The Danger of Interruptions
The worst problem is of course the fact that according to a research, interruptions drop a person’s IQ up to 10 points which is 4 points more than smoking marijuana 1, concerning indeed. The paper also further explained that in order to return to the fully focused state, a developer would need roughly 2-3 hours. I’d say that this is a waste of time, therefore a waste of cash and if I own the company I will do whatever it takes to prevent this from happening. I think using IM would be one of the viable solutions.
Let’s be realistic, we can chat with one another but other people do not need to know what we chatted about, that’s just interruption. Hence using an IM reduces the noise level in the office. IM also give a person privilege to ignore a message until the right time to answer. Of course there are other solutions such as giving private offices to each of the developers or kicking out every single loud talkers in the office, but those don’t seem to be financially viable. Therefore at this point we are left with IM as the cheapest option. After all the loud talkers and shoulder tappers might be doing that because they have no other means of communication.
Three Instant Messenger Recommendations
If I were to consider which messenger to use, I would choose the following three. Each of them has their own advantages and it all depends on your IT infrastructure.
OpenFire – The true internal solution
OpenFire from IgniteRealtime is an open source XMPP (jabber) server. This means you can download the source code and install it on your internal server. By doing so, the chat logs, communication channels and file transfers are all isolated within your network; assuming the server or the network is not open for public access. However this also means the service uptime becomes the responsibility of the internal team maintaining the server. Although in my experience, there are very little downtime for OpenFire servers, they are pretty much low on maintenance once up and running. Furthermore, choosing this solution will also require a person skilled enough to setup the OpenFire server, documentations are easily available from their site. So, if you are interested, here’s where you can get OpenFire XMPP (Jabber) Server along with its Spark chatting client.
GTalk (Google Talk) – Always there
Everyone knows GTalk, it’s virtually almost never down. This is a great messenger solution as almost everyone that I know has a Google account, if not it’s pretty easy to create one. GTalk will also work well if your company uses GoogleApps (but then you might not need to read this post). Using GTalk means your conversation is searchable too within your email history; this is extremely useful if you want to recall certain discussions especially when you have found solutions to a particular problem. The only problem with using GTalk is if you are behind a corporate firewall. You might need to use proxy servers in order to access the internet. In general GTalk will work via proxies, the tricky issue might be getting your machine to use proxy globally while customising the addresses that you want to channel via the proxy, but this is our next post in a few days time ;). All in all, I think GTalk is a zero cost solution if you want to implement instant messenger at work quick and painless. To get GTalk, visit here.
Skype – Chatting and Screen sharing
Yes, the video chatting kinda contradicts this post, but having a video conference and screen sharing capability is very handy if you are working offsite. Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words after all. The only downsides of Skype are getting it to work through proxy and the minimal support for Linux desktops. The client in Windows and Mac is very far ahead from the Linux version that feels like a beta software. To get Skype, visit here.
Some Closing Thoughts
We should all strive to use Instant Messenger at work as interruptions are counter productive and will actually cost a lot of money. Interruptions also affect the team morale as they are not able to perform at their best. Therefore consider the above recommendations at work and don’t forget to check with your IT department, make sure you get the appropriate clearances. Of course, in the mean time you can also invest on a good headphone for the time when you really need to block noise out, just don’t deafen yourselves :)
More coding and IT related articles coming up, stay tuned!
1. Concerning Interruptions, Jenkins, 2006 (IEEE Computer vol. 36, Nov 2006)