Few technologies, including the web itself, have taken off as quickly as Instant Messaging. When people bring IM into the workplace, however, it can be both a productivity enhancer or a distraction. Certainly it acts as a hybrid between email and the telephone, giving the immediate response of the telephone with the no-nonsense, down-to-business attitude of email.
I have used IM as a great communication tool for use between co-workers in other locations, or even to talk with the guy on the late shift who doesn’t come in for a few hours yet, but has IM access at home. Paranoid IT sorts will complain about security and encryption, as well as the attraction for abuse. In recent months teaching at a local community college, I found that IM acts as a 21st century way of passing notes between wired students.
Whether for better or worse, IM has very quickly evolved into a tool that has become part of our computing lives. I believe it’s for the better. Blocking IM access in the workplace isn’t the answer. Embrace it as a tool. If people don’t do their job and spend the day chatting with their friends, that is a management problem, not a technology one.