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Instant Messaging Etiquette In Business

By: Jeff Durham - Updated: 24 Feb 2017 | comments*Discuss
Business Etiquette Messaging Networking

Whilst instant messaging has been around for quite some time and is more popular with teenagers, it is also used in business too. Many business men and women find it’s a useful tool for keeping in touch with both clients and colleagues when they’re working remotely and need to find out information or want to ask a question quickly.

Use Of The Away Message Alerts

For those of you who are familiar with instant messaging (IM), you’ll know all about the away message alerts you can switch on or off beside your name so that people will know if you’re available to message. One of the most important aspects of instant messaging etiquette in business is to respect these. Therefore, if somebody’s alert says ‘away’ or ‘busy’, treat that in much the same way as you would a ‘do not disturb’ sign on a door. In other words, if the alert says they’re busy, do not send them an instant message until they put up the alert saying they’re available. Even where it does say ‘available’, it’s always polite to ask first if they’ve got a bit of time to spare.

Be Brief

Don’t type long winded paragraphs when using instant messaging. What you need to say should be concise and to the point. On the other hand, don’t revert to ‘text speak’ either. Abbreviations like LOL (laugh out loud) or BRB (be right back) might be perfectly acceptable within an instant messaging conversation you’re having with your best friend but might not be understood or thought appropriate by a colleague or client.

Be Careful What You Write

There is a danger in thinking that an instant messaging conversation is supposed to be between two people and that, therefore, whatever you say is private and confidential. However, that’s far from the truth. Just as an email can be sent around the office so too can instant messenger conversations be saved and then redistributed. Therefore, don’t include anything that you wouldn’t be prepared to write in an email or typed letter.

Avoid Confrontation

Instant messenger communications in business should be only be used for things like arranging a meeting or to ask a quick question to which you’re looking for a quick response. Don’t use it to criticise or to reprimand somebody. These are situations which require face to face communication.

Using Emoticons

Emoticons are more the domain of people who are using instant messaging in more of a social setting but if they’re used within the organisation you’re working in, use them sparingly. For example, a smiley face to indicate your pleasure at something somebody has told you is probably fine but don’t pepper your instant messaging conversations with them as it can become confusing and isn't good etiquette.

Separate Log Ins For Business And Pleasure

If you use instant messenger for social purposes too, make sure you use a separate log in if you’re using it for business purposes as well. Instant messenger should only be used sparingly at work anyway as it can distract you from the business in hand but your boss will not be at all pleased if they’re paying you to work when you’re chatting away to your friends about what you’re wearing in the pub tonight.


Instant messaging can be a useful networking tool for people who work from home in a self-employed capacity. It doesn't harm to put your IM identity on your virtual business card or as a signature at the bottom of your emails as it may be a useful way of networking and establishing new business contacts.

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It all depends on the company's policy and what is stated in a employee's contract. Most companies prefer an employee to contact a manager directly to inform them of any illness. The argument could be that if your colleague has access to a mobile phone they could use it totelephone their manager.
WorkEtiquette - 11-Aug-11 @ 9:16 AM
Can a person on a probationary period, that is vomiting and unable to attend work, contact another colleague via text and ask them to cover them as well as ask them to notify the manager to let know that they are unable to attend work due to sickness? The person L* does not have a home phone or any other way to contact the manager so is texting notification satisfactory enough? L* had 3 days off and arranged cover for shifts, and then received a letter of dismissal for not "informing them properly", is this right/fair/allowed?
livi - 9-Aug-11 @ 5:29 AM
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