How to communicate in the age of instant messaging

Seven tips to communicate professionally in the age of instant chat, from knowing when to use text to how to use gifs|Seven tips to communicate professionally in the age of instant chat, from knowing when to use text to how to use gifs

Seven tips to communicate professionally in the age of instant chat, from knowing when to use text to how to use gifs

In the age of collaboration software, instant messaging has taken off in the modern workplace. With instant chat platforms, such as Slack, Hipchat and Glip, particularly popular with millennials and SMEs, the possibilities for this software is expanding rapidly.

Instant chat works brilliantly in an SME environment as employees are more familiar with each other, however this doesn’t mean there isn’t a certain etiquette, especially when it comes to collaborating with users outside of your company.

Know your collaborator

Although it may seem a bit obvious, it’s by far the most important point. Instant chat can be used to communicate across a spectrum of relationships, one moment you’ll be chatting to your colleague, the next your boss and then a client may pop up and ask for a document. It’s vital you use the right tone of voice with each person you speak with, if you wouldn’t call your boss ‘mate’ in real life, don’t do it over IM. If you’ve never seen your client use a smiley face maybe wait until they initiate emojii use before pinging one over. In SMEs colleagues are often more relaxed with each other as they work closely together, but this doesn’t mean you (or your staff if you look after a team) should start pushing the boundaries on IM. 

Be aware of security

Most instant messaging services are incredibly secure. But no system is entirely safe from data breaches. If you have sensitive data, stick to your regular sharing protocols, don’t share over IM. It might also be worth checking the details of your security system with your collaboration software service provider.

Be careful when using slang and word shortenings 

Whilst a lot of word shortenings are convenient, some slang can be vague and hard to understand and some can easily be misinterpreted, like when your mum uses LOL for lots of love. This is important to remember when speaking with overseas collaborators, instant chat is brilliant for contacting international partners and clients, but London slang could mean something very different in NYC. Try and stick to universally recognised terms if you can. 


Many instant chat services have Giphy integrated into its systems, adding a GIF into a message can be funny and illustrate your point really well, it can even bring you closer to your colleagues. However there’s a fine line, just like that guy who tells too many puns at a party, you too can overdose on GIFs, once again, not all clients find them appropriate. It’s also worth thinking about the content of your GIF, a cute cat probably won’t offend anyone, but an adult cartoon might. 

Start and finish conversations with a greeting and a closing message

Just because we’re in the age of IM doesn’t mean we should forget all of our basic manners, you wouldn’t go up to an acquaintance in the street and launch into a conversation without saying hello, nor would you walk off without saying goodbye. The same applies for IM. A short ‘Hello’ and ‘thanks, speak soon’ is perfectly acceptable and makes you appear more personable.

Be aware of status messages and don’t ‘hound’

The point of IM is to get a fast response, whether it’s getting a document signed off, or just checking what everyone’s doing for lunch, you can just type a quick sentence, rather than having to draft an entire email. But just because someone is online, doesn’t mean they aren’t busy, and they aren’t going to appreciate 20 pop ups in ten minutes if they’re in the middle of a meeting. Most people set up status messages, but this can be easy to forget, so don’t be offended if you don’t get a reply straight away. 

And finally make sure everyone is aligned

IM is supposed to be fun, informal and enjoyable, and enforcing rules too heavily could take this away, but everyone appreciates a collaborative and happy community. To a certain extent you have to trust that most staff have the common sense to not commit too many faux pas on IM, but if you’re an HR manager or a leader of a business, consider running through some of these points with staff, or alternatively stick them up on the wall somewhere for quick reference.

Monica Visconti-Patel is a director at RingCentral.

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda was Editor for from 2016 to 2018.

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