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  • Writer's pictureSarah Butler

Instant Messaging At Work - 6 Dos & 6 Don'ts

Instant messaging (IM) has become an increasingly popular form of communication in the workplace. While it can be an efficient way to communicate, it is important to remember that it is still a professional environment. Here are some dos and don’ts of using instant messaging at work.


1. Keep it brief

Keep messages short and to the point when using IM at work. It's important for a few reasons. IM is a fast-paced form of communication, and colleagues and clients expect quick responses. By keeping messages short, you are able to respond quickly and efficiently. Long messages can be complex to read and comprehend, especially on a small screen. Keeping messages clear and concise ensures that your message is more easily understood and less likely to create confusion or miscommunication. In a professional environment, it is important to be respectful of other people's time. By writing short, direct messages you are able to convey your point without taking up too much of their time.

2. Use the status function

Using the status function on your IM at work is important because it allows you to communicate your availability and current state to your colleagues and clients. By setting a status, you can let others know if you are available for chat or if you are busy working on a task and cannot be disturbed. Using the status function can help improve communication and reduce interruptions in the workplace, which can ultimately lead to increased productivity.

For example, if you are working on a deadline or a particularly important task, you can set your status to "Busy" or "Away" to let others know that you may not be able to respond to messages immediately. This can help manage expectations and reduce the number of urgent messages you receive, allowing you to concentrate on your work.

3. Ask before interrupting

if you need to enter into an extended chat it is important to ask before interrupting someone when using IM. Disturbing someone is disruptive and can break their concentration, especially if they are in the middle of an important task. By asking if it is okay to interrupt, you are showing respect for their time and their work. It can also help you get a better idea of their availability and workload. They may be in the middle of a project or task that requires their full attention, and interrupting them may delay their progress or cause unnecessary stress. By asking if it is okay to interrupt, you can get a sense of their availability and prioritise your own tasks accordingly. Lastly, it can help build better communication and collaboration between colleagues based on respect.

4. Set boundaries

Setting boundaries about you hours of availability with people when using IM is important to help you manage your workload and prioritise your tasks. Without clear boundaries, you may find yourself constantly interrupted by messages that are not urgent or important, which can be distracting and impact your productivity. Setting boundaries can help you manage your time more effectively by establishing when it is appropriate for people to contact you, and when it is not. Learn to assertively say no when you need to. to This can help you avoid burnout and ensure that you have enough time for your personal life outside of work.

5. Be professional in your appearance

Using your full correct name and a suitable photo is important when setting up your IM profile at work as it helps to establish your credibility and professionalism, and supports your personal brand. Using a professional photo can help to establish trust and make a good first impression with clients or colleagues, particularly if you are working in a different location to them and have never met in person. Using your full correct name can help to avoid mistaken identity. Using a nickname or a shortened version of your name can be confusing or misleading, especially if there are multiple people with similar names in the organisation and a nickname does not reflect the standards of professionalism that you should embody at work. Save the nicknames for your contact with your friends and family.

6. Use proper words & grammar

Using proper words and good grammar when using IM helps to convey your message clearly and accurately. Good grammar ensures that your message is easily understood by your colleagues or clients, which can prevent confusion and miscommunication and can help to establish credibility and professionalism. Using proper words and good grammar can help to avoid misunderstandings or embarrassment. Typos or grammatical errors can sometimes change the meaning of a message or make it appear unprofessional. By using proper words and good grammar, you can ensure that your message is taken seriously and that you are perceived as a competent and reliable communicator. Remember also who you are chatting with. A casual, joke'y tone may be OK with your co-workers but not for chats with clients or your superiors. This type of language will also make it challenging for those who do not speak your language natively. to understand your message and may even cause offence to those from different cultures.


1. Don't argue or have inappropriate exchanges

Arguing or having inappropriate exchanges when using IM at work can have serious consequences for your professional reputation and relationships with colleagues or clients. and can create a negative work environment and damage team dynamics. It can also distract from important work tasks and negatively impact productivity. This sort of conduct can harm your professional reputation and credibility. Inappropriate messages can be easily shared or forwarded to others, which can lead to embarrassment and damage your reputation. In a worst case scenario it can lead to disciplinary action or even termination of employment. Many organisations have strict policies regarding appropriate behaviour in the workplace, including the use of IM. Inappropriate exchanges or arguments could be considered a violation of these policies and can lead to disciplinary action.

2. Don't discuss private matters

Confidential matters should never be discussed over IM at work. Doing so can lead to serious consequences. Messages can be easily forwarded or screenshotted, which can result in sensitive information being leaked to unauthorised individuals. It can violate organisational policies and legal requirements. Many organisations have strict policies regarding the handling of confidential information, and violating these policies can lead to disciplinary action or legal consequences. Discussing confidential matters over IM can lead to a loss of trust and respect from colleagues or clients, which can harm your career and reputation.

3. Don't deliver bad news or negative feedback

Delivering bad news or giving negative feedback over IM at work is not recommended. This type of communication is often impersonal and lacks the nuance and context needed for sensitive conversations. Negative feedback or bad news can be difficult to receive, and delivering it over instant messaging can be perceived as insensitive or uncaring. It can harm the trust and respect needed for effective collaboration and communication. It can also lead to misunderstandings. IM can be prone to misinterpretation, and negative feedback or bad news can be easily misunderstood or misconstrued. This can lead to further problems.

4. Don't use IM for things that aren't time sensitive

Using instant messaging for non-urgent things at work can be counterproductive and can negatively impact productivity. It can lead to unnecessary interruptions and distractions. IM can be a constant source of notifications and can cause people to lose focus on important tasks. It can create a culture of immediate responses and unrealistic expectations. Using instant messaging for non-urgent things can create a sense of urgency that is not always necessary, which can lead to stress and burnout.

5. Don't send lengthy messages

Using instant messaging for long messages at work is not recommended. IM is designed for quick and concise communication, and long messages can be difficult to read and comprehend. Firstly, long messages can be overwhelming and may cause people to lose interest or focus. Instant messaging is often used as a tool for quick updates or brief conversations, and long messages can disrupt the flow of communication. Long instant messages can be prone to miscommunication or misunderstanding. Without the ability to use tone, body language, or other nonverbal cues, long messages can be easily misinterpreted. Also long instant messages can be difficult to track or manage. Unlike emails or other forms of communication, instant messaging does not have a built-in organisational systems like filing, and long messages can get lost or forgotten.

6. Don't message outside of work hours

Using IM outside of work hours can be problematic. It can lead to burnout and affect your work-life balance. If you are constantly receiving messages and notifications outside of work hours, it can be difficult to disconnect and relax. It can also set unrealistic expectations for response times. If you respond to messages outside of work hours, it can create a culture of immediate responses and make it difficult to establish boundaries between work and personal life.


It is important to remember that instant messaging may not be secure when using it for work purposes. Instant messaging applications are not designed to be completely secure, and messages can potentially be intercepted or accessed by unauthorised individuals.

This can lead to breaches of confidentiality and security, which can be damaging to both the organisation and the individual. It can also create legal and regulatory issues. Many industries have strict regulations regarding the handling of confidential information, and using unsecured instant messaging can be a violation of these regulations.

Wrapping up

IM can be a useful tool for communication and collaboration in the workplace. However, it is important to use it appropriately and mindfully. Some dos of using instant messaging at work include being clear and concise in your messages, using appropriate language and tone, and using the status feature to let others know your availability.

Some don'ts of using instant messaging at work include using it for non-urgent matters, delivering bad news or negative feedback, and speaking about confidential matters.

It is also important to remember to use proper words and good grammar, set boundaries with people, and not use instant messaging for long messages or outside of work hours.

Lastly, it is important to remember that instant messaging may not be completely secure and to use other more secure forms of communication for sensitive information.

By following these dos and don'ts, individuals and organisations can communicate effectively, maintain professionalism, and avoid potential issues or miscommunication.

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