Is Online Messaging at Work Wasting Time?

A couple days ago I instant-messaged a teacher while at school through his gmail account because I needed to ask him a work-related question. I saw that he was online at the same time and I sent a quick, “Hi, are you there?” I didn’t get a response. When I saw him later he smiled and said that he saw the message. He then half jokingly remarked something like, “Shouldn’t you be working?”

I find this sort of thinking interesting. If I had found him in person and asked the question, or even shoot the proverbial excrementum about a sports game on a prep period, I’m not sure it would have garnered the same response.  If instant messaging is used to contact a teacher within a school, it’s understood as wasting time and thus some would avoid it altogether or just feel guilty about it.

I don’t feel guilty about it.

I don’t agree with the assumption that online messaging is time wasting. Though I suppose it can be, but just as much as talking can be.

I message people at work everyday. I’m an eLearning Contact (eLC) for a group of small school boards. Typically, there’s one eLC per board, so rather than working in my own little silo, I work alongside other elcs across Northern Ontario. We connect in an ad hoc basis daily through a Skype group text-chat. It’s awesome. It’s genuine grassroots-level collaboration. We ping ideas off of each other, discuss new developments, problem solve together, and naturally engage in synergistic activities that increase the effectiveness of us all.

It reminds me TV shows like, House, CSI, or Star Trek TNG where the cast is a team that regularly meets, works out problems together and becomes greater than the individual parts, though I don’t work with any grumpy doctors, and my group is scattered across northern Ontario.

I wish there were more messaging-groups of teachers that help each other out throughout the day. Imagine small groups of teachers teaching the same subjects throughout the province, pinging ideas off each other throughout the semester as they teach, even in real time. Now that’s a Professional Learning Community.

The irony is that sometimes people come in to my office/printer-ink storage room, and see a Skype chat on my computer screen. Some people look at me as if they just caught me playing Farmville. I think what all teachers need to understand (and many already do) is that instant messaging is a communication medium, that’s all. But more than that, it can be more efficient communication.

Sometimes I need a quick answer to a question from other staff in the building and a message is just much faster and is more fluid than emailing back and forth on a topic. Of course whenever it’s an issue that’s more nuanced, sure, I head over to talk to them.

It’s human communication. Just like oral communication, you can waste time with it; you can work with it. Nothing to be ashamed of, and often can make you better at your job.



  1. bgrasley · May 16, 2014

    I’m in that Skype chat, and it’s invaluable. Northern Ontario’s eLCs’/DeLCs’ connectedness is the envy of the rest of the province. It’s so empowering to have a distributed team available to help you in an otherwise very isolating role.

    I’ve encountered the same kind of mindset here among teachers, usually when talking about Twitter as a professional learning and collaboration platform. They’ll worry about “getting caught using Facebook” as though the service itself is taboo or possibly evil. Some of that mentality comes from the way the services are portrayed in the media (“Awful thing happened when student used web service X!” or “Are your kids safe when they post to Y?!?”), and some comes from many school boards’ historic (or current) knee-jerk to social media use.

    We should strive to be awesome at our communication in all its forms; not just face-to-face talks, phone calls, and emails, but also tweets, blog posts, and instant messages. Ignoring the value and efficiency of online messaging and maligning their appropriate use is irresponsible.

    • Tim Robinson · May 16, 2014

      Thanks for the response. That might have been worth a response via your own blog. 🙂

      It’s interesting what you say about the fear of the mediums. We aren’t talking about the complications of using online communication methods with students, yet I agree that the same fears and concerns seem to bleed over into teachers communicating with teachers using the tools. Is this some kind of irrational blue-page fear? I’m pretty sure teachers can handle adult to adult communication. I think you’ll agree, Brandon, that our online chats about eLearning, D2L, event planning, or how bad Internet Explorer is will not land us in the blue pages. (At least I hope). So it’s ok teachers; it’s just communication! 🙂

  2. bgrasley · May 16, 2014

    I don’t think it’s blue-page fear; I think it’s fear of school/board administration. Those different media have stigma and baggage attached, so it’s not an irrational fear precisely, but things have definitely changed.

    In our newest (one year old) “appropriate use” guidelines for technology in our schools we explicitly allow for “some personal use” of technology during the school day. People were afraid to access social media sites for fear of reprisals. Now they *clearly* have the freedom to do so in our board (yay!), not just for professional communication but also to check last night’s scores. The *excessive* use of non-educational sites/resources/services is still not allowed, but that only makes sense.

    I’m definitely a rule-follower, and I’m glad we have a policy that allows for some professional judgement. And my water cooler conversation, whether online or offline, is perfectly fine, as long as the contents of those chit-chats wouldn’t land me in the blue pages anyway.

  3. Humberto Pacheco · May 16, 2014

    I too am part of this Skype group and agree, it’s a great way to share, learn and communicate with others with common passions. Most importantly, it’s a place to hear alternative solutions and ideas as it’s the differences in perspectives that provides the greatest learning, not the similarities.

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