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Instant messaging is underutilized among companies, with only 18% of Fortune 500 companies having deployed IM, according to a forthcoming report by technology investment research firm Nucleus Research. The reason: Many companies still see IM as a toy associated with smiley-face emoticons and chat rooms.
"Since chat rooms started on the Internet in what was a very social, home-user setting, the perception is that chat is casual," says Rebecca Wettemann, VP of research at Nucleus. "But, in fact, in customer-support situations, companies are finding applications that are very helpful. And now we're really seeing companies ask, 'Why doesn't it make sense for us to be able to contact people and have informal conversations with them throughout the day via IM?' "
The prevailing attitude among those surveyed by Nucleus is that employees would "get in big trouble" or waste time with social communication if IM were used. But such fears may be exaggerated. Eight out of nine users of the communication technology reported that all of their IM activity was work-related.
"The perception out there is that IM is an ROI killer," Wettemann explains. "And what we found, in fact, was exactly the opposite. While a lot of companies aren't using it, those that are find that it enables employees to multitask and be more productive."
Among organizations that have deployed IM--typically communications and technology companies--the report suggests that employees experience improved productivity, the result of less time spent using the phone and E-mail.
"Just like E-mail, telephone, and face-to-face communication, chat is another channel," Wettemann says. "And used effectively, it can really improve productivity. Of course, it needs to be used effectively. Just like we have policies for E-mail and telephone communication, companies need to think about that when they install IM."