DMs aren't just for chatting up your work wife—it should help you be productive too. 

Credit: Abbey Lossing

Does your office use an instant messaging platform like Slack or Google Hangouts? You might currently only use it to side chat your coworker BFF or quickly ping your boss to say you’re running late. But if you’re not taking advantage of IM to streamline work communication and foster effective collaboration between your team and other teams, you should. Here’s the right way—and the right time—to use instant messaging at work.

IM or email?

That one-sentence email, two-word reply, or quick hello works well in a messaging system like Slack. It’s also perfect for ongoing conversations that require a lot of back and forth—those that don’t necessarily deserve a designated, in-person meeting or phone call, but are better left to instant messaging to spare everyone’s email inboxes. While email remains necessary for external communication, a messaging platform could seriously cut down on your internal email volume.

Get organized.

The real strength of a messaging platform is the ability to catalog and organize information, says Anna Pickard, head of brand communications at Slack. "Unlike email, which can be automatically deleted over time or disabled when someone leaves the company, the files and information shared in Slack are always available," she says, "which gives new employees the advantage of the group's knowledge." Organization is paramount. Create channels by topic or project and invite the relevant people to the conversation. Need to chat one-on-one? Use the direct message function so discussions in channels stay focused on the topic.

Be brief.

Pickard advises keeping messages digestible by using bullet points and even emoji. If something needs to be discussed or explained further, start a separate thread; in Slack, just click the chat bubble underneath a response. Think of this thread like a sidebar: It's hyper specific and lets you elaborate on a topic without muddying the larger conversation.

  • By Caylin Harris
  • By Maggie Seaver