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The Etiquette of Presence

Some thoughts on around how users manage their presence status.

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One thing that's interested me with the whole idea of 'Presence' is what's the etiquette for your presence status? What's the norm for talking to somebody when they're on busy/available etc?

I can't help thinking that a lot of people do not use the presence/IM system in a productive way, instead they see it as another hinderance much like Email. I.e. it gets in the way of 'real' work. You can see these people as they, by default, every day, all day, have their presence set on 'Busy'.

Busy? Too busy for what? Too busy to talk to your fellow work colleagues even though that's part of your every day working life?

It seems to me people that do this are simply not aware of the working capabilities of a presence system or in fact possibly do not understand it. What's more, if somebody I deal with every day is always and by default marked as 'Busy' I pretty much end up completely ignoring the busy marker, therefore completely negating the point of it.

So this has led me to wonder about the etiquette of presence.

I thought for a start, I'd look at how I use mine and then see if we I couldn't work back from there. Firstly, I'd like to add that I'm a very big fan of immediate communication - I have a passionate hate of Email - I find it can become a big part of my working day just managing the amount of email I get and what's more a large amount goes unanswered. A large amount that could have quite easily been dealt with in a very short IM conversation.

So, let's look at states:

1. Available
I'm here, I'm doing stuff, but I'm available to chat. It
doesn't mean I have nothing to do. This is my default state unless I'm with somebody or particularly focussing on something.

If somebody IM’s me, I feel I can not respond to the IM immediately and the person sending the IM will not go off on one. It's not the same as somebody talking to you and completely blanking you for instance.

I'm available on the phone too.

2. Busy
I'm here, but I'm concentrating on something. I may choose to respond to your IM, but I may not. Don't take it personally. I will get back to you, and you may want to email me instead. I could be with somebody for example. I may be available on the phone, but you may get my VM.

3. In meeting
Obvious. I'm in a meeting. Try IM'ing me, I may be able to respond as a lot of my meetings involve client demos that are not particularly relevant to me during the whole session. If I don't respond, don't take it personally. I doubt you'll be able to get me on the phone, you'll more than likely get my VM.

4. Do not disturb.
I'm under pressure to achieve something/deliver something. Do not IM me, I'll not respond. Email me and I'll get back to you - mark it as urgent if required. My team members, or people 'important' to me are set to be able to IM me when on do not disturb.

5. Away
I'm not at my desk, I'm in an unscheduled meeting (gone for a coffee). Try IM'ing me, I'll respond when I'm back at my desk. Likely to be available on the mobile.

A quick point about 'In a meeting'. The 'In a meeting' status is generally taken from your Outlook diary. Now, a problem for this is that if, like me, you need some form of Time Recording (for billable work) then I tend to use Outlook for this recording. This results in a constant state of 'In a meeting'. In addition to this, if I'm at a client's site I may be actually available but my automatic status still shows as 'In a meeting'. This does take some manual management then.

The presence & IM tools are there to help you be more productive and to control how people can talk and interact with you. That's if you use the states properly. If you just blindly set them to busy or away - or even worse just don't sign in - you're not getting the ability to manage all those conversations with your work colleagues.

It's a tool, in my opinion a bit of education on its use could go a long way.

You can also apply notes to your presence by the way - sometimes useful. It will show your out of office status for example, or you can have your status set to busy and your note saying 'Please email me if you need anything'.

It's an interesting area and it's massively easy to see who buys in to the idea of presence, IM and the whole UC thing compared to people who just don't quite get it. Funny thing is I remember exactly the same conversations when email first started to get popular in the early/mid 90s. What do I need it for??? Why don't people just call me?

Personally I find IM a great way to deal with those one of quick conversations. I also accept that what's important to me right now may not be that important to the person I'm talking to so if they choose not to respond immediately I don't go off in a huff.

It's also a good social way to keep up to speed on things - especially if like me you're away from the office and your colleagues for long periods of time.

In conclusion I would suggest people think about how they manage their presence status, what message they want to send out and also how they want people to interact with them. It's a massively powerful tool, and yet one that I think is currently misunderstood.

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