Instant messaging: Friend or Foe?

Lots of businesses were using instant messaging as a way of communicating with their teams before the coronavirus pandemic. Instant messaging services such as Slack were becoming more commonplace but because of the pandemic, remote working and the rise of other instant communication tools like Microsoft Teams,  the use of these services between colleagues has increased exponentially. 

Being able to talk to each other at a click of a button, no matter where we are, has helped many of us feel connected to our teams and has helped us get things done more quickly. But, it’s not all good news. The informality of these channels has also lead to a rise in bullying and harassment. 

So, if you’re an employer, what can you do to make sure instant messaging services are used appropriately? Here are our top tips:

  • Develop a social media policy setting out unambiguous ground rules for acceptable and unacceptable use of all social media, including instant messaging platforms. This policy will make sure your team understand your expectations for their behaviour when using these services.
  • Include cyber-bullying and harassment explicitly in your social media policy and make it plain that such conduct is unacceptable.
  • Make sure you talk to your team about the benefits of these channels (increased and easy communication, reduction in feelings of isolation, quick turnaround times) and the potential risks and dangers if instant messaging platforms are misused. This way your employees are set up for success from the start and are more likely to appreciate how ‘that innocent joke’ could be negatively perceived by another.
  • Encourage your employees not to use instant messaging to manage issues, conflicts or for performance related conversation. It’s easy for miscommunication to happen over instant messaging, like email, and these matters are simply best dealt with face to face and with managerial support.
  • Tie your social media policy into your disciplinary process, so that if the social media policy is breached, there is clear actionable conduct under your disciplinary process. 
  • If as a policy you monitor the messages of your employees on such platforms, then make it plain to employees that those communications are monitored.  It’s important to be transparent about the monitoring of communications and it will also hopefully encourage employees to think twice about the messages that they send.
  • If the worst happens and you are alerted to a message or messages that bully, harass or intimidate then make sure any  evidence that can be subsequently referred to should disciplinary action be necessary is captured. This could include taking screen shots of the offending post, recording details of any complaints received from other employees, and documenting who has seen the post.  Depending on the comments made  informal words of advice may suffice to ensure it doesn’t happen again but if not then engage your disciplinary process.

A study that took place two years ago in the UK identified that as many as 1/3 of businesses didn’t have social media policies in place at all.  If you are using instant messaging within your business, then make sure it is covered by your employment policies and if you don’t have a social media policy, then it’s time to get one in place. 

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