page was last updated on June 5, 2009