I was recently visiting a client site and throughout the day I was in a position to casually observe several office work stations. What I saw and heard was a nearly continuous flow of IM messages coming into employee desktops and Text messages flowing into mobile devices. The volume was so robust, I recall imagining that the effect could have been an orchestra of bell ringers and chimes if all their speakers had been turned on.

At the end of the day I questioned the owner about the use of IM within the company, policies for company owned/personal mobile devices in the workplace and controls she has deployed. I was told that employees were encouraged to use IM internally to collaborate! When probed the owner had no idea how many IMs or Texts were sent/received daily.

The experience raised my awareness of the dramatic productivity drain at this company and probably across the workplace. I found a minimal amount of research on this subject. Some excellent work was done by;

(Garrett, R. K., & Danziger, J. N. (2007). IM=Interruption management? Instant messaging and disruption in the workplace. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 13(1), article 2). http://jcmc.indiana.edu/vol13/issue1/garrett.html

This research is aged and focused only on IM. The explosion of Smart Phones and Text Messaging use have more than likely only extenuate the problems and opportunities that were discussed.


  • Consider reviewing reports from your in house IM systems and company owned mobile phone records to identify obvious abuses and potential concerns.
  • Revisit your policies on internal system usage and personal phone usage.
  • Openly discuss the potential problems in company/office meetings to increase awareness and to motivate employee self management.
  • “Walk around and observe” – it is highly probable that the old 20-80 rule applies to this potential problem. Shutting down/limiting IM and leaving cell phones at the door are possibly draconian measures and may retard productivity gains if a minority of employees are abusing.

When I initially looked into the potential problem I found out that; “on average workers spent just 11 minutes on a task before being interrupted!” Those were the stats before IM and Text blossomed. This scared me! If you own/manage a company or business unit, it should terrify you!