Mastering Asynchronous Communication at Work: The Art of Instant Messaging

Thanks to the rapid rise of remote work, it’s become more common for teams to have employees in multiple locations, time zones, and even countries. This physical distance can make communicating more challenging than it would be if all your employees worked out of the same office. 

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While there has been an explosion of new technological tools designed to help bridge the communication gap and facilitate distributed work, many of these tools take a lot more out of us than we might think. ​​A 2015 Journal of Business Economics study found that “techno-stressors” can lead to reduced work satisfaction and burnout. Though instant messaging apps are crucial to how we do business as remote teams, we must remember that too much of a good thing can hurt employee productivity and ultimately lead to burnout.

So, how can you ensure your employees use instant messaging effectively and healthily? Here are our top tips for using instant messaging in the workplace in a way that brings dispersed teams together, while still prioritizing employee well-being.

1. Develop clear technology etiquette

Instant messaging requires a certain level of etiquette to be used efficiently and effectively. Think about it: if your boss repeatedly messaged you at 10 PM every night – even if she told you not to reply until the morning – odds are the messages would start to wear on you. Very quickly, these messages can intrude into your life, keeping you from enjoying your time off and forcing you to think about your job and tomorrow’s day of work, which can strongly affect your work-life balance, stress, anxiety, and even your relationship with your manager.

Parenting During Covid-19

To help teach your new and existing employees how your asynchronous communication tools should be used, consider developing a company messaging etiquette guide. You can share rules like don’t contact coworkers outside of their normal work hours, replace short follow-up confirmation messages with emoji reactions to cut down on notifications, only use the #general channel to share content every employee will find relevant, and more. These tips and rules will help ensure everyone holds each other accountable and understands how to properly use these tools.

2. Be conscious of message volume

Fewer messages mean fewer notifications, which means fewer distractions for your team.  Remind your employees to regularly ask themselves, “Should this be an instant message?” before they hit send. For example, telling your boss you’re quitting is probably better suited for an in-person meeting or video chat so you both can discuss any next steps. 

Instant messaging is great for: 

  • Answering quick questions
  • Giving brief updates or announcements
  • Discussing topics or brainstorming
  • Sharing relevant links or attachments
  • Casual social conversations

Other messages might be better reserved for a different type of communication, like a group brainstorm, 1-on-1, daily stand up, or an email. Picking the right time and place to get your message across can improve internal communication and allow more diverse voices to join in the conversation. When your employees communicate more effectively, they can collectively set expectations, reduce anxiety, and help alleviate burnout.

Employees still unclear about what form of communication they should use? Add this helpful communication hierarchy image created by community platform Guild to your company intranet. It outlines messaging hierarchy for the modern workplace and the best way to ensure your message reaches your audience:

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Source: Guild’s Hierarchy of Messaging

3. Teach employees helpful productivity hacks

While remote employees–Ping!–won’t have the same distractions as they would–Ping!–in the office, other interruptions, like frequent and–Ping!–incessant instant messages, can harm their productivity and–Ping!–even mental health. Sorry if that sentence was hard to read, but see how disruptive these messages can be? Every day our instant messaging platforms disturb us with not-so-timely messages that disrupt our focus.

One study found it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to refocus on a task after being disrupted. Think of the impact a few poorly timed messages could have on your employees’ productivity throughout the day. While turning off notifications could be an easy fix, it could also cause your employees to miss vital, timely communications. 

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Photo by Nirmal Rajendharkumar on Unsplash

We’ve put together a brief list of other common “hacks” you can share with your team to help them limit workday interruptions, while still making the most out of your instant messaging platform: 

  1. Do not disturb mode: If you’re going into “heads down” mode, consider putting your messaging application into Do Not Disturb mode. This will silence any notifications so you don’t have to worry about pesky pings interrupting you. 
  2. Remind me later: Many instant messaging apps offer “remind me later” notifications, which can remind you about a particular message in 10 minutes, two weeks, or whatever timeframe you choose. This can help your employees step away from the emotional weight of feeling they have to reply instantly.
  3. Sync with your calendar: Limit interruptions by syncing your instant messaging application with your calendar. Your colleagues will be able to see when you’re in a meeting, out to lunch, or if it’s outside of your normal business hours, so they can save their message for a more opportune time. 
  4. Muting channels: Group channels can be noisy. Remind your colleagues they can always mute channels so they don’t have to get inundated with notifications every time your company signs a new deal or your colleagues swap baby pictures. 
  5. Schedule for later: Remembered a question at 9 PM but don’t want to contact your colleague outside of work hours? Schedule for later lets you choose when your message will send, giving you peace of mind you aren’t disturbing your coworkers with early morning or later night messages. 

Making use of all the features your instant messaging platform offers can help your employees communicate asynchronously in a more efficient and healthy way.
Looking to learn more remote work productivity hacks? Sign up for one of our upcoming classes, like “Own Your Day,” “Delegate Like a Pro,” or “Prioritize The Right Work,” to learn the skills you and your employees need to build healthy work habits.

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