The telephone is, for many, a great way to communicate, but it isn’t always efficient. Let’s say you need to know when a meeting is scheduled. You could call and ask, but that can involve the dreaded “phone tag” or balloon into a lengthy phone conversation. Sending text messages is a great way to efficiently ask simple questions and get simple responses. Still, there can be some lag in the response. Not everyone has texting capabilities, and some wireless customers still get charged high rates for text messages, so they often prefer to limit them. Sometimes we exceed our texting limits and have to put a hold on them until the next billing cycle.
A simple—and free—solution is instant messaging (IM). It works essentially like texting on a cellphone: you send short messages to people in your contacts list (some services call this a “Buddy List”). Instant messaging works either on a computer or on any mobile device, depending on the specific IM application you use.
There are many programs out there for instant messaging, and hardcore IM nerds can easily recommend their favorite highly obscure programs. On the Macintosh, iChat comes with the OS, and is the default messaging program. It works like—and closely resembles—the Messages app that is used for texting on an iPhone. In newer versions of the Mac, you can use iChat to send text messages from your computer to a mobile phone.
On Windows, there have been some changes over the years, but current versions of Windows encourage you to use the chat/texting feature in Skype for instant messaging. Indeed, even on the Mac, Skype is great for instant messaging, and we now IM virtually exclusively using Skype rather than a dedicated messaging program.
There is no shortage of third-party instant messaging applications, such as Adium, Pidgin, and many more that let you access one or more instant messaging networks. These networks—like AOL Instant Messenger (AIM), Google Messenger, and others—are important in order to connect with others. If you have an account on AIM, you may not be able to IM with someone who is on Google, or vice versa. Therefore, it is important that whatever IM program you use be compatible with whatever networks your contacts are on, otherwise you will just be talking to yourself.
If you are a teleworking employee, your parent company will likely tell you what program and network to use for messaging, and they may also have their own corporate network. It’s actually not uncommon for managers to randomly message teleworkers to make sure, Big Brother-like, that they are actually at their desks.
As we pointed out in previous posts, it can be useful—if not necessary—to turn off your instant messaging every once in a while, particularly if you are deeply immersed in a task that requires intense concentration, like writing a book about teleworking. Sometimes, whenever the incoming message chime sounds, one has a tendency to tell oneself, “There goes productivity.” Still, it may be important and even crucial to have that constant connectivity.