Blog Post

Only 1 in 4 Uses IM at Work, Says Study

As someone who covers cutting-edge tools for WebWorkerDaily, it’s very tempting to think that everyone uses the kind of technology that we rave about every day. Clearly that’s not the case, but some figures in a new Forrester report, “The State Of Workforce Technology Adoption: US Benchmark 2009,” which surveyed 2,001 U.S. information workers, in companies of 100 or more employees, really surprised me. For example, according to the study, one out of every five information workers shares a computer:

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Also very surprising is the low take-up of collaborative software, like video conferencing tools, document sharing and even IM:

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Email is obviously still king when it comes to collaboration in most workplaces (a topic I wrote about for GigaOM Pro, sub required, in “Email: The Reports of My Death are Greatly Exaggerated“), but I was shocked by the IM stats. According to the study, only about 25 percent of workers use IM at all — and only about 10 percent use it on a daily basis. Is corporate America that far behind the curve? It’s not like IM is a new thing. Obviously there are concerns about employees “goofing off” on company time, but surely the productivity benefits outweigh that risk.

This low adoption rate of collaborative technologies is even more surprising given that the same study reveals that one in three of the workers surveyed telecommutes at least some of the time. Part of the reason behind this low takeup might be that the workers surveyed seem very change-averse — according to the study, only 10 percent would be happy to see their word processor changed, for example.

The figures revealed in this report represent a serious opportunity for vendors in the corporate sector — if they can penetrate a market that is obviously reluctant to embrace new productivity-enhancing tools. If only one in 10 workers is currently using video conferencing on even a monthly basis, for example, there is plenty of room for the sector to grow substantially in the future. No wonder there are so many companies currently jockeying for position in the market. It’s up to vendors to create tools that demonstrate clear productivity benefits, can be slotted into current working practices and are very easy to use.

If this report is any indication, few businesses are taking advantage of the productivity-boosting technologies and tools that many of us take for granted. If you work for such an organization, maybe it’s time to demonstrate how much more efficient it could be if it adopted just a few of these tools.

Are you also surprised by these figures? Do you believe that they’re representative of corporate America?

15 Responses to “Only 1 in 4 Uses IM at Work, Says Study”

  1. I use IM at work, and I know of only 2 other staffers in our dept who use IM (there are about 45 staffers total in our dept).

    You can customize the IM settings so you are notified only when someone sends you an IM. Even when one of the other 2 sends me an IM, I sometimes just ignore it and continue with whatever I was doing. I may notice, but if I’m busy, I won’t click on the IM box.

    I really like IM because it allows us to ask each other questions without being too intrusive. If you are on the phone with someone, and need to check on something – you can just send an IM and get a response quickly – without having to stop your phone call.

  2. A technology like IM is perfect for distributed virtual teams that require a high degree of communication. I personally work with team members from across the US and Argentina on almost a minute to minute basis. IM provides the perfect balance between email, which is too slow, and audio communication, which can be too intrusive to do on an ongoing basis.

  3. @Don Risi
    o.0 Dude.. IM has been around for ages. Used to be IRC, then it got all fancy, now IM is the main instant messaging communication device for the internet. Google cloud software (which I’d rank very low, btw. For too many reasons to start on now) is a whole lot more recent than IM is.

    If you need absolutely no distractions whatsoever, then you don’t need to go on about IM. Include phones, email clients, etc.

    Note: IM clients always have settings to disable the “pinging”. Stop the flashing lights and sounds, auto respond with a message when you’re busy, etc.

  4. I believe IM in most business environments is extremely wasteful. I have it available to me but I turn it off because the constant pinging is very distracting.

    As a software architect and developer, I am constantly trying to remain focused on the task at hand and am often juggling 10-20 different balls that all need to be properly addressed for the task to be successful. Even the subtle ping of an incoming request can make you drop some of those balls – say nothing of if you actually stop and pick up the IM. When you get that ping, you want to stop and see that email or IM. That, in turn, causes mistakes and poor productivity as you are continually trying to pick up the balls that are being dropped. Consequently, I simply turn IM off most of the time. And since turned off is the same as not having it, I don’t even start the client to conserve resources.

    I extend my email pickup interval and turn off notifications for the very same reasons. I suspect that if other people don’t do the same, they just don’t know how.

    IM does have it useful purposes however. For example, as long as you don’t allow it to be distracting, it is useful to be able to communicate with coworkers via IM to establish strategy changes while in sales calls.

    I don’t think it’s hard to extrapolate my example to most other job descriptions; especially those involving complex tasks. Therefore, I am not terribly surprised by these figures.

  5. I was thinking the same thing as Tony: in many work environments, the interruptions of IM would far outweigh the benefits. The benefit of email is that it only interrupts if the user configures it to do so, so that workers who want quiet work time can ignore it until they are ready to answer questions instead of feeling like they are at the mercy of every coworker with an IM account.

    • I agree to an extent, but if you don’t have IM, people will just phone you instead, which is just as much of an interruption. I can see that people will be less likely to pick up the phone unless it is an urgent query, though.

      I’m not sure I buy the “email is configurable to not interrupt you” argument though. Most people don’t seem to use it that way, and those that do would surely be wise enough to be able to set the status on their IM client to avoid interruptions during busy times?

  6. Not using IM doesn’t put them behind the curve necessarily. IM is a very mixed bag in terms of productivity. I think it’s dangerous to assume that reducing the incremental cost of interruption (which is what IM does) to zero is a good things for all people and all teams.

  7. Don Risi

    I’m not completely into all the latest whizbangs and such, with the result that I am behind the times when it comes to things like IM. But I do TXT, use Google cloud software, etc.

    I have had similar talks with my wife, who works in a law office. She tells me that the reason she’s even farther behind the tech revolution than I am is because she just doesn’t have the time to learn all the latest stuff, including IM.

    I think this is true of many workers — there is just too much to do at the office, so even if the boss is willing to shell out for the latest in soft & hardware, there’s no time to learn to use it.