my coworker abuses our office IM program

A reader writes:

I have a problem that is a minor thing in the grand scheme of things, but it is really starting to get on my nerves.

My office uses an instant messaging system, in addition to email, to communicate since 95% of the team works from home. It’s a pretty standard system with various “status” buttons we can use to indicate our availability.

Most coworkers seem to actually pay attention to what the status indicators mean, but Bran just doesn’t get it. He’ll IM no matter what that status says. The worst are the IMs when I have deliberately set my status to “away.” Urgent or time sensitive matters I can understand, but the IMs are never about anything like that. Most are vaguely about a mutual project, but not one where I have significant input. They all start with the dreaded “Hi Arya.”

This is really starting to aggravate me. I’ll be enjoying my lunch (status: AWAY) and those darn IM chimes will go off (Bran, of course) and will put me in a foul mood the rest of the day. Very harsh words have been directed toward those chimes…

Of course, there is no email explaining the contact, like most coworkers would do next, after seeing the away status. Just the “Hi Arya.”

I have tried to respond to these notes with “what’s up?” to little or no response.

I have escalated to: “I was away, water dance practice, what did you need?” and “sorry, I set my status to away to avoid interruptions. Sansa needs the list completed today.”

I have flatly told this coworker that I prefer emails for non-urgent issues so I can maintain focus on my current tasks.

Nothing stops them.

What else can I do?

In Bran’s defense, he may be IM’ing you when you’re set to “away” because he just figures you’ll see it at whatever point you’re back. He probably thinks “away” is intended as helpful info for him (so that he knows not to expect an immediate response) rather than meaning “don’t contact me right now.”

If it’s driving you mad, one option is to sign out of IM when you’re eating at your desk or otherwise don’t want to be bothered by chiming IMs. Or you could change it to something like “on deadline; please email” if that would fly in your office culture.

Beyond that, though, I’d say to be more direct, and then starting ignoring him.

You’ve told Bran that you prefer email for non-urgent email, but that’s not actually as direct as saying, “Please don’t IM me unless it’s urgent.” So say that.

Then, if he continues to do it anyway, ignore the IMs since they don’t sound particularly urgent. Or, if you can’t ignore him entirely, you can always respond a few hours later when it’s convenient, and say something like “What’s up?” or “I’m only seeing this now — it’s better to email me.”

I think this is annoying you so much because it feels like Bran is demanding immediate attention. But while it’s true that the medium is designed for instant communication, that doesn’t mean that you have to use it that way. Instead, look at it the same way you look at email, at least where he’s concerned.

However, you’ll probably never be able to stop the annoying “Hi Arya” messages — those are pretty common and some people find them annoying and others don’t, and they’re just part of working in an office that uses IM.

{ 378 comments… read them below }

  1. fnom*

    At least in our office, we have Busy/Away and Do Not Disturb as separate statuses. Our laptops automatically switch us to Busy/Away when the laptop is locked. Do Not Disturb, on the other hand, prevents IMs from coming through, notifies the sender that the recipient can’t receive IMs at this time, and puts the message in an email in the Conversation History folder in Outlook. Sounds like OP wants DND rather than Busy/Away, at least in the way our system works.

    1. Roscoe*

      Yes, I wrote something similar. In the system I use DND messages will show up in the chat, but it won’t notify you about it. No flashing message or sound. I think that may be what OP wants

    2. Trout 'Waver*

      I think the problem here is that OP probably would interrupt their lunch or whatever if the issue was critical. So setting it to DND frequently might mean delays in sensitive or critical tasks if people with actual critical issues were dissuaded by a DND message.

      1. Triplestep*

        You can group people in different categories, some of which can get through the DND and some that can’t. She can even make a category just for Bran to keep him from interrupting while everyone else can get through!

        That said, I agree with Alison’s interpretation. “Away” is for the benefit if people contacting you so they don’t expect an immediate response. Bran is just testing the waters when he says “Hi”; he doesn’t want to launch into his IM if you’re really away or possibly on a call. This is not an abuse of the IM system. It’s pretty common in me experience.

        1. Puffyshirt*

          I agree. It’s interesting to me that the OP is so put off by Bran’s approach. While I’m sure he can be annoying, this sounds like a pretty normal use of IM. I agree with the others here. Feel free to put off IMs while you are listed as “away” and respond when you have a natural context switch.

          1. Anonny*

            I thought it was interesting that the OP categorized his IMing as “abuse of our office IM program” when I read it as “using IM for it’s intended purpose.”

            1. The OP (Arya the Away)*

              Not my title. My title was ‘Being away means nothing’. Bran is not abusing IM. He just ignores status, unlike the rest of the team.

              1. LouiseM*

                Interesting! Your subject line seems much more apt–the title of this post really colored my view of the letter and made me think you were being unreasonable to your coworker (since like many people, I wouldn’t view this as an “abuse” of IM). So funny how much difference a few words in the title can make for our reading of the whole letter.

                1. Specialk9*

                  Me too!

                  But yeah, this is pretty normal IM stuff. It’s fine to be annoyed, but it’s a pretty unusual reaction and more of a You thing than a Him thing.

              2. Seriously?*

                Does your IM system have the ability to have a status specifically for him so that you can block him when you are “away”?

            2. Terg*

              I am completely of OP’s mindset, except I know that we’re in the minority. To me, it just feels like IM really *ought* to be used differently than it is. It should be used for urgent matters, and definitely not to just say “hi”. But I have trained myself to take a deep breath and quietly recite, “We’re all on the same team,” whenever someone IMs me and it really helps! Of course, sometimes I still just ignore it, but at least I’m not mad about it anymore!

              1. Terg*

                Now I see the OP didn’t choose the terminology “abusing IM”. I stand by my belief that anytime you find yourself saying “hi” on IM and then waiting for a response…you’re abusing IM! If it’s not so urgent you need to immediately tell them what’s going on, you should’ve emailed! That’s what I think!

                1. Rusty Shackelford*

                  Is it horribly old-fashioned of me to think that if you need to immediately tell someone something, you should call them? To me, the hierarchy of urgency goes:

                  1. phone call
                  2. IM
                  3. email

                2. Mallory Janis Ian*

                  It’s funny to me that IM is considered the most urgent category, because in the past three offices I’ve worked in, IM is used ONLY socially among work friends to arrange lunches, chat, or make an exasperated asides about the coworker who sends an email and immediately shows up at your desk to make you read it while she watches.

                3. SarcasticFringehead*

                  @Rusty – I don’t think you’re necessarily old-fashioned in that belief, but besides being hugely dependent on office culture, I take different approaches for different people. If I’m trying to reach our helpdesk person, who’s often away from his desk and in a position where he can’t take calls (walking a c-suite person through something, for instance), the fastest way is by email (it would be by IM, but we don’t have IM yet). The quickest way to reach me is by phone, but the quickest way to get a coherent answer to your question is by email, because I write better than I talk.

                4. zora*

                  “If it’s not so urgent you need to immediately tell them what’s going on, you should’ve emailed! ”

                  I AGREE. Weirdly, I posted about this on the open thread on Friday, this is one of my pet peeves recently.

                5. Anonymous Pterodactyl*

                  A friend of mine wrote an excellent bit on this subject a while back! When he wrote it he was talking about IRC pings because that’s what was in use at our company at the time, but it really applies to any form of instant messenger. It was reposted on a blog and can be accessed here:

                  (Key section: “A ping with no data is essentially a command. It’s passive-aggressive; it implies that the recipient’s time is less valuable than yours. The pingee will respond in one (or both) of two ways. Either they will experience increased stress due to increased unpredictable demands on their time, or they will simply ignore naked pings.”)

                6. Kelsi*

                  @Rusty–at my office, we don’t have IM, and trying to reach someone by phone is like trying to win the lottery by picking up other people’s dropped tickets. Therefore the order of urgency goes more like this:

                  1. Email copying their supervisor
                  2. Email marked “urgent”
                  3. Stopping by their desk (if possible) and making a hopeful puppy dog face
                  4. Email not marked “urgent”

              2. Kyrielle*

                I wonder if this is a “different environments” sort of thing. At a previous job, phone calls were used for emergency and very urgent matters. IM was for matters that need a response “as soon as it’s convenient” and email for things that needed a response “eventually” (or that needed lengthy background, in which case an IM of ‘I am about to send you a lengthy email on this, but basically, topic X’ might show up just before the email did).

                You absolutely IMed people who were away. Sometimes they weren’t, their computer had just set them that way, but in any case it allowed for a somewhat-synchronous dialog at the first convenient moment vs. a total interruption or a “when convenient” exchange with (usually) a lot more pauses (as with email).

                Mind you, 1) you NEVER expected a quick response when someone was away – they’d get to it when they did; and 2) you put it in DND if you didn’t want alerts/interruptions.

                That was the normal/expected way to use that in that office. (The normal way to use IM in my current group is to not install or use it at all.)

                1. tangerineRose*

                  That’s how I’ve used IM, too. I don’t use it just to say hi though. If I have a question, and the person who’s most likely to be able to answer it is away, I might send an IM or an e-mail asking the question.

                2. Rusty Shackelford*

                  @tangerineRose, I don’t think Bran was using it to just say hi. I think that was his way of checking to see if the OP was available.

                3. Kathleen_A*

                  At my office, we basically use IM only when the person’s status indicates that they’re at their computer and available. Everything else is done face to face, by email or by phone. Text is also a possibility, but by unspoken rule, it’s used only when speed is important *and* the person you’re trying to contact is away from his or her desk.

                  That said, a message indicating “Hey, I wonder if you might be available despite your status indicator” (which is how I interpret Bran’s messages) wouldn’t bother most people here, or at least so I think.

                4. Specialk9*

                  Yeah. Not to mention, red “busy” is a status that the system puts you in automatically when you have a scheduled meeting, but you may still be able to send off a quick chat or your mtg may have wrapped up early. I wouldn’t notice the difference between busy and away.

                5. ElinorD*

                  I worked in a department for Large Company where, at least I thought, IM availability was used to show that you were working, not whether you were available for questions. Red for was for urgent meetings, or “off the clock.” The supervisor that hired me quit, and worked remotely for her last week. She figured out how to make her availability “green” the whole last week while never actually being there. It sucks because I had questions… Anyway, for us, the availability button was when you were “on” for work hours. But that was just that dept, which was very toxic and messed up.

              3. Someone else*

                Mallory Janis Ian, I think the difference is it sounds like you’re describing literally being in offices. If 95% of the company is remote, an IM is equivalent to walking up to someones door/desk and knocking or just starting to talk to them. At least, that’s how it’s always been treated where I worked. IMs replace the physical inability to just walk up to someone.

                1. SpiderLadyCEO*

                  This, so much. While a lot of my coworkers are at headquarters, the majority of my department is remote, so IMs are where we do all of our socializing as well as urgent/less urgent communications. Nothing goes to email or phone, at all – but we can also turn off notifications as needed.

              4. Jennifer Thneed*

                I don’t use IM for anything truly urgent, because I don’t *know* that it got there unless the other person responds. Ditto email. If something is truly urgent, I’m on the phone or on my feet walking to their desk.

            3. Someone else*

              Interesting. At my company we actually have a written policy on when to IM vs email vs phone vs meeting. IMs are specifically indicated for “I need a response NOW” and “the exchange is expected to be short”. So, in my office, even though I see the OP has clarified they wouldn’t have framed it that way, what Bran’s doing would constitute if not abuse of IMs, misuse of IMs.

              1. Someone else*

                Also should’ve said, where I work it’s not an unwritten rule that you only IM people if their status is set to available. It’s a written rule. But I can see how in other offices, if there isn’t anything written about this, you’re sort of subject to the whims of everyone’s personal preferences of what constitutes “proper IM protocol.” Besides the fact that our written policy happens to align with my personal preference, I think just the fact that we do literally have a written policy is a great thing and would probably be useful if it were more common. Some people will still probably do whatever they feel like, but then the pushback is 100% not personal or about if one is annoying another or not. It’s just “this is how we use this tool”.

          2. Antilles*

            Essentially, what Bran is doing is the online equivalent of leaving a “call me when you get back” post-it note on your chair – you are not at your desk (or you’re *saying* you are, anyways), so Bran just leaves a note that you can address whenever you ‘get back in’.

            1. LeRainDrop*

              That’s how I view it, too. I don’t understand why what Bran is doing gets on OP’s nerves.

          3. MM*

            I can sympathize with OP. I tend to find IM systems of any kind incredibly stressful, because I feel like I’m meant to pay attention to it like I would any other real-time conversation, like on the phone; but also I know nobody else feels that way, and so I tend to feel sort of trapped into a conversation I can’t set aside to do anything else, or frustrated because I’m giving someone my full attention and they aren’t doing the same. (Texts don’t cause this anxiety, but facebook messenger does, for example). I know explicitly that this is not how most people use these interfaces, but I cannot seem to get rid of this sense of obligation. I think given that this is a work IM, it’s probably something similar; OP feels a duty to pay attention to these incoming pings and take them seriously, and so she feels like her coworkers are abusing the seriousness. The answer for OP is definitely to try and recalibrate how important the pings are, just like I could benefit from taking social IMIng more casually. (I’ve had no success in this and so mostly just try to get people to migrate to email or texts instead, which may or may not be a useful path to head down for OP.)

            1. Windchime*

              Yeah, those aren’t super popular where I work, either. Much better to say, “Hi Arya, I have a quick question about the Penske file if you have a moment”. Otherwise, it’s just an interruption for someone to say “Hi” and nothing else.

              1. Optimistic Prime*

                I also really hate the “Hey, do you have a moment to chat?” or the variation, “Do you have a moment to hop on a quick call?” It depends on what the call is about, and since you are IMing me you could always slip in 1-2 sentences about what you WANT.

                1. Gatomon*

                  Yes, me too! Don’t make me pry it out of you with a bunch of back and forth — it’s not an actual conversation. If you’re going to do that, just call me.

                  Except don’t because I hate phone calls….

            2. Optimistic Prime*

              That’s really the only objection I have to this. I have a point to make my first IM message a full message with the intent of the communication in it. (Unless I’m just shooting the shit with some coworkers, which also happens.)

              1. nonegiven*

                Just like voicemail. Don’t leave a message saying call me back, tell me wtf you want. I’m not calling you back to ask what you want. Leave a voicemail telling me what you want, or don’t bother calling.

                1. SittingDuck*

                  YES! My dad does this all the time. I have a missed call – I see that you called and I will call you back when I get the chance – don’t leave me a voicemail saying simply “Hi its Dad (duh) call me back”
                  I HATE checking voicemails and tend to just let them sit on my phone until the icon annoys me so much i go in a delete them.

                  If you really need to be sure I know to call you back, send a text!

            3. Nanani*


              The only worse message than a context free “hi” is a context fee “Call me as soon as you see this”

              Worst of all possible systems.

            4. MoreCoffee*

              We do that “hi” message in my company in case the recipient is sharing their screen in a meeting and don’t want queries shown to the whole audience. Then if they don’t respond, we DON’T follow up. Otherwise it can happen as it happened to me with a boss’s boss im-ing me something very negative about the team I was currently in a meeting with and sharing my screen for them all to see….

          4. Clewgarnet*

            There seem to be two different groups when it comes to IMs! There are some people I deal with who like to do a “Hi, how are you? Everything good?” small talk before telling me what they’re actually contacting me for, which drives me up the wall because it completely pulls me away from what I’m currently working on in order to deal with them.

            In contrast, “Hi, Clewgarnet. Could you tell me where I can find the NDD for Project X?” means I can quickly send them the info without having to put my current task on hold.

            1. Bostonian*

              I hate the IM small talk, too. Whenever I get the “Hi Bostonian, how are you?” IM, I always want so bad to respond with, “What do you want?”

          5. Traffic_Spiral*

            He sounds annoying, but LW sounds like they’re stewing in their own passive-aggressiveness. Just have a talk with him and be like “if I’m away, please don’t IM me if it’s not an emergency, also, please don’t just IM ‘hi.’ If you need to say something, say it.” Then, next time he IMs ‘hi’ at lunch, respond “is this an emergency?” If he replies ‘no,’ respond “then please wait until I’m back – remember we talked about this?”

            A few times and it’ll break him of the habit.

            1. Annie Moose*

              Or just… don’t IM him back at all. Until you’re back from being away.

              If you’re away and not looking at IM messages, then just… don’t look at IM messages. If you’re eating lunch and therefore not working, don’t look at IM messages. If you respond when your status is “away”, you’ll train people that “away” doesn’t mean anything. If you only respond when your status is “available”, you’ll train people that if they want an immediate response, they have to wait until you are available.

              If something is a real emergency, he’s going to find an alternate means to contact you, or will contact someone else, or will continue contacting you until he gets a response.

          6. memyselfandi*

            But the writer notes that others in the office do not behave like Bran, so from the POV of her office culture, Bran is out of step.

        2. Anion*

          Yes. I email my agent/editors when they’re away fairly often; it doesn’t mean I expect them to drop what they’re doing, it means I might forget to email after they return or I want to give them a heads-up or whatever. I don’t expect a reply until after they get back (unless it’s an emergency, in which case I’ll say so).

          1. Someone else*

            You’re making a very nice argument supporting that Bran should be emailing and not IMing these messages.

            1. Anononon*

              Eh. Except a lot of people see IM and email as essentially equivalent, so they would just use the more common one.

            2. nonegiven*

              Or he shouldn’t say hi and leave it hanging. IM the message or email it or leave a voicemail, what he wants, not “hi.”

        3. animaniactoo*

          Yes, I was wondering if setting just Bran up as part of a group she can set to DND would be possible with the office’s messaging client, or whether it’s something she’s not supposed to do even if it is possible.

        4. Eye of Sauron*

          Jumping and haven’t gotten too far in the comments.

          I work with people who are always ‘away’. Yet 95% of the time when I IM them I get a response right away. Meaning they forgot to change their status, they are hiding (but not from me), or I’m being annoying and ruining their day.

          So I guess if I were the OP, first thing I would do would be to get rid of the chimes, that should lesson the aggravation, second learn to ignore IMs until when you are ready to deal with them. I’m a firm believer in taking control of communication. Just because you got the “Hi Arya” doesn’t mean you have to respond immediately.

        5. Sam.*

          I will do this – leave an IM for someone, assuming they’ll get back to it later. But I’d never just say, “Hi,” and leave it at that. I would also find that annoying – what’s the point unless you’re expecting conversation? I guess I think of it more like voice mail, so it’d be a brief, non-urgent question or request waiting for them when they have a minute. And, yes, that could totally go in an email, but most of my coworkers get enough emails that they prefer a more casual medium for one-liner questions.

        6. essEss*

          This is especially true in my office. Our system automatically sets us to ‘away’ if there is a meeting on our calendar at that time. Many times that meeting is a conference call/ status meeting where we spend the time just listening and we have a lot of ability to still read and respond to i/ms. So unless a person is DND, we send messages even when we see “away” or “busy”. If the person is really busy or away, they just don’t respond until they are ready and we already know to expect this probably delay because of the status.

    3. Aitch Arr*

      This is what I was thinking as well.

      For me personally, I prefer IMs with short questions/requests to yet another email.

    4. The Bimmer Guy*

      We just implemented this thing in Slack where we have numbers as our statuses to indicate “gears”, like in a car transmission. A higher gear means you’re less available because you’re fast at work. Right now, I’m in “5th gear”, which means I’d like to keep interruptions at a minimum, because I’m very busy.

  2. Roscoe*

    Do you have a “Do Not Disturb” mode you can put on? I’ve found those to be great.

    I’m actually going to defend him a bit. Depending on the program you use, if you just have the chat window open and don’t actually have up your entire contact list, it doesn’t actually show people’s status. I know I have definitely messaged people only to realize that it was set to something like “Away”. Also, sometimes there is a quick thing you need to ask someone, and if they say “hi Arya” or something else, and get no answer, they can move on to someone else. Do you possibly not like him for other reason? Because this seems a bit strong of a reaction for work IM. It may not be great etiquette, and a mild annoyance, but its not that bad.

    1. Connie-Lynne*

      The “hi” with no further context is the worst. I won’t answer them. Tell me why you’re reaching out, so I can evaluate how urgent my response should be.

      1. Ray Gillette*

        Same. I never respond to just a “hello”. I don’t have time to do the dance to where you get to the point you tell me why you are IMing me.

          1. Windchime*

            No. I don’t want to have to play 20 questions. Tell me what you need help with: “Hey PJ, I’m having trouble with the lock on the Llama Shearing door and I heard you might have a key. Can I borrow it?”. Don’t just say “Help!” and expect me to coax it out of you.

  3. Work Wardrobe*

    If I’m understanding the letter correctly, Bran just messages “Hi Arya” without asking a question. Just HI and nothing else.

    I too would be driven mad by that.

    1. Samiratou*

      I will do that by way of greeting and to see if someone is available to chat. I don’t generally do it when they’re away, as I assume they won’t see it, but it’s a pretty standard convention at my workplace.

        1. Samiratou*

          He could also mean it as “ping me when you get a chance” which would be better stated explicity, but whatever. Kind of the IM equivalent of an email with the subject “Got a minute?”

          Our IM program will also show people as “Away” when they’ve just IM’d me, so sometimes it can be hard to interpret what the yellow status indicator really means.

          But this is why most IM programs have an explicit “do not disturb” status or the ability to set custom statuses for stuff like this.

          1. tangerineRose*

            That’s a good point. I personally prefer people to just ask a question. I mean, sure, start with “hi” but include the question in your IM. Otherwise, first I’m distracted by the “hi”, which I can do little about, then I’m a little distracted because I’m waiting for the question.

            1. Trillion*

              Me too, but I know it’s a -me- thing so I try not to get too bothered by it. (It doesn’t work, I’m super bothered by it)

          2. Rusty Shackelford*

            Our IM program will also show people as “Away” when they’ve just IM’d me, so sometimes it can be hard to interpret what the yellow status indicator really means.

            I’m pretty sure ours shows me as “unavailable” any time I have something blocked out on my calendar, which means that if a meeting was scheduled to last until noon but it got done at 11:00 and I’m in my office, it still shows me as “unavailable” unless I go in and change it.

          3. KTM*

            Yes this is exactly how I’ve seen it used (and how I do too). Everyone at my job here tends to send a message that says ‘Hey KTM’ or ‘Hi’ to see if I’m available and then follows up with a question when I respond (either immediately or later).

        2. Cordoba*

          I interpret it as a polite request to “IM back when you’re available”.

          It’s the same as a voicemail saying “call me when you have a minute to talk”.

          1. cutie honey*

            i feel like that’s a lot of interpretation…..if that’s what he wanted, why not say so??

            1. Puffyshirt*

              I had a boss who informed me she used the greeting “hi Arya” to be friendly and let me know she wasn’t ticked. But if she just started in without that pleasantry, she was irritated by something. Lol

            2. LouiseM*

              I think the point is that different people mean different things when they communicate. Based on the OP’s letter, it seems like she should just assume that Bran’s “Hi, Arya!” is a preamble to asking a work question. It’s sort of like how when you go to someone’s desk to ask a question you usually greet them first.

          2. Aurion*

            “Call me when you have a minute to talk” is also really useless as a voicemail. Without knowing the subject, I don’t know how to triage it. You want to talk about the llama grooming project draft due in two months? You’re getting bumped down to the bottom of the list. You want to talk about the teapot glaze that’s being exhibited next week? Incoming call in two minutes.

            The maxim for asynchronous communication should always be “get to the point.”

            1. Anonny*

              Ugh, “call me when you have a sec” voice mails are even worse than “email me back when you have a minute” emails!!

              YOU are reaching out to me! Tell me what you need! Or, IM me and say, “when you have a sec, I need to talk to you, what’s the best time/method to reach you?” I cannot stand having to call a person and ask them why they called me.

              Life of an insanely busy project manager, I guess. I will help you with flipping EVERYTHING UNDER THE SUN, if you communicate clearly and politely with me and don’t make me guess anything or pull info out of you slowly and painfully.

              1. tangerineRose*

                Right! If the person tells me what they want or at least part of it, then when I get back to the person, if I get their voice mail, I can at least be somewhat helpful.

              2. Queen of Cans & Jars*

                Agree 100%! It will almost always save a lot of time if you can give a heads-up as to what you’re asking about so that I can at least have the information on whatever it is handy when I call back.

              3. Cordoba*

                I agree that this guy’s communication is inefficient and could stand to be improved.

                However, I don’t think the behavior as presented is at all unusual, evidence of rudeness or ill-intent, or something that rises to the level of “abusing” the IM program.

            2. Alli525*

              I wholeheartedly agree with this. I’m super uninterested in pings (of any kind – VM, email, slack, etc.) where they can’t just lead with the lede.

            3. Parenthetically*

              UGH YES.

              The last “call me when you have a minute” message I got was about the death of a relative. The one before that was about my school closing. Approximately infinity other ones have been over little nothings. There’s no way to prepare for stuff like that and I hate it.

              1. Traffic_Spiral*

                Yup. My brother asked that my mom and I (we were on vacation) call him, and I was like “well, he’s proposed to his girlfriend or someone’s dead.” Thankfully it was the former, but really, those are about the only situations where a “call me back” message is needed.

      1. LSP*

        If I see anything other that “available” for my coworkers in IM, I email them. If they do appear to be available, I’ll say “hi” and then immediately follow up with my question. Just saying “hi” and not following up would be frustrating to me, so I don’t do that to others.

        1. Triplestep*

          If the LW is not responding to “Hi”, Bran is not going to keep going. That’s pretty standard in my experience. If the IM programs didn’t allow people to set their status to “Away” when they are not away, this saying “Hi” and nothing else wouldn’t be a common thing people do. Because “Do not disturb” is also a choice, I think it’s reasonable for people not to know that “Away” might mean “Don’t even try to IM me”

          1. Anonny*

            I read “away” to mean “stepped away” (in a meeting, getting a coffee, in the bathroom, talking to the person next to me). To me it means, send me that IM and I’ll see it soon when I’m back at my desk.

            I read “do not disturb” as “I’m in a meeting or doing a task that can’t be disrupted but I AM working right now.” To me it means, please don’t message me right now, wait until you see that I’m not in DND mode.

            I read “logged out entirely” as “I’m not working right now, you can go ahead and send those messages but I won’t receive or read them until the next time I’m working.”

      2. TootsNYC*

        My team has just started using Slack, and I haven’t heard of anyone doing this “Hi, Toots” thing. If we have something to convey or to ask, we say it. We treat it much more like an email than a conversation (or a text message–though only my son does the “Hi, Mom” thing, and I’m trying to wean him off of that).

        maybe it’s because the first use of Slack for us was to track workflow, so we were posting messages in channels saying, “project list to John” or other statement of meaningful fact. So I think that has made us consider the IM to be a place to use meaningful communication, not a place to chat casually.

        1. Nerfmobile*

          Slack is nice because it can be synchronous like IM, but it is also intentionally asynchronous so you have a full history and can go read things at any time later.

          1. Academic Addie*

            This, to me, is the killer feature of Slack. You can drop something into the conversation at any time. If someone is on do not disturb, they see the message and all of the historical context when they’re prepared to receive it.

    2. Not Tom, just Petty*

      Same question/comment here. We don’t have IM, because we all sit on top of each other, so please help me clarify.
      Bran accesses his IM program, sees a list of names each showing a status. Arya – Busy/Away
      and then he IMs “hi, Arya.”
      Is he one of those social people who misses the constant interaction of an office? Because he should rethink his work environment. He should also rethink how much he needs to involve his coworkers with helping him through his day.
      I really, really REALLY loathe the people who kill me with kindness. ” I was just saying hi, offering help, trying to include you.”
      No, you were trying to fulfill some need (social/business/diet – eat a cupcake with me!) of your own.

      1. Triplestep*

        More likely he’s reaching out to see if she’s there and can IM about some work thing before he continues. People can set to “Away” staus while they are working, so this practice is not uncommon. It’s doubtful he’s trying to kill her with kindness.

      2. TootsNYC*

        maybe he doesn’t see the list of names and statuses?

        I’ve only used Slack, but I don’t see any list of names; I open the application, type “command/K,” and type in the name of the person I want to message, and hit return.
        I don’t know whether I’d get an “away” flag, though–but it might be easy to look past those.

        Maybe he just doesn’t pay any attention to that at all.

      3. LouiseM*

        I think this is a pretty huge stretch based on the letter. Nothing the OP said suggests to me that Bran is trying to make small talk all day because he’s lonely. It sounds like he just has a slightly different communication style than she prefers.

        1. Not Tom, just Petty*

          I was wondering because she writes that he only sends her “Hi, Arya.”
          And he seems to do it more than once.
          I was also wondering about whether he knows her status is “busy” until he messages.

        2. LBK*

          Yeah, what? He’s not *literally* just saying “hi, Arya” and that’s all he wants to say. The OP’s frustration is that he’s just saying that and waiting for a response from her before he asks his question, whereas the OP would prefer he just get to the point. I don’t see anything indicating he’s just trying to make small talk.

          1. BeenThere*

            Oh this sounds like a whole other article! For reference I’m a very direct get to the point person and I get in trouble at American companies for it. I generally try to let people know me for a few months so they understand I’m not demanding. evil, rude.

            1. London Expat*

              Might be a cultural thing, but I’d say Americans are good at quickly at getting to the point, it’s my Indian colleagues who do this. First message is “Hi Arya” (while my status is “Away” of course) and then when I try to get them on task by responding “What can I help you with?” They respond with, “How are you?” It generally takes 3-4 messages back and forth with them saying pleasantries and me getting more and more irate until I can get out of them what they need. I’m an American though, so perhaps it’s just that I’m from the “get to the point” culture while their office needs the social niceties which drive me batty.

    3. CurrentlyLooking*

      I agree that the “Hi Arya” is annoying and inefficient.

      If he has a question, then he could just as easily simply type it in. It is a waste of OPs time to respond then have to wait for the actual question.

      1. tangerineRose*

        “It is a waste of OPs time to respond then have to wait for the actual question.” This!

      2. LBK*

        Okay, but it’s also, like…a 30 second waste. I get that it’s annoying but it’s also not the end of the world, and if for some reason it does take him 10 minutes to write out his question, there’s nothing that stops you from just continuing to work while he types.

        This is why I love IM, because it enables multitasking much better than the phone or someone showing up at my desk. The whole purpose of asynchronous communication is so you are not at the whim of the person contacting you. No one is going to freak out if you let their IM sit for a few minutes while you wrap up what you’re working on.

        1. KTM*

          Yeah, to me the ‘Hi Arya’ is the best way to see if someone’s available… Kind of like knocking on a door and saying ‘got a minute?’ before just jumping right into the question. I personally would feel less polite if I just sent a question over IM without preface.

        2. BeenThere*

          It’s not 30 seconds if you are a knowledge worker with a high context switch cost, this is where the annoyance comes in.

          1. Optimistic Prime*

            I’m a knowledge worker with a high context switch cost. “Hi Arya” is 1) yes, about 30 seconds in my experience and 2) even if not, far less costly than Bran coming to my desk or calling me on the phone to ask me the same question. (Quite frankly, the IM is less costly than the email, too, because the chat window is easier to multitask in than Outlook.)

    4. Teapot Tester*

      This is one of my pet peeves. If you have a question, ask it. “Hi Arya” alone with no other context drives me banana crackers. “Hi Arya, what’s your ETA on XYZ?” is not going to raise my ire like “Hi Arya” alone will. I feel like it adds extra unnecessary back and forth for me to reply, “Hi, what’s up?” before I know what they want.

      1. TootsNYC*

        my son does this when he texts me: “Hi Mom”

        I’ve started replying, “if you have a question, just ask it right away, even if I’m not by my phone. Then I’ll see it and can give you the answer without worrying whether you’re in class.”

        That’s what I’d do w/ a Bran-type persona t work:
        them: “Hi, Toots”
        me: “if you have a question or need me to do something, just tell me that. don’t make me wait for you to answer my question about what you want.”

        I also wouldn’t answer. I’d wait for the follow-up.

        I wouldn’t say “what’s up,” I’d just issue this order every time.

        1. LavaLamp*

          Usually if my coworker is set as away or whatever I just ask them to IM/Email me back when they’re done, or ask if it’s a good time. If it’s time sensitive or super important then I usually go speak to them in person if I can. For me the ‘away’ status is that you’ve gone off and you’re computer is sitting idle. If we’re busy we usually use the busy status to convey that. Away generally just means ‘not at desk’ in my experience with both IM culture and the way it’s used at my work.

        2. Teapot Tester*

          This just feels…rude to me. Telling your son to ask right away is one thing, but to say “don’t make me wait for you to answer” to a coworker is brusque and off-putting.

        3. Yolo*

          This is fascinating–my mother texts me “what are you doing” with no other content and it freaks me out every time, but she apparently thinks it’s millenial-speak? I would much prefer a “hi” first, even if at the beginning of the same message. It just gives the message much more of a “this is no big deal” conversational feeling. Clearly everyone comes down somewhere different on this.

    5. EB*

      Yeah I bristled when I read that. I have a coworker that is not particularly tech savvy that will message “Hi EB” and then wait until I’ve responded to ask her question, even if it’s a full hour later because I was in a meeting. I think any office that uses any kind of IM should have specific rules set up around using it because I also deal with the opposite end of the spectrum where people will type a short essay into the chat box.

      1. Eye of Sauron*

        See and I think this is appropriate of your coworker. If you’re busy and can’t respond you won’t. But if you do then you all move on with life.

        I’d much rather get a “Hi EOS” Just like I’d rather have someone walk into my office and start off with a “Hey what’s up” rather than launch into a request or question.

    6. JessaB*

      This, if he is going to go “Hi, Arya,” it needs to be “Hi, Arya, can you send me the framistat report when you get back?” or “Hi, Arya, can you please call Tyrion as soon as you get back, he’s making me nuts about the singularity project.” (Gah I have to reach for GOT people, I only saw a few episodes early, I really want Harry to bug Roxy for awhile.)

      But my point is merely, “Hi, OP,” is not a message. If you really don’t need help this minute and want to know when they’re back ask. If you really want them to DO something when they get back SAY so. Don’t just leave “Hi, OP,” as a message.

    7. Nerine*

      That’s what I thought. An ex-coworker would always start off by writing

      Hi Nerine,


      And that would drive me nuts. Like, either write Hi Nerine, I was wondering about blabla, or then DON’T PUT A COMMA. Put an exclamation mark! A question mark? Even a full stop. Or nothing

      1. Eye of Sauron*

        lol… I must have the attention span of a gnat, because I’d see that and think ‘huh’ then go back to what I was doing.

    8. essEss*

      That’s pretty common at my office too. Usually it is just a precursor to let you respond back once you are available. It’s like a quick notice to you that they want to talk once you are free.

    9. BeenThere*

      This behavior drives me mad so I don’t reward people that practice it. I ignore any IM that is a greeting with no call to action. It nips all the passive/aggressive folk who like to ping you as soon as they see you go to away or they know you are at your desk however you appear offline. It has the added bonus that they can’t complain I didn’t respond to an issue because I wasn’t aware and assumed they were just saying Hi :)

      I also have a rule that if it is urgent and you are remote, use a phone. IM and Email aren’t for urgent escalations.

    10. SusanIvanova*

      I had a team on *another continent* do that. They’d have a question, but they felt like they had to say “hello” first – even though we told them to just ask. So the conversation would look like this (all in my time):

      6PM Monday – them: Hello
      9AM Tues – me: Hello, did you have a problem?
      6PM Tues – them: Yes, it’s …
      9AM Weds – me: OK, you should do…

      If they’d just asked the question in the first place, they’d have an answer the same day they asked it!

    11. Elisabeth*

      I have a coworker who is, by and large, a wonderful human being. But at least a few times a day she IMs me with just this message: “elisabeth”

      JUST my name. all lower caps. WHAT DO YOU WANT?

      1. JCB*

        omigod this making me laugh so hard! seriously…. how is a person supposed to respond to that?? dying!

  4. Mom MD*

    I doubt he’s doing it out of malice. He probably just thinks you will get to it when you can. Turn off IM if you want zero interruptions.

    1. Becky*

      I will often send an IM to a coworker who is out to lunch or off for the day prefaced with a “For tomorrow: {message/question} I really am not expecting any response immediately.

  5. Margo the Destroyer*

    Same here. I send IMs when people are away and just say hey, when you get a chance, etc. I set to do not disturb if I really don’t want to be bothered.

      1. Margo the Destroyer*

        My manager has tons of emails to wade through, so there is a better chance of getting a question answered quicker via IM.

      2. Anonny*

        In my experience it’s because NO ONE wants emails in their inboxes going “got a second? email me when you get back!” It just contributes to inbox clutter and answering it becomes a task on the to-do list instead of a quick off the cuff conversation.

        In my workplace, IM is the equivalent of popping up from your desk and talking to someone. Email is a much more formal way of documenting things that have to be on record, or formalizing tasks in a way that the inbox can be used as a way to organize work. It’s not meant for conversation. Like in my workplace, writing back “you’re welcome!” to a “thanks!” email is a cardinal sin. “Thanks” = email received, this is my friendly way of confirming that I saw your message and either appreciate it, or at least want you to know it’s on my radar. It doesn’t require a you’re welcome, which is a completely purposeless and irritating way to clutter an inbox.

        If someone I worked with emailed me, “got a minute?” I’d be like WTF is wrong with you – it’s just not something we do. Respect the inbox , don’t fill it with things that could be IMs or in person chats. If you IM me “got a minute?” I’ll write back when I DO have a minute, or if you poke your head over to my desk and say “got a minute, I’ll say “sure” or I’ll say “not this second, is it urgent? Can we talk in 15?” and we’ll go from there.

        Standard disclaimer: I’m sharing my experience. I get that not everyone will have the same one.

        1. TootsNYC*

          frankly, I don’t want any “got a minute?” direct messages either.

          Ask me the question already–at the very least, say, “I need to discuss X when you have 7 minutes.”

          1. Windchime*

            Same here. Whether or not I “got a minute” depends on what you have to say. If you want to talk about what you watched on TV last night, then no. If you need to know how to change the batteries in the llama shaver, then yes, I have time.

        2. CMart*

          Perfect explanation of how this works in my office as well.

          E-mail is for actual business that should have documentation. IM is for quick questions/clarification. You don’t have to delete IMs or move them to another folder.

        3. Becky*

          Often when I have a drop by question, I’ll send an IM saying–“Let me know when you have a moment to answer a question about X”

        4. Admin of Sys*

          In my work environment, a ‘ping’ or ‘hi’ or whatever will get responded to as soon as the person is back on their computer and up for a live chat. An email may or may not be responded to for a day or two, because corporate culture is to use im. Email is for something that requires a long response, a detailed file / chart / delivery, or a base ‘status update’, not an active communication channel.

        5. smoke tree*

          This is how my office uses IM as well. My guess is that Bran comes from a similar IM office culture, but Arya’s current office culture treats IM more like a phone call or text, so she tends to assume that IMs imply urgency.

        6. soon 2 be former fed*

          Don’t send thank you emails if you don’t want you’re welcome emails back. Its kind of hypocritical to send a thanks message but castigate someone for responding in kind. Both messages are clutter and easy to delete.

          1. Anonny*

            Depends on your established office norms. It’s not hypocritical here.

            Routine emails don’t need thanks.
            Some emails actually do deserve a sincere thanks and those occasionally get a “you’re welcome” or “don’t mention it” and that’s fine.
            Then there are emails where someone sends you something and you need, for the record trail, to confirm receipt, so you say “thanks,” or “ok, thanks” or “received, thanks.” It’s just a way of acknowledging “this is in my court now, I’m confirming I saw it, your message has been received” – it doesn’t literally mean “thank you, I need to express my gratitude.”

            If a person sends a “you’re welcome” to a “confirming receipt” thanks email, they’re weird. Out of the hundreds of internal teammates that communicate regularly with each other in my area of the company (and we are all aware of this established convention), we have literally ONE person who doesn’t understand this and for 2 years we’ve been telling her, “hey around here when someone JUST says ‘thanks’ in an email, it means they’re just acknowledging the email and you don’t have to say you’re welcome, in fact, you’re welcome just contributes to email clutter and it’s more helpful and polite if you DON’T say it!” yet she just cannot help herself. So we all started saying, “I’ve confirmed receipt of this message” instead of thanks and she STILL says “ok, you’re welcome!” And it’s SO strange and we all think it’s strange. Because we have an established norm in our little corner of the universe. In business communication, I think it’s pretty widely understood that “Thanks” may have an additional purpose outside of just “thank you” (like I described for ending a chain of emails and confirming receipt) but “you’re welcome” adds literally nothing to the conversation but clutter.

      3. Bea*

        The way people spot check emails around here, it’ll rot for a day or two in that mode. Unless it’s a long term project or long update IM tends to be the best in my experience.

      4. Beatrice*

        I usually send an email if someone is Away, but I might send an IM if:
        -It’s part of an ongoing IM conversation and I want to keep the history together in my IM folder because I think I’ll need to retrieve it sometime
        -The IM program lagged and showed a status other than Away before I hit ‘send’ – sometimes it shows the status last displayed and not the current status for a moment. So I’ll see Bob as Active when I pull up the IM window, but right after I send my “can you stop at my desk for a sec” message, it flips to Away, or worse, Offline 30 min.
        -The person has a history of contacting ME while their status is set to Away, and now I have eternal doubts about whether their statuses are accurate.
        -I know they’re are not actually away, or will be back any moment, because I can see them – usually, they’ve been talking to someone at their desk for a few minutes or stepped away for something quick like a coffee refill.

        1. Teapot Tester*

          Yes, your last two points are why I tend to ignore Away statuses. Often people don’t even realize they’re set to Away.

          1. LouiseM*

            Good point. I had to check what my status was–I basically never change it, and I’m sure I’m not alone in that.

      5. Rusty Shackelford*

        Oh, wow, why would you send an email for that kind of message? I hate that. Maybe because, if I’m out of the office for a minute (bathroom or whatever) and an email comes in while I’m gone, the notification disappears before I get back, but an IM will still be blinking at me.

        1. Trout 'Waver*

          Guess it’s just different cultures. I can flag and direct e-mails in ways I can’t with IMs. Also, our e-mail notifications are much more noticeable than our IM notifications.

          1. Trout 'Waver*

            Also, I wanted to add that I’m frequently traveling between multiple locations without a laptop. I have a work phone that does e-mail, text, and calls, but not IM. You’ll get a much faster response to an urgent request by any of those 3 other media, but not necessarily IMs. Just my own personal experience; other places are different.

    1. Mystery Bookworm*

      Agreed. If I have a communication I need to get off my to-do list, I’ll generally send it when it’s convenient for me, assuming that the person will look at it when it’s convenient for them.

      Whether I use IM or email tends to be related to whether this person is more responsive to email or IM (or a quick question vs. a long one) so OP may want to be thoughtful about that – if you’re more attentive to IMs than emails, rather than responsive based on the priority of the question, you might be reinforcing this habit that drives you bonkers!

    2. Teapot Tester*

      This is what I do as well. TBH I find that those automatic statuses in some IM programs are unreliable, and mine will say Away when I’m really there and working. So I just send my question and figure the person will reply when they get a chance. If they really didn’t want to be bothered they can log out or turn on DND.

  6. animaniactoo*

    Question One:

    Have you actually flat-out directly TOLD HIM “Please don’t message me when my status is set to “Away””?

    If not, then it is strongly possible that so far you’ve “hinted” at someone who doesn’t get “hints” and only gets “blunt and clear”.

    1. E*

      Is there a way to set up an auto-response in IM when your status is “away”? If you could have the system automatically ask folks to email you, that’d be easy enough to try. After enough automated responses reminding him to email you instead of IM, it might stick.

    2. MicroManagered*

      At least in my office, it would be really outside of norms to expect people not to IM you when your status is “away.” You’d seem very strange expecting that. Here, IMs are like a text and the assumption is that you’ll get to it when you get to it, even if you were in “Away” status when it was sent.

      I think OP is the one who needs to adjust her approach and either use “Do Not Disturb” status or log out of IM during lunch if she doesn’t want the interruption.

  7. Q*

    I used to have this problem. I would log out during my lunch so as not to be disturbed. Sometimes that wouldn’t be convenient for me because it closed all the windows and I need to keep some of them open. In that case, I would just automatically close the window for the person who kept bother bothering me. I eventually took great pleasure in clicking the X and saying goodbye.

  8. Cordoba*

    Some IM programs will let you block incoming messages or block them from everybody but your boss, etc. Maybe whatever program you’re using will let you do this.

    If not, when you don’t want to receive IM’s for a given amount of time can’t you just log out? Then nobody can send them to you.

    I work from home, and only activate my IM program when I actually want to receive IMs. Are there employers who require it to be on all the time or something like that?

    1. As Close As Breakfast*

      When I used to work for my local county government, the IM program came on whenever you logged into a work station and I don’t think there was any way to turn it off. The IT permissions were so tight on everything it was ridiculous. I remember once trying to change it so that the time out timing for going to ‘away’ was longer than 10 minutes and I couldn’t! Some of my work duties were such that I would be there working but not actually using the computer and I hated that from the perspective of someone looking at me on IM it might look like I was always not doing anything, but alas, I was left just wiggling the mouse every 9 minutes.

    2. Workerbee*

      I keep mine on when working from home as an added “Yes, I’m really working, you can see me because of my IM indicator!” perception.

  9. Ann O'Nemity*

    Lots of people use IM like Bran. It doesn’t sound abnormal at all. What sounds abnormal is that the OP has an Away status without being away and then sits there getting mad when someone messages them.

    1. Ann O'Nemity*

      Also, I like Alison’s advice to sign out. Or if your system allows it, set to Do Not Disturb so you’re not getting the notifications.

    2. The Person from the Resume*

      I agree with this. I’ll IM people marked away so that they can reply and initiate conversation upon return since the status tells me they are not currently at their desk. I’ll also IM people marked as in a meeting or busy b/c in my organization culture people IM while in meetings. Do Not Disturb prevents IMs from going through.

      It’s possible that Bran doesn’t understand his own office culture or maybe the LW doesn’t or maybe they both misunderstand a bit.

      OTOH I agree that a “Hi” IM without further communication is annoying.

      1. EMW*

        I’ll send a hi IM because sometimes they are busy or in a meeting that isn’t officially on their calendar. If they don’t respond within five minutes, I follow up with an email. It’s the equivalent of calling, and if they don’t answer, leaving a message on voicemail.

        1. Mike C.*

          That missed conversation often gets turned into an email anyway, so you’re sending two.

        2. g*

          I think good to follow up the hi with something useful, even if it’s simple

          10:00 – “Hi, a quick question about Project X if you’re available?”
          10:05 – “Okay I’ll send it over email”

    3. Roscoe*

      Ha, yeah. An away status, to me, doesn’t mean “don’t contact me”, it means “I’m not here and won’t respond to your message quickly”.

      1. MCMonkeyBean*

        Yeah, at my office I don’t think many people set their status manually. It switches to yellow “away” automatically if your computer has been idle for X number of minutes, and if you have a meeting on your calendar it switches to red “busy.” If someone is marked as yellow or red I might choose to send an email instead, but sometimes I still go the IM route and just assume they won’t see it until later.

        1. CMart*

          I went in and changed the duration of my “away” automatic status change, but I know a lot of companies don’t allow individual users to change that setting.

          Sometimes I’m reading something and consulting physical documents, and 5 minutes of being “idle” isn’t actually indicative that I’m idle or away from my desk.

      2. LBK*

        Yeah, exactly. It means you are…away. If you’re busy and don’t want to be disturbed, you should…switch to “do not disturb”. I kinda feel like the OP is the one not understanding the intended use of the system here.

    4. paul*

      That’s hw I read it too. I can get being annoyed by it, but in isolation I don’t know that’s worth raising Caine over.

    5. J.*

      I don’t know what kind of IM program the OP is using, but with Slack, if I am away from my desk and my computer is asleep so I’m “away,” it will still ping my phone if I get a direct message or something is posted in a channel I follow.

      1. Anonny*

        Good point. With the slack app on my phone, it shows me as logged in 24/7. I’m not ACTUALLY there, I’m just open to receiving messages. I keep it silenced on my phone and my laptop may be shut, it doesn’t mean I’m ready to talk to you at 2am. But I’ll read your messages when I start working at 8!

    6. Sunflower*

      This is where I stand. In my office, none of these chats or IM’s would be seen as anything out of the ordinary. I’m going to say your coworker has no idea he’s driving you mad. Also OP, your responses are not achieving their goal of showing your aggravation with Bran. In my office, a response of ‘sorry I was at yoga’ would mean nothing to me except you just told me why you were away- that would give me no indication you did not want me to message you while you’re away.

      Personally, I was really shocked reading this letter. I don’t see any indication someone has told Bran that’s how the culture of IM chat in this office works. In my office, Bran’s chats would be completely normal. I, for one, would be mortified to hear someone was behind their computer with steam coming out of their ears and cursing me because I IM’d them when they were Away. I think it’s really unfair to throw malice at him when I’m pretty sure he’s thinking what he’s doing is the equivalent of emailing someone during lunch and just expecting them to answer you when they get back.

      Please someone say something to Bran about the IM culture, especially if other coworkers feel this way.

    7. Emmie*

      I wonder how often OP sets her status to “away” when she is working on a project. The away status could be frustrating to her coworkers if it is used frequently during work hours. It could give the appearance that OP is not working, or bothered by contact with coworkers. I personally am annoyed at instant messages because it interrupts my workflow; however, I am a remote employee as well and accept this as a part of my job. These interruptions are akin to a coworker walking into my office if I were in an office. So, I have let go of my personal annoyance because it is the right thing to do. I only set my status to busy occasionally (1-2 times per month), or to do not disturb (when presenting, or 1-2 times per year for a major major major deadline.)

      1. meara*

        Yes! Like OP I work remotely at a company where most of my colleagues are also remote. IM is a quick question, often–BUT, my first manager was insistent we first IM something like “Hi Bran” and wait for a response, not “Hi Bran, what’s the status on the XYZ Co file?” in case she was sharing her screen via IM and had forgotten to put on do not disturb–that way if ABC Co was looking at her screen in a meeting, nobody learned things about their competitor!

        1. Someone else*

          This is the first good explanation for a generic initial message and waiting for a response before getting to the point I’ve ever heard. In general, I think I’m like the OP and several other commenters: I much prefer the first message be the actual message. Don’t add needlessly to the back and forth. Then again, my company has a policy to log out of IM if we’re screensharing, so that’s probably why I wouldn’t have thought of this. But if the company requires everyone to always be logged in to IM, even when screensharing with others, then the “hi and wait for response makes sense. Then again, I do still think “hi let me know when have you a few minutes to talk” (even if leaving out the “about xyz”) would be more productive than just “hi”+wait. Also coupled with any status other than available, you run the risk of either getting no reply for quite some time or getting an instant reply “in meeting with so and so. not now.”

          1. BadWolf*

            Yes — the comments about making sure the receiver is “safe” to talk finally put some of the “hi” IMs in perspective.

            Our IM program has a handful of options, there’s “In a meeting” which lets you still send a message if you want and Do Not Disturb which blocks messages (but you know the person is working). So ideally, if you’re on a screen share, you did Do not disturb.

          2. Judy (since 2010)*

            My previous company required all of us to log into IM, and we were a global company that actually worked globally down to individual contributors. I was a team lead, I didn’t manage people, but managed projects. My team was on 3 continents, including 3 separate locations within the US and 2 within Europe. We were screen sharing all the time, for code reviews, etc. If it was a planned meeting with a screen share, our IM would go to busy, but it wouldn’t be “do not disturb”. Everyone just said “Hi” or “hey” or “hi QQ” (for quick question) and waiting for a response before continuing.

            Yes, ideally, you’d adjust your status, but sometimes it slips by, especially when you’re on calls or shares 4 to 8 hours a day, which happened some weeks.

  10. Samiratou*

    I would say don’t deliberately set your status to “Away” and expect people to assume that means “do not disturb”. Set your status as “do not disturb” if you don’t want to be disturbed.

    It has never occurred to me to deliberately set my status to away–I thought that was just what happened when you didn’t use your mouse or keyboard for 5 minutes or whatever. Bran’s behavior wouldn’t be out of line at my workplace, and (particularly if he’s new at yours) he likely has no idea that he’s doing anything wrong.

    1. Parfait*

      Same. “Away” on our IM system is a yellow dot. To me that means, “Caution! This person will be slow to reply.” I often send messages to people who show as away. It almost always means they just haven’t moved their mouse in a few minutes and they’re not even actually away.

      “Do Not Disturb” is a red dot, and to me that means, “STOP! Do not disturb.”

      I think you just need to use the setting that actually means “do not disturb,” and “Away” isn’t it.

    2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Yes, same. To me “away” means “this person is not at their desk, and will respond when they come back”.

      Depends on the office culture too. Where I work, anything but DnD is fair game, and even in DnD mode you will sometimes get an urgent message. Only thing that works 100% of the time is signing out, but that’s the nuclear option that people hardly ever use.

  11. Black Rabbit of Def*

    The most infuriating part is the “Hi Rabbit” messages where the initiator waits for me to respond before proceeding with whatever they originally IMed me about.

    I get that for some people it’s more conversational and friendly seeming, but if my status is already “Busy” or “In A Conference Call” it’s a complete distraction. I work in the kind of job where I’m already trying to manage multiple fires throughout the day, in addition to trying to keep on top of several hundred Important! emails, and to have somebody impose the yet another context switch on me is maddening.

    Seriously – just ask your question in the initial message. I won’t think you’re rude.

    1. CM*

      I get why this is annoying, but it’s also pretty normal and makes sense as a way to quickly check if someone is available. So I think you have to get used to it — and I’d suggest just not responding. Eventually they will either send a followup IM with their actual problem, or will email you. In many systems you can also set a status message that says something like “Please start off with your question rather than just saying hi, thanks!”

    2. Bea*

      Our system has no limit so we all just say “Hey yo! Here’s a message and question. Thanks, dude!”

      The idea you need to have a live-messaging event is dumb to me. That’s like how AIM was geared when you message with friends not for colleagues!

    3. Lolli*

      This is my pet peeve too. Even if I show available, I am still working on something. I see the IM pop up with Hi Rabbit. I respond, Hi and then I wait…..and wait…. I see they are writing to me so there is no point in going back to what I was doing. I know it is my issue. The people doing it are actually trying to be nice or checking to see if I am ready to respond but it makes me stop and wait. I really hate that when I am busy.

    4. For us oldtimey IRC users*

      Yes! This used to be a pretty standard rule for chat: Don’t ask to ask, just ask.

      This happens to me a lot as well, and it makes IM a bit infuriating. We also have someone at work who tends to send messages one. line. at. a. time. So, you end up having to wait through 10-15 pings to find out what the full issue is.

      I badly want our onboarding to start to include ‘best practices for slack/chat’.

        1. Workerbee*

          Yes! Oh, I would love to get that behind the eyeballs of one of my colleagues. She does the “I have a question. Call me” on email, IM, and vmail. I get that she’s more comfortable talking–hence she wants a call no matter what medium she is actually using to get to me if it’s not in person, but–so much time would be saved if she could at least type or say a few more words in her message, such as the subject her question is about…

    5. Merci Dee*

      That’s my take on it, too. I have a couple of people who message me with the “hi” or “good morning/afternoon” thing first, and then won’t send anything else unless I respond. It drives me up a wall because about half the time I will respond with a hello and ask if they needed something, and they message back — “no, just wanted to say hello.”

      When I send messages to people on IM, I’m usually looking for information while approving accounting documents or PRs. So I’ll send a message to the people I’m looking for, but I’m always clear about what I need up-front. It looks like this: “Good morning! Do you have a moment to talk about that invoice for llama grooming you submitted this morning?” It’s nice and pleasant, but also lets people know immediately what I’m asking about.

        1. Bea*

          Yes. This isn’t the phone, don’t treat it like a fluid conversation! You don’t email “Hello.” and wait to respond.

          If this was my office I would probably respond “hai, A/S/L?” because I’m all for bad jokes that I chuckle at.

          1. Snark*

            I read that and instantly flashed back to the AOL chat rooms circa 1997 and am experiencing a weirdly complex combination of nostalgia, regret, amusement, and incredulity. Those were interesting times to be on the internet at age 15 or so.

            1. Bea*

              Still bumming my Yahoo account purged 9009 years ago, so many hours wasted in Yahoo!Chat.

              Dad jokes used to be about walking both ways up hill. Now we can just make dial up noises at the pesky kids crying that wifi is sooooo spotty

        2. Teapot Tester*

          I’m in a group chat with some coworkers I’m friendly with and we usually discuss non-work stuff in there. So the occasional “Good morning ladies!” isn’t uncommon. But if one of us has a work topic, we just dive right in.

      1. Samiratou*

        OK, people IMing just to say hello would drive me batty. Around here, it’s a prelude to an actual question, to see if someone is available to chat. I don’t think anyone has ever IMd me just to say hello.

        But maybe it’s just me. I’m not exactly known for being super chatty.

      2. TootsNYC*

        I mentioned that my son does this w/ texts: “Hi, Mom,” and then he waits, and by the time I get it, he’s in class, so he can’t answer my “what’s up?”

        I’ve tried to get him to just ask the question in the beginning, and he’s getting better.

        When I want to text him just a greeting, I’ll text, “Hi, Son.” and then, “That is all.”

      3. Admin of Sys*

        See, I’m on the other side of this – I absolutely appreciate a ‘ping’ or my name or a ‘hi’ that then waits for my response. Otherwise, if I’m asked a question or alerted to an issue when I’m away (or even if I’m on my machine but focused on a remote system so I don’t see the popup), then when I see the message, I’m going to spend time answering the question or looking at the issue before responding, but the sender may may have already decided to ask my coworker or rebooted the box or whatever, because I didn’t respond immediately. Whereas if there’s just an initial attempt at a contact, then the sender can move on if there isn’t a response, and I can check in whenever I’m available to see if I’m still needed.

        1. EMW*

          Yes! Same. Or if I’m working on something with someone and the message pops up and it’s not something the person should be seeing. I appreciate a “hey” IM and if there’s no response the email follow up.

        2. michelel*

          My good coworkers 1) include their question instead of just saying “Hi michelel” and waiting for me to answer and then just sit there waiting for them to formulate their actual question, and 2) follow up with something like “Actually, Imelda is helping me” if they realize I’m not answering and so strike out on their own. Win/win.

        3. Rusty Shackelford*

          Those people need to be trained to send another “never mind, got it taken care of” message.

        4. FloralsForever*

          This is my preference too! I even tell new employees to “please start with a hi” because I find it jarring to receive an IM with just the question. This is definitely a personal preference, but I state it upfront or tell people about it. I try to be lax about it if they don’t do it. My office is conducive to this and I think talking about the way we communicate can make for more effective communication, which in my office is not a bad thing. LOL

          1. J.*

            I’d be very interested in the relationship between some demographics (geography specifically, but other cultural background and age as well) and the people who prefer the “friendly check in” (Hi, Arya!) vs jumping right into the thing.

            I feel like I read a comment fight recently about northeast people feeling like wasting your time on small talk is rude; and southeast people feeling like not taking the time to say hello is the rude thing. Obviously that’s an overgeneralization, but I do see a split in my own department between people who want you to just get to the point as fast as possible and people who feel like you’re not treating them like an actual person when you do.

            1. J.*

              To add, it seems like this problem between Bran and Arya is an extension of that rather than strictly being an IM issue.

          2. Snark*

            Don’t get me wrong, I don’t advocate against being pleasant; something like “Morning Dave! When you get a chance, could you send over the llama pen repair invoices? Thanks!” But the “hi Dave!” and then nothing just obligates the receiver to reply before getting to the point, and I think that’s a waste of time.

    6. Beatrice*

      I assume that people who start out with, “Hi, Beatrice” and wait for me to respond, are contacting me about something incredibly annoying, and they want me to commit to being there before they tell me what it is, to make it harder for me to ignore them. If I’m busy, I make them wait.

      1. Mike C.*

        This is exactly it and is the only reason people do this to me. Folks who aren’t trying to play games never do this is to me.

    7. BadWolf*

      I’m with you. I hate the “Hello” and nothing. Just ask me so I can ponder the answer.

      I guess I treat IM as an answering machine rather than a phone call.

      But then I guess just dumping the question right away is rude to some other people — or at least they think you’re demanding instant attention rather than assuming they’ll reply whenever they have a chance. Some people reply with “On the phone” or “Sorry for the delay, I was doing teapots.” I try to remember to add “Whenever you get a chance” to IMs with them.

    8. AnonMurphy*

      I hate those too, but it is a norm. I usually open with “Hi AnonPerson” and then wait about 3 seconds before typing in my actual request – and they can see that I’m still typing, in Slack. I have some coworkers who will wait for acknowledgement but I wish they wouldn’t!

    9. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      This is actually how things are done at my work, and I totally get it. It’s “hi, are you ok to talk?” which is then immediately followed by the question when I say hi back.

      What drives me batty is our outside contractor team (let’s call it that) where they say hi, you say hi back, and what follows is 20 minutes of silence, followed by 15 minutes of mystery typing on the other end. Don’t say hi if you’re not ready to ask me whatever you want to ask, dammit. It is a huge distraction because I know these guys and know the question is going to lead to more questions and suck up the rest of my morning or afternoon, so it’s not like I am able to concentrate on anything else during that 35-minute wait.

  12. HS Teacher*

    I think this issue could be cleared up with a direct conversation instead of the indirect methods OP has used so far. Just tell him how you’re feeling.

  13. Jen RO*

    This seems.. normal to me? You are away, so he is IMing you now but expecting you to answer later. I do this all the time. The ‘Hi Arya’ without any follow up is annoying, but I have coworkers who think it’s more polite to wait for an answer before explaining the problem.

    I also ignore people without remorse if they IM me while I’m set to Busy or Away. They can wait until I am available.

  14. periwinkle*

    If the IM software in question is Skype…

    1. Search for your co-worker to bring up the contact
    2. Right-click
    3. Scroll down to Change Privacy Relationship
    4. “Blocked Contacts”

    Now, this means you’ll have to manually block and unblock this person whenever you actually want to allow him to IM, but during those blocked periods you’ll have peace and quiet. He will see you as gray “offline” status and cannot send IMs.

    DND mode is faster, of course, but that means that no one can IM you unless they’re in your Workgroup group (if you have one). Blocking singles out a specific person.

    1. Mystery Bookworm*

      I think blocking is a really aggressive move. At least within my office, there would also be a good chance he’ll notice (especially with group projects, where other people he’s working with will be able to see that she’s online).

      1. Bea*

        And you run the risk of forgetting to unblock him one day. Then you’re just someone who ignores his IMs and he has reason to beef with you to your manager down the road. No good.

    2. J.*

      Yeah, I agree with Bookworm. Unless they’re on completely different teams and only interact rarely (in which case this wouldn’t be a problem), it would be hard to justify taking such a dramatic step to basically cut off communication with someone you’re supposed to be working with.

    3. lost academic*

      I do not think you can do this in a professional environment, period. He will figure it out, and it is childish and petty.

    4. Former Retail Manager*

      My organization only recently switched to Skype. I tried this. Holy moly! I personally wouldn’t do it because I’d be concerned they’d find out and then the jig is up….you just look like an ass unless they’re truly harassing you or bothering you to the point of extreme excess. But thanks for the info. Not something I’d have ever gone looking for.

  15. Bea*

    This is something to work on as a personal peeve, he’s not doing anything wrong unless if no response drives him to bounce into your office demanding to know why you’re not responding.

    I’ve been IMing for so darn long and I’ve never cared one way or another if someone messages while I’m away. Its up there with when people text me when I’m busy or sleeping, it’ll wait.

    I feel like you’re at BEC stage with this dude.

  16. Teapot project manager*

    We start IM conversations with a “hi” and no response that means the person can’t IM at that moment for some reason, as opposed to launching into a question (or worse a vent to a friend) when the recipient may be sharing their computer screen with a client or someone else you wouldn’t necessarily want to see the IM. And we often will IM someone who is “busy” and ask “can you IM?” As we are all often on conference calls but depending on the call are able to IM

    I don’t get being angry about it. If you’re away when an IM comes in, respond to it when you are back. Or log off or set to “do not disturb”

      1. LouiseM*

        It’s annoying *to you*. Alison pointed out in her answer that many people are not annoyed by this, and plenty of commenters are confirming that they don’t find it annoying.

        1. Snark*

          It’s a safe general assumption that most people in most office cultures are going to be annoyed at this. There’s exceptions to everything, of course, but given there’s no downside to following your salutation with whatever question you need answered or issue resolved, best to just get to the point.

          1. CMart*

            This discussion has been very interesting to me because in the two different offices I’ve worked in (on ~6 different teams) a quick check-in “hey” when busy/away as the succinct and polite way to say “I need to chat with you when you’re free” is absolutely the done thing.

            And maybe it’s my confirmation bias taking over, but it’s felt like a majority of the comments, save for one medium sized thread, are stating that the way Bran is using IM is perfectly expected and not annoying. I haven’t taken away the message to err on the side of assuming this is annoying at all!

          2. Rusty Shackelford*

            Is it? I’m not seeing that in the comments. I mean, I use it the way OP prefers, but I don’t think Bran’s way is wrong or generally disliked.

          3. Dawn*

            Do you have actual evidence to support that? Because in all three offices I’ve worked in, the initial “hi” message was absolutely the accepted and expected thing to do, and launching in with a question would have been considered rude, grating and demanding and you would have been thought very ignorant and rude for doing it. And the downside would have been to your reputation.

            1. Snark*

              Do I have actual evidence? No, this is not a federal case.

              And if you think launching in with a question is rude, grating, and demanding, you have a bizarre, time-wasting work culture that’s completely unlike anywhere I’ve ever worked, and I’m glad for it.

        2. Mike C.*

          If you’re going to interrupt someone it’s better to tell them your business immediately rather than prolonging the interruption. Furthermore I can better decide if the request is important enough to respond to ignorance I know what it’s about rather than just some general “are you busy”.

          By doing it the other way you’re wasting other people’s time, and that’s rude.

          1. Dawn*

            That’s your opinion and your preference, but it’s (clearly, just from the comments here) not everyone’s. To me, and in the culture where I work, launching in with questions is demanding and rude, and the polite thing to do is to open softly with a greeting. People who just send me questions are going to get shuffled to the bottom of the pile because they couldn’t take ten seconds to treat me like a person and not a search engine.

      2. CMart*

        I think as discussed in other threads, it’s really office/company/maybe even industry dependent.

        I’m often in situations where I’m sharing my screen or displaying it in a meeting, and often on an impromptu basis (ie: no time to change my status to “do not disturb”). A quick “hey are you free?” to check in that I can quickly minimize is fine. A “do you have the Location restructuring estimate yet?” that pops up on my screen in front of people who don’t know that Location is closing yet would be awkward at best.

        So in my situation, it’s a professional courtesy, not an annoyance.

        1. Mike C.*

          Why are you sharing a whole screen rather than specific applications, and why aren’t your chat clients set to auto-DND when your whole or portion of your screen is being shared?

          1. Dawn*

            You are being aggressively and obnoxiously prescriptive again, Mike. :(

            The concept of people having different opinions from you and that being OK really hasn’t ever managed to get through your forcefield of self-righteousness, has it?

          2. Workerbee*

            I have a horror of this exact thing happening when I get swooped upon! I have gotten better at saying, “Just a moment, let me set my status to X so we don’t get disturbed.”

            Otherwise, our chat client (Cisco Jabber) allegedly will change status to “Presenting” when sharing/displaying your screen, but it doesn’t always–Cisco, alas, does not always work as it should even when you leave the stock settings alone.

            So due to my aforementioned horror, I either go hunting in Options or ask IT how to make sure that messages come in already minimized. The chat client then just glows at the bottom of the screen when I do get a message, but it remains a secret until I actively click to see.

          3. CMart*

            As noted in my comment, because sometimes it’s on an impromptu-basis. For example: I’m sitting in an actual, physical, conference-room meeting where I wasn’t expecting to be needed. Then someone wants to see some workpaper and I have the most immediate access to it on my laptop, so I plug it into a monitor with a VGA cable. Not a chat client situation.

            This is a very, very normal situation within my office. “Oh hey, can you plug in your laptop so we can see X really quick?”

          4. CMart*

            Or, as someone else noted in a different comment (I wish I could edit! Multiple replies seems so pile-on-y) by “sharing my screen” I didn’t necessarily mean it in a chat-client, digital screen-sharing kind of way. I have lots of people coming by my desk to ask me random questions, or sometimes I’ll have people from other departments looking over my shoulder so I can walk them through one thing or another.

            And I’m an accountant. You’d think people would leave me alone!

        2. Teapot project manager*

          Exactly There are IM messages that you may not want others to inadvertently see if the recipient is sharing their screen or has someone at their desk.

  17. Anonny*

    We IM each other at work all day all night no matter what the status is. If the person is there, great, if not, they get to us when they get back. I work with hundreds of people and I don’t know anyone who considers the “away” status as “DO NOT IM ME.” It just means I may not be looking at my computer right now.

    If you don’t want people to IM you on your private time, log out. This is super weird to me.

  18. AKchic*

    I’d be annoyed by multiple “hi” messages when there is no forthcoming information or work-related questions. This sounds like impending chit-chat.
    Even when LW says “what’s up”, she gets little to no response from Bran. That’s not something that we can dismiss. Either it is important enough to message her about, or its not worth a “hi” at all. If you need to message a coworker and interrupt them when they have already stated a preference for email, then it had better be a good reason. He’s ignored this preference and continues the “hi” messages. This isn’t really work-related. This is an attempt to socialize and I bet if LW bit the bait and acted conversational, he’d open up and start water-cooler styled chat.

    He may even be timing the “hi” intrusions for when you set your chat status to Away because then you’re on break and he assumes he’s not actually interrupting work.

  19. Samiratou*

    Reading through these replies is interesting–in how much variation there is in IM etiquette. Was it on this site or another I was on where someone was upset at coworkers who don’t start IMs with some kind of greeting, feeling it’s rude to just jump in with a comment or fail to wait for acknowledgement? I think I started saying “Hi” to people more often in IMs because of that discussion.

    Anyway, no point really, I just find it interesting how much workplace norms can vary so much on stuff like this.

    1. Anonny*

      We usually say “hey you there?” or “hey can you talk?” because we don’t want to launch into something when a person could be in the middle of something complex, or sharing their screen in a meeting (very common for us). We typically log out of slack & skype if we’re screensharing, but you forget occasionally and we try to be respectful of each other by waiting till someone says “yep i’m here, i can talk, and no one is standing behind me looking at my screen.” I personally get irritated when someone just says “hi.” You are reaching out to me, so you should initiate this conversation. “Hi, are you there for a quick question?” solves that problem. “Hi.” just feels irritating. Like someone pokes you and waits for you to react.

      1. Samiratou*

        That does happen sometimes, with people asking if you have a second or whatever, but the “Hi, Samiratou” is by far the most common way to initiate a chat, or people who don’t IM me regularly, anyway, where jumping in is more the norm, because we’ve established that we no longer need the social niceties in our communications. :-).

        1. Anonny*

          I see what you mean. If someone is IMing for the first time, a “hello, name!” greeting makes sense first, but it bugs me when they don’t immediately follow up with a “do you have a minute to chat with me?” type message. I have a friend who texts me often “Hi, name.” Then waits for me to reply (whether it’s 10 min or 2 days) to tell me what she wanted to say. If I write back the next day, sometimes she’ll be like “oh I was hoping you had a chance to chat last night, I wanted to see if you wanted to do breakfast today.” If I knew it was time sensitive, I may have written back last night when I saw your message, but it just said “Hi” so I assumed you just wanted to chat whenever I had time, which might be 3 days from now. What’s wrong with, “Hi, can you go to breakfast tomorrow?” You’re not paying by character on iMessage!

          I have a lot of work friends where we’ve eliminated the social niceties, but we definitely still check to make sure the person can talk so we don’t embarrass ourselves or anyone else if the person has a manager at their desk, or a client sitting next to them or something. :)

          1. CMart*

            I comfortably straddle the middle with this in my office IMing.

            “Good morning Coworker! I have a quick question when you have a chance” all in one IM.

        2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          I like this. I’ve been asked that a few times when I genuinely could not talk. It was a relief to be able to say, “no, I’ll get back to you later”.

  20. hbc*

    I would ask Bran flat out what he’s signalling when he types “Hi Arya.” Ask at a time when you’re not already aggravated. Ask in a way that assumes there is a very good reason and this is just a clash of styles/usage, not him trying to stomp all over your preferences.

    Then you can actually address the problem–because right now the “escalation” wording you’re using might seem like a non-sequitur. So if he says, “I send that when I’ve got an urgent issue but I don’t know if you’re really unavailable or just busy,” then you can tell him to skip the hello and put the time-sensitive stuff into the IM. Or if he never looks at statuses, you can explain that it’s pretty much standard at this company, and no one IMs a Busy person unless something is on fire. Or that it’s your personal preference, or whatever.

    Best case, it fixes it right away. Worst case, you’ve got a clear record of letting him know what it means when/if he claims “I tried to let Arya know about the emergency” using the wrong method.

    1. LouiseM*

      Good suggestion. It seems like people, including possibly the OP, are reading a lot into Bran’s messages that may not be there.

  21. Snark*

    In a broader sense, I find these little friction points at the intersection of etiquette and technology to be totally fascinating. For most of the history of written communication, that medium was a physical one, where you could write down a thing on a piece of paper or a cuneiform tablet or a cave wall or whatever, and you had the choice of leaving it and letting people come to it, or taking it to them physically and handing them the media for them to read.

    But now, we’ve got more media of written communication than ever before! We got texts, IMs, emails, comment thread posts, blogs, AtHoc alerts, Slack channels. And they all have subtly different norms – a text carries the subtext of “hey, this is a thing that I need you to respond to quickly but it’s not complicated and probably isn’t very important” while an email is “hey, this is important and needed a lot of words, but it’s not super urgent” and an IM carries a “hey, I need to have a little conversation with you right now” and so on. And some of those assumptions are evolving or heterogeneous, so maybe your boss never uses IM for anything but pings you with 35 random emails with stray thoughts throughout the day, or your grandma painstakingly texts entire grammatical sentences and paragraphs with greetings and salutations (hi mema!) or your teenage kid will not respond with anything but emoji. Or, as here, your coworker thinks it’s totally ok to ping you via IM whenever, and it drives you banana crackers.

    1. Snark*

      Or the guy who emails you and then appears by your desk 27 seconds later asking if you got it. But that’s a pretty homogenous norm – everybody but that guy agrees that he’s one email chain away from getting brained with the same shovel used to dig his unmarked grave.

      1. AnonMurphy*

        Oh that guy. My favorite story is about a GrandBoss hounding our analysis team after we (finally) received vendor information we needed to plan a big conversion. We got a 40-page technical document – and he’s in Boss’s email literally 4 minutes later all “So? You guys have this figured out? What do we need to…”

        Dude, just no. Reading takes some time.

      2. JokersandRogues*

        There was one project manager that would do that to the developers and as soon as they saw an email from her they would get up and vanish from their desks. Because she would then repeat the email in person. And usually didn’t understand what it was she was asking them to do.

    2. AnonMurphy*

      I actually wrote a paper on this…back in 2005 or so! Part of my discourse analysis course on the way to a linguistics degree I never ended up finishing haha.

    3. EB*

      In theory it’s fascinating to think about– in practice I sometimes wish people were required to handwrite every correspondence in an attempt to make messages fewer in number and more succinct.

    4. Ex-Academic, Future Accountant*

      Yeah, it’s kind of wild how there are all these diachronic changes and cultural differences in whether a given medium of communication is viewed as synchronous or asynchronous. I’d never thought of email as anything other than “send someone a message, they can reply whenever it’s convenient for them”, but more recently I was surprised to hear (on this site and from business school classmates) that it can be perceived as requesting an immediate response.

      There’s also that thing where you call someone, intending to leave a message, but they unexpectedly pick up and then you feel guilty for bothering them…

      1. Former Retail Manager*

        OMG!!! I hate the phone picker-uppers. To quote a Sex and the City episdode, I wasn’t ready for voice on voice action. I usually have my whole voicemail planned out in my head and then when they pick up it throws me off and I end up stumbling and sounding unprepared.

        1. Anonymous Ampersand*

          Lorelei Gilmore did an amazing version of leaving a voicemail when her mum had actually picked up. One to practise!

  22. it_guy*

    If you really don’t want to be disturbed, you can either:

    Log out of your IM client
    It it supports it, set your status “Appear Offline”

  23. Aurion*

    The IMing while my status is away would not bother me; I think Bran probably assumes that OP would get to it when she sees it. However, the “Hi Arya” without further information would drive me up the wall.

    As a happy subscriber to BLUF/get to the point already, just tell me what you want in the initial request. If you want to soften it, go with “Arya, can you check on the widget report when you have a chance” or something. Stop making me drag the point out of you with a fishing line.

    1. Snark*

      BLUF fan fistbump. Seriously. However you get in touch with me, don’t bury the lede, ffs. “Yo Snark, should have the llama grazing report to you at around 10, things got crazy in the pen last night” is a good IM. “Hi Snark!” gets ignored every time.

      1. Aurion*

        I don’t even have that many emails/IMs compared to other people! If I were one of those people who gets hundreds of emails/IMs a day, and I have to deduce/coax the point of the conversation out of every one of them, I would tempted to have a contacts shortlist with tableflip (either the word or the emoji) and slot all the offenders in there.

        I end up sending a single ? back at the “Hi Aurion” offenders. And ignore them until they reply.

  24. gnarlington*

    I’m on team Bran here, sorry OP. I don’t think I’d send anyone a “Hey Arya!” message while they’re “away” (or ever, really), but if I saw someone was “away,” I’d still message them with the intent being they’d read it once they’re back in. If you’re bothered by the pinging, the onus is on you to sign out or put DND on your computer or something else, in my opinion.

    1. Snark*

      In general, I agree, but “Hi Arya” messages are annoying and Bran needs to get right to the point when he messages her.

      1. okie dokie*

        I agree with both of you – It’s annoying to keep having to check someone’s status to finally see when they are available so I would send my message assuming they would see and respond when they get back. However they should definitely just state what they want instead of a random hi.

      2. LouiseM*

        They’re annoying *to you*. As Alison and other commenters are pointing out, plenty of reasonable people don’t find them annoying–it’s just a different communication style and ultimately comes down to personal preference.

        1. Snark*

          I’d actually argue that it’s not reasonable, in a workplace setting, to find this communication style acceptable.

      3. zora*

        Right, because if he’s leaving the message with “the intent being they’d read it once they’re back in” there has to be something there to read! I need at least a general topic, if not just the actual question. In my opinion: IM is ONLY for when you have a question that is short enough to send by IM. Then I can respond with the actual answer when I get back to my desk.

      4. Pierre*

        Why? There are ways that the OP can avoid this being a distraction by managing the IM program as stated by other comments. You are advocating ridiculous micro-management or control over other peoples way of working. Creating a fuss over this will reflect badly on the OP and possibly create unnecessary bad feeling between workers.

  25. Annie Moose*

    If you don’t want to hear the IM noises during your breaks, there is probably a way to disable them in the IM program, and just get back to Bran when you’re back working again.

  26. KayEss*

    I think the “Hi Arya” would be the most annoying part for me–assuming you HAVE to be available on IM for urgent issues, Bran not stating up front what the issue is means you can’t triage whether it’s urgent or not without stopping your work and responding. And then if it turns out it’s not urgent, you’re stuck because you’re already engaged. It’s probably not deliberately malicious as a habit, but wow is it a pain in the butt.

    If people are going to treat IM as asynchronous communication, y’all need to be up-front with what your message is: it should be like getting a voicemail, not hearing a ringing phone.

  27. NW Mossy*

    Oh, OP, do you report to me? If I had to pick out a single pet peeve that my team can unite around, it’s their shared loathing of the “hi, I have a quick question” IM interlocutors.

    My advice back to them is much like Alison’s – ask for what you prefer, and then ignore. Since my team isn’t one where on-demand support is expected (like a contact center or help desk), I trust my employees to exercise their professional judgment about whether or not the interruption is more important than what they’re already doing. If it isn’t, they can feel free to respond to that IM later when the timing is better. For those that just can’t leave it on read, I suggest something like “hey, in the middle of something, I’ll catch you at [more convenient time].”

    I get that it’s super-annoying to be interrupted in this way, and we all have different tolerance levels for the noise/flashing of an incoming IM. But remembering that you maintain a lot of control of how you choose to respond to these inquiries can help take the irritation factor down to a more tolerable level.

    1. AnitaJ*

      I’m so curmudgeonly, but I always hate hearing the phrase ‘quick question'”. I do not mind if you ask me a regular-length question. Or even a long question! But let’s not fool ourselves and pretend it’s a ‘quick’ question. A quick question is ‘what time is it?’ or ‘is it raining?’. Your question is almost certainly going to be longer than that when you preface it with ‘quick question’.


    2. AnonMurphy*

      I just had a flashback to when a team of 8 had to try for 10 minutes to convince a 9th person that no, a quarter has 3 months, not 4. Dude still doesn’t believe us.


  28. Mona25*

    I had a co-worker like that at a different government agency, but she was doing it to check up on people to make sure they were teleworking, which was not her responsibility. What it came down to was that others could telework and she couldn’t due to the nature of her work (receptionist/admin) and they had let her telework before and she abused it (when she was an admin, she was never available during her teleworking hours, by email or phone) so in true government fashion instead of getting rid of her, they made her the receptionist/admin so she couldn’t telework.

  29. Sketchee*

    Gretchen Rubin talks about this on her podcast Happier. She is like Bran. She never realized people wont ignore a message when they’re away. Or that others have trouble doing it. That’s what I would do. So realize that some people are truly not disturbed by receiving a message and ignoring it. There’s likely no malice.

    Do try all of Allison’s suggestions. If they don’t work then just schedule a time of day where you answer old messages.

    1. Rusty Shackelford*

      This reminds me of my teenager’s attitude toward text messages. If your friends see that you read a message and didn’t respond, apparently there is hell to pay. I’m like, maybe she was in class? Maybe he checked it at a red light and then put his phone down because he was driving? Because I’m too old to Get It.

      1. LBK*

        “Left on read” is a whole other thing – it has meaning because it is often done with intention.

  30. Oxford Coma*

    Our IM system is tightly controlled, and we’re carefully schooled on what sort of info should be requested via IM versus e-mail. (E-mail is retained for X amount of time and can go on indefinite hold if needed, IM info is wiped out at the end of each session.) Message contents are erased automatically if the recipient does not engage within Y minutes. DnD bounces the message back as undeliverable. It’s draconian, and I like it.

  31. Noah*

    This is how people us IM at work. I’m (genuinely) sorry LW doesn’t like it.

    I don’t like it when people call but don’t leave messages because if I’m not in the office I don’t know they called but I know many hope for a call back based on what’s on my call log. That’s just how people do it where I work. I have to accept it.

  32. Former Retail Manager*

    I’m like your Mema….but not nearly as old I’m sure. I love a good, grammatically correct text message. I must admit the all emoji messages baffle me sometimes. I must confer with my husband who is older, and yet understands far better than I ever will. It is indeed interesting. And the other interesting component to this evolution of communication, is that people seem to be losing the “art of conversation” along the way. Holding a conversation, at length, with someone who doesn’t glance at their phone from time to time is becoming an increasing rarity.

    1. Snark*

      I saw it!

      The thing is, grammar and full sentences defeat the purpose of a text message. Or at least, the generally accepted purpose of text messages, which is that they’re short, in the moment pings to convey something simple and quick: “on the way home, stopping for beer” or “hey we’re in theater 4 row E” or “running late, probably be there at 3:30.” It’s not really the medium for a conversation or to express complicated thoughts, in my view – if I were expressing something that called for sentences and grammar it’d be in an email.

    2. Annie Moose*

      It might help to look at it this way: it’s not that people can’t hold conversations, it’s that they’re holding a different kind of conversation. I understand your annoyance–it’s pretty frustrating when you think you’re in one kind of conversation and the other person thinks they’re in a different kind. But there are still “rules” and social norms with regards to text messages, when and how to use emojis, strategic capitalization/punctuation, conversations where it’s acceptable to glance at your phone, etc.–quite complex rules, to boot!

      For one example: I know it sounds strange, but capitalization and punctuation are sort of like body language for a text conversation. (emojis also are part of this) Using standard capitalization and punctuation gives a very different tone than skipping capitals and periods. When I’m casually chatting with friends, for example, it’s too “formal” to use standard capitalization/punctuation; you’d reserve that for serious topics or to indicate that you’re upset. (or when you’re messaging someone for the first time and you’re not sure how formal they are) Dropping capital letters and punctuation generally indicates that your attitude is more casual; it’s a sort of “we don’t need to be formal with each other” thing.

      1. Girl friday*

        I agree, and people should also keep n mind that texts and IMs can be forwarded or copy/pasted and their grammar mercilessly judged. J/k. :)

  33. Suz*

    OP, does your IM system allow you to customize your status? We use Jabber. Your status is color coded red = do not disturb, green = available, and yellow = away. But you can customize the text. For example, I have available-on site and available-remote so people can tell when I’m working from home vs in the office. On yellow, in addition to away, I can set the a status to do not disturb unless urgent.

  34. The OP (Arya the Away)*

    OP here.
    To clarify, the emails always say ‘Hi Arya’ and have no further info at all.
    It’s just the ‘AWAY’ IMs that drive me batty.

    Allison is correct that I do view these IMs as demands for immediate attention.
    And I admit the ‘Away’ ones grate on me because I feel Bran didn’t even bother to see if I am available, busy, or even in the office.
    On a 20 person team, if I receive an IM while I am away, 95% of the time, it is from Bran.
    The rest, from other team members, usually acknowledge I am away and say explicitly ‘please ping when you are back’

    I try to make sure my IM status reflects my actual status. Most of the team does.
    Available signifies my door is wide open, and I am available to chat.
    Busy means I am working on something and would prefer not to be bothered.
    DND means exactly that and does block incoming IMs. Office culture discourages DND except when truly needed. (kind of an aggressive move)
    BRB means I am around and will be back shortly.
    AWAY means I am not at my desk and am not returning within moments (lunch & off work).

    I need to stop viewing these IMs as immediate demands.
    I’ll work on making my preferences very clear to Bran about checking my status before IMing me.
    Then, if they continue, I’ll work on ignoring the ‘Hi Arya’ IMs and not feeling unkind thoughts if they don’t contain more info.
    If the issue is urgent, Bran will either IM again or send an email.

    1. caryatis*

      >AWAY means I am not at my desk and am not returning within moments (lunch & off work).

      If you’re on lunch or off work, then you don’t need to pay attention to your work computer. Turn off the sound or the computer display and the annoyance will go away. This is a problem you’re creating for yourself.

      1. Technical_Kitty*

        You might have a different office situation than Arya. Being able to ignore communications while on lunch is not something I am able to do. Hell, if I have a program running all hours of the day are fair game for questions.

      2. LBK*

        Completely agreed. If you are away, be away. You’re actually training him to ignore what your status says by responding.

    2. Snark*

      I think you’re also on firm ground asking him not to send you “Hi Arya” messages and tell him that you’d really prefer he get to the point so you know what to expect when you get back to him.

    3. Clever Girl*

      Some IM programs automatically change your status to “away” if you go too long without interacting with the program–like if you are working on something else in another window and have it minimized. So it’s possible he’s used to a messaging program that does this and his messages are to check if you are REALLY away or if you just went idle and it switched to “away” because of that. I think you just need to ignore them. To be honest, from someone who grew up using IM since I was a pre-teen, I think asking him to check if you are away and not message you if you are is a bit demanding and makes you seem like a bit of a diva–that’s what “do not disturb” is for. I mean, obviously if a person is ACTUALLY away, they won’t hear/see if if you message them anyway, so why does it matter if you send them something that they can respond to when they return? Insisting that someone not send you a message when your status is “away” because they get annoyed by it implies that you are saying you are away when you really aren’t. It just feels weird. If you are eating lunch and don’t want to be bothered, just use “busy” since you are busy eating lunch. Also, sure, “away” means you aren’t at your desk and are not returning shortly…until you do return. He doesn’t know if you just set the status or if you set it an hour ago and are minutes from getting back.

    4. The OP (Arya the Away)*

      Also, I did not originally title my email ‘coworker abuses office IM system’.
      I titled it ‘Being away means nothing’ .
      This is more about ignoring of availability and vague emails than abusing IMs.

    5. TootsNYC*

      I’ll work on ignoring the ‘Hi Arya’ IMs

      Maybe work on getting Bran to stop with those, and to instead put the actual info in the message. (Even if he starts, “Hi, Arya,” maybe you can get him to immediately put the substance in the same message, or in the very next one)

    6. AnonMurphy*

      I think you’re on the right track. I know I will send someone an IM even when they’re marked away, figuring when they come back they’ll see it. Plus, around here people will hide or (ahem, me) forget to change the status they set – I know that’s not your culture, but how long has Bran been around?

      1. Us, Too*

        I think that these statuses are not universally understood. Personally, the only one I respect ever is an explicit DND and even that I will ignore in an emergency. The purpose of the status, IMO, is to set expectations about when you can respond. i.e. If I see someone is away I know they will take a while to respond.

        I think the bigger issue here is just telling Bran to please include the question in the initial ping. “Hey, Bran, when you ping me on IM can you please include your question? It will let me more efficiently respond when I am available again.”

        Also, if this is a big deal to you (statuses) just tell him.

        Finally, most IM platforms allow you to “mute” specific users. You can do that if he’s super annoying.

    7. Rusty Shackelford*

      Allison is correct that I do view these IMs as demands for immediate attention.
      And I admit the ‘Away’ ones grate on me because I feel Bran didn’t even bother to see if I am available, busy, or even in the office.
      On a 20 person team, if I receive an IM while I am away, 95% of the time, it is from Bran.
      The rest, from other team members, usually acknowledge I am away and say explicitly ‘please ping when you are back’

      Would it help if you considered “Hi Arya” to be Bran’s version of “Please ping when you are back?” Because I think there’s a good chance that’s what he’s doing.

      1. Tabby Baltimore*

        Where I work, we use Jabber. Our version allows us to select “alert when available” if someone is in “Away” status. OP, if your IM system allows for that, do Bran a kindness and point it out to him as an option, so then he can set his own system to alert him when you are available again. If he does this, maybe it will cut down on his unnecessary “pings”?

    8. Student*

      Your real core problem isn’t with the IM, it’s with the content-free communication from Bran. Address that instead of focusing on the communication medium.

      “Bran, when you send me messages like ‘Hi!’ with no further context, it’s really easy for me to forget or overlook them. I can’t tell whether you’re just trying to chitchat vs. need input on something urgent – so I assume it’s just chitchat. If you want a quick response from me, you’ll need to give me a topic when you reach out – something like ‘Hi, I’ve got a question on the TPS report’, otherwise it’ll end up at the bottom of my to-do list and I’ll likely never get back around to you.”

      Then you’ve clearly warned him that “Hi” doesn’t get priority with you, and you can ignore any future “hi” from him with full peace of mind.

      And, again, the 95% Bran doing this to you is a red herring. This is normal practice in a lot of other offices, and it’s not impacting you substantively. You two use the same communication program differently, and that isn’t a huge deal. Try to view it as him liking his coffee different than you, or signing his emails different than you, not as a deep personal affront.

    9. Renata Ricotta*

      It sounds like your office has created a clear glossary of terms that y’all assume everybody knows, but it sounds like Bran (due to stubbornness or cluelessness) hasn’t picked up on it. I think it’s kindest to spell these things out at least once before getting too irritated with someone else for not understanding, especially because this thread has demonstrated that office norms around these things can vary fairly significantly, so he might just be unobservant rather than a jerk. Make the implied explicit.

      I’d suggest saying something like, “I know that office culture on things like this can differ, but around here we generally use the following system,” and then send him the glossary you just sent us. Then say “so, if my status is away, please send me an email explaining what you’d like to talk about, so that I can be prepared to respond when I get back to my desk.” [You don’t have to mention you are sometimes at your desk but unavailable for lunch, because it should be the same thing from his perspective].

      Also, check to see if your IM program can mute alerts while you’re set to away. They can still come in, but it would turn off the sound and corner pop-up. I do that whenever I’m sharing my screen to avoid any potential of having Client A, to whom I’m making a presentation, see a confidential email from Client B. (This also avoids potential embarrassing mishaps like a co-worker sending an ill-advised complain-y message and having someone else see the alert).

  35. Ruthie*

    Most of my office works remotely, so we use Skype to communicate a lot. It’s frustrating, but different versions of Skype are incompatible. I have one coworker, for example, who always appears to be away, no matter what she tries. Is it possible that statuses appear or work differently from user to user?

  36. mark132*

    I’ll IM some people with an away or busy status, because their status sometimes doesn’t change for DAYS.

  37. Student*

    Bran is using IM within its intended purpose. “Away” is not some universal signal to not contact people via IM services. There is a different flag for that purpose, called “Do not disturb (DND)”. You have a personal preference for what it means, and he cannot read your mind. This is not an actual etiquette breach.

    This is like being angry that a co-worker uses your phone contact info to call you on the phone, and leaves voice mails if you aren’t there, instead of abiding by your preference for text messages.

    Bosses get to dictate how people communicate with them. Co-workers, not so much. Imagine if you had to memorize and abide by the communication preference minutia of 10 other peers. All completely different, with various time restrictions and secret signals. In my office, it’d be more like 40 peers! I’d need to write a piece of software to handle it.

    Be glad your co-workers are trying to communicate with you at all. Try to meet them half-way. Don’t get hung up on exact details of how the communication happens; focus more on the substance of the communication.

    And, for Pete’s sake, if you just don’t wanna get IMs for a bit, then TURN THE IM PROGRAM OFF. Scandalous, I know.

    1. Former Retail Manager*

      YES….to your second sentence. We have people in our office who are always away. It personally bugs me. If you really don’t want to be disturbed either use DND or sign out. However, most of my co-workers use it to selectively respond only to the people that they want to respond to and will later claim “away” status as their reason for not seeing a message………..even though…………they just sent an e-mail like 30 mins ago!

  38. becca*

    Does OP really think that Bran is too stupid to read an IM status? This sounds a bit more like a generation gap issue… Bran uses IM like I do and how I see most of my other Milennial friends use it. To say Bran is abusing IM is hyperbolic nonsense. If anything I think it says something about OP to be so put off by a work IM during work hours?? To act like this is an egregious act regardless of what you are doing at that time… Super odd.

    1. Cat*

      FYI, the OP posted they did not use the term “abuse”/”abusing” in their email/subject, I believe it was added to the blog title. They are mostly irritated at the messaging while away.

      1. LouiseM*

        Yup. The title is certainly catchier, but doesn’t reflect the OP’s true feelings at all. Too bad.

  39. AnonMurphy*

    Just to add on – I’m a fan of IM me if this is something I can answer quick or that you need me to do ASAP. Other things, I will tell people to email me because if I don’t read but don’t act on an IM, I may never remember to do so. I agree with the commenter upthread about finding all these evolving norms fascinating.

  40. lost academic*

    There’s a wide variety of IM etiquette within the professional world and naturally some people are going to use methods that deeply peeve others – but there are cultural norms within companies. I agree with someone’s earlier comment: you can’t dictate how your coworkers are trying to communicate with you like you could if they reported to you.

    FWIW: I try not to just ping someone with a “Hi Arya” statement and not say anything else, but I absolutely will send that and follow up with my next sentence. What I will not do is send you a request that takes more than a sentence if you haven’t confirmed that you’re at your IM and can respond to me – so the ping is working as intended, as a “hey, are you really there/able to respond?”. I’m literally not going to invest the time into asking you a question if I don’t know if you’re even there and looking at it.

    Quite a few people have responded with “turn it off” or “go on DND”. That would not fly at my firm. IM is part of your job – we work with teams across the country and sometimes world on a day to day basis. Turning off your IM is tantamount to saying you’re not working – a large part of your job is to be available and that doesn’t just include your supervisor and active project teams. Same goes for DND – it’s a nuclear option that says ‘I REALLY cannot have IMs right now or email notifications because I am pushing a deadline/whatever’. A delayed response is one thing, but you can’t just check out. There’s lots of ways to handle the notifications: you can set the windows not to blink, turn off the sounds, set autoresponses… but you can’t just be unavailable. The away thing means a lot of things for different people, too – some people go away a lot because they have more paperwork/phone calls/don’t touch their mouse, some end up away because they really are out of the office.

  41. Technical_Kitty*

    I see 2 issues. 1) IM’s are for immediate conversation about a specific topic, if someone is set to away and it’s not urgent, send them an email, it’s not that hard. IM is not intended to be a placeholder someone leaves in someone else’s day, Bram needs to learn how to email if non-urgent. And 2) it is so annoying to have to monitor IM’s for urgent communications but still have to comb through spammy requests for attention. If IM can be turned off or set to DND that’s great, but, for example, if I have a program running you better believe my IM’s are monitored at all times, but I am not interested in random BS when it’s set to away.

    I really don’t understand why people think they can turn off IM’s, I need mine on about half the year (running drill programs remotely means I need to be reachable) no matter what – and yes, that means I have it on my phone since I have different hours than the people working at other locations.

    1. Bea*

      Only you gloss over the fact many people do not monitor emails the same way they do IMs. It’s absolutely still a concept of “know your office.”

      We only email for large projects. I’m not emailing “the report is ready for you on that X drive.” or “is the meeting still on for tomorrow?”. Neither are urgent but also not email worthy and will get lost in their communications.

  42. ragazza*

    I did a paper on computer-mediated communication for remoke workers for my master’s program. The key is talking about expectations. “Hey Bran, sometimes you IM me and I can’t tell if you are expecting an immediate answer. When I have my status as ‘away’ or ‘busy’ that means I’m not available, unless it’s an emergency.” (And then maybe you need to talk about what constitutes an emergency.) If he’s not expecting an answer immediately you can ignore and answer when you are able. But I do understand it’s annoying to see that “Hi Arya” pop up, because if you are a conscientious person like me, it’s hard to ignore it. But if you talk about it, it might be easier, because you’ll know he’s not necessarily expecting you to answer.

  43. Oxford Comma*

    OP, I can sympathize. I have:
    One colleague who types “hi” to start every single IM.
    One colleague who will repeatedly type “Are you there?” when my status says away (she also will pepper our other colleagues with IMs like “Is Oxford Comma in her office?” “Where is she?”
    One colleague who responds to every single thank you email with a “you’re welcome.”
    Two colleagues who respond to every request with detailed IM treatises as to why they cannot fulfill them.

    Some of these I’ve tried to deal with, but otherwise…turn off the volume of your IM program when you’re at lunch or away. I’m not sure if Bran is ever going to get it. If your chat program allows for a DND option, use it.

  44. Sarah*

    OP, no idea if Bran has had a situation like my coworker and I did, but as a serial “Hey Arya”-er, I thought I’d mention it.

    A few weeks ago I was hosting a virtual meeting with the head of our billing team and our COO. The three of us were discussing a new process that we’re implementing and reviewing the presentation we were giving the next week. Normally my IM defaults to DND when I’m sharing my screen, but for whatever reason that day my IM program skipped that step. So when my coworker IMed me with, “Well, I’m f*cked” a cheery little box popped up for all three of us to see. Now I send the “Hey” message just in case the person I’m talking to is in a similar situation, since only the text of the first message shows up when a new IM conversation comes through.

    1. Former Retail Manager*

      To piggyback on that story…..I had been discussing the fear of falling in the shower with another co-worker and how when it happens, it can be terrifying. This was in the context of discussing an upcoming shower remodel and potential materials to consider/eliminate due to their propensity to cause slips/falls.

      Several days later, while staying in a hotel for work, the smooth plastic tub insert nearly got the better of me and I almost fell….terrifying. So I sent an IM to the person I’d been having the discussion with. He was not on DND and it popped up on his shared screen for his entire workgroup to see (like 10 people). Someone else in the workgroup sent me an IM saying “uh, we’re in a meeting.” Usually, it tells you that too…..not that time it didn’t. Oh well, I maintain that those smooth surface showers are dangerous.

    2. Rusty Shackelford*

      Oooh, that’s a good point. There’s one person I occasionally IM whose desk is in a more public area, and I want to make sure I don’t leave anything up on her screen that she wouldn’t want the world to see, so I make sure she’s available before I get into the meat of the conversation. It’s not “hi Arya” but it’s “hi Arya, can you talk right now?”

  45. Elise*

    I have one person who IMs every single request he ever has to me. I can’t always answer right away, and they are never urgent enough for me to stop what I’m working on so I’ve been training him out of it. It’s not really OK to sign out all the time or use DND when I don’t have something big going on, but since it is just this one person who abuses IM, I just tell him, “Hey, shoot that info in an email so I won’t forget it when I finish what I’m working on.” After doing this pretty consistently, he’s started just sending email to start with. And I’ve made sure to be prompt in my email responses so he doesn’t think he has to IM to get my attention.

    From other comments, it seems like I’m now the old fogey who doesn’t like newfangled chat stuff, hahaha. I do use the platform myself, but not as a presumptuous “you obviously need to be pinged immediately on every thing I ever send you.”

  46. kb*

    If I were Bran, I’d really appreciate being clued in on the IM protocol rather than being unaware for months and finding out later that he had been annoying everybody, especially in this scenario where the rules are so office-dependent. What Bran is doing (besides the hi messages) seems super normal to me.

  47. UtOh!*

    If someone who should be going through other channels chats me (they do it because they know I’ll respond), I quickly set my status to away and then don’t even bother with it. There are the repeat offenders who I never respond to because I know it will be something that they should be sending through our service desk. Once I started doing that, my stress levels about it went way down, I have trained them by *not* responding at all. It’s ridiculous that someone would ignore your requests for an email instead of a chat, so now it’s up to you to ignore their requests.

  48. Jael*

    I’m retired now, but our group used Jabber constantly during the day since we were not in the same office. Many of us WFH or were in other states or countries, and IM was our primary method of communication. Much of our day was spent in conference calls where the backchannel IMs were always flying. We always started out with “Hi!” because we never knew what the other person was doing or if they were sharing their screen. The only status that was respected was DND or Presenting. Email was mostly used for longform communications that went out to multiple people.

    I agree with those upthread who think it’s a become a BEC scenario!

  49. Archaeopteryx*

    I would never assume that Away means don’t IM. It signals not to expect an immediate response, if you’re at your desk eating lunch, just ignore the message until you’re ready.

  50. willow*

    I never realized until just now that the Do Not Disturb for IM was meant for me as the sender, to not send something. I thought it was like the phone on DND – it won’t ring through but I can leave a message. I wonder how many people I have ticked off inadvertently!

  51. Llama Grooming Coordinator*

    Off topic: this letter makes me happy because it’s another Stark that’s being a jerk in this! (And it’s Arya that’s writing in this time! Sometimes I feel like it’s just Sansa banging out a stream of angry letters to Alison on a continuous basis.)

    On topic: at least your office uses IM! A lot of times I’ll get actual calls. Or other staff actually coming to me to ask for incidental things. And I’m usually pretty responsive to things, I think.

    But – yeah – not sure what client you use, but most should have a do not disturb or busy mode. If you really can’t be disturbed, set it to that and hopefully it’ll mute his messages. (If I recall, on Skype – my job’s system – it does mute. I rarely use it though.)

    I also think that it might be a difference in how you treat IMs. I’m a bit of a Bran – I’ll send an IM to those that are online saying “hey, Jon, are you busy?” (Or just a “hey Jon.”) Usually that’s to see if they’re available to chat – if they don’t respond or say they’re busy, I’ll wait or send an email if it’s important…and if they’re free then I’ll explain that I need the files from the Aerie or what have you. Basically, I treat IM as incidental conversation (and so does Bran), but you consider it to be urgent.

    If that’s the case…maybe check in with him on that! I might be biased, but maybe you both need to adjust a little bit – he needs to respect your boundaries, and you might try to relax about IMs (although I’m not sure how many you get a day).

  52. Yolo*

    Careful, someone told not to IM might get the wrong idea and ask around until they get your personal cell number so that they can then text you instead.

  53. Purple Jello*

    If you’re IM system chirps and annoys you while you’re “away” at lunch, can you silence it during your lunch?

  54. Harper the Other One*

    Sorry if I missed a comment to this effect but – is it possible Bran does this effectively as a way to say “hello” to a colleague when he enters work, just like he would to a colleague he physically saw in the hallway? My work is all remote which is great for its flexibility, but means I lose out on a lot of social interaction. An IM from a colleague to say “hey, how was the weekend?” is really lovely on a day I’m feeling a bit cut off. While you’re not receiving it that way, Bran may intend it as a social pleasantry that might lift your spirits on a busy day. Thinking of it that way may not make it any more welcome (although sometimes that can turn an annoyance into something manageable) but it may also help you frame the conversation when you say “It’s very kind of you to say hello but I find it disruptive.”

  55. Emily*

    I️ use Skype IM at my job. It’s hooked up to our outlook calendar and will turn red when you’re in a meeting, green when you’re not and grey when your close your laptop or when the laptop is is in sleep mode. To be honest, I️ never even realized I️ could manually adjust my status until just a couple days ago and I’ve been working at this job for 2.5 years (I’m younger too, so this isn’t necessarily a case of not knowing how to use technology). Basically this means that I️ responded to messages regardless of what the color of my icon was and I️ treated others the same. If they didn’t respond I️ didn’t take it personally and wouldn’t expect them to, either. I️ think you should cut this guy some slack. It doesn’t sound like he’s using the office messaging system in an unusual or abusive manner.

  56. uh*

    At least half my office is “away” 99% of the time since they are trying to discourage unwanted interruptions. The other half in in a “required” all day chat session that marks you as “busy” even if you aren’t chatting

    I just do not respond to strangers if actually busy.

  57. Sue*

    I use Skype at work, and I just checked with my husband too.

    We both intro with “Hi Arya” usually for two reasons:

    1. You never know who is looking atvthe person’s screen. We work in pretty open cubes, so even if not presenting in a formal situation there are regular situations where someone is looking over your shoulder.

    2. As a ping to see if you are there. If I have a production question, I might say hi to the production engineer, then the quality tech, then the line supervisor, in succession, until someone is available to answer, if I need an answer right away.

    I don’t go back and say “never mind!” To the non responders. They’ll check in later at their leisure and I’ll tell them someone else told me that production is running second shift today because we got 1000 extra teapot orders, and that was all I needed, but thanks.why have them all take the time to lookup the orders (by asking them each the whole question) when someone already answered?

    1. Akcipitrokulo*

      Very good point about not wanting to put up information on an initial skype message! I’ve done that a couple of times…

    2. Girl friday*

      Some people are absolutely incensed by pings though! Idk why but I keep it in mind.

  58. Amphian*

    I don’t care if people IM while I’m away, but I hate just being hit with a “Hi” while in any IM status. It makes me think of that person as a 4 year old kid who can’t articulate what they want and will have to have it coaxed out of them. Text/IM is the only medium where people do this. I don’t get voicemails or emails that are just “Hi”, so why IMs?

    I never ping anyone without giving them some idea of what I want. I don’t expect people to dump a huge question in chat to start (and I agree that doesn’t make sense, especially if you don’t know if they are the person with the answer). If I at least get, “Hi, I need to ask about X.” then I can work it into the rotation of juggling with the 3 other things I am doing at that moment, but I’m really disinclined to interrupt those to respond with the obvious “WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM ME?!?!?!!?!?”.

    Well, that’s what I want to say, but I usually just echo them back with “Hi” and see if they learn to use their grownup words.

    Yes, I’m a cranky introvert who isn’t at all good with small kids. :D

  59. Akcipitrokulo*

    It might help to regard the “hi” messages as a query “are you available?”

    Therefore, perfectly legitimate to ignore them for an hour or five…

  60. Akcipitrokulo*

    I also hate Skype for Business with a passion… seriously, if I’m using a chat program, I expect it to store, you know, my chats?

      1. Akcipitrokulo*

        Yes. But I don’t want to go to outlook for chat messages – I want it in chat programme!

        Also it doesn’t show previous conversations in a group chat when you join it, which is why we ditched it for release nights.

  61. grammartwit*

    Totally unrelated to the question – but does anyone who writes in know how to use the word ‘aggravate’? It doesn’t mean irritating or annoying… it means exacerbate or make something worse.

    Sorry, this has just driven me crazy (not aggravated me…) seeing it so much over the last few weeks in questions. I’m not even that much of a grammar obsessive – just this one thing has driven me to comment – something I would never usually do.

    I’ll retreat now.

    1. Akcipitrokulo*

      It can have the wrong “irritate or annoy” sense when coming from the mouth of a Glasgow mother to a misbehaving child… “Don’t you aggravate me!!!!”

      Pro-tip… don’t try to correct her at that point. My dad learned the hard way.

    2. Annie Moose*

      Aggravate has been used in the sense of “to exasperate, to annoy” since the 1610s. You’re a little late to the party.

      1. Annie Moose*

        By the way, if anyone else is interested in etymologies, I am a huge lover of the Online Etymology Dictionary! (link in my name) I love this stuff.

  62. Gaming Teapot*

    I see two separate problems here:

    1) You and Bran have completely different expectations about what “Away” means and how quickly an answer is needed. Generally speaking “Away” is short for “Away from keyboard”/”afk” and means just that – you are not at your desk, so you can’t respond right away. This is how Bran seems to interpret it too, while you still think you need to reply immediately. But you don’t. I guarantee you, Bran is not expecting an instant answer when you are “away”. If it is the noise/popping up of chats that bother you – most IM progams offer options to turn that off. In my office for example, new people are usually instructed on their very first day to turn off “Play sound when user interacts” and tick “Open in non-disturb display”, so the chat only flashes up in the task bar, rather than on screen. Otherwise, we’d all go nuts (open floor plan).
    Now, if it is not just you who interprets “Away” as “Do not disturb, because I will consider it urgent if you do”, but rather your entire office, then please approach Bran and ask him directly if he knows about this internal quirk and if he could please stick to that.

    2) “Hi Arya”. As pointed out by many people above, he might just be doing that to see if you are truly “away”. Some people leave their IM on “away”/”busy” statuses forever, giving the impression that you can never reach them for quick questions and it sucks and it’s rude. Or he might not want to put any info in the first message, because he doesn’t know who else might be looking at your screen (e. g. if you’re in a meeting and projecting a presentation on the wall). Either way, if you prefer to get actual info, please make that clear to Bran! Just talk to him (preferably in person) and be very direct: “Hey Bran, I know you probably don’t mean any harm by just messaging me “Hi Arya”, but it’s really inconvenient for me and I’d much prefer it if you just told me about the actual issue. Just say “Hi Arya, do you remember what the client’s answer was to query X last week?” and I’ll be able to actually help you. Thanks.”

  63. CanCan*

    All of which is why I avoid IM altogether. We’ve just installed Skype, and hardly anyone (except the IT group) is using it. I hope it stays that way.

    Just some of the reasons:
    – “Away” may mean different things for different people, creating stress for people
    – You have to constantly update your status.
    – The status may default to “away” if you’re inactive for a few minutes – but you could be just working with paper documents.
    – You end up sitting on the edge waiting for somebody to finish typing. “Hi Arya” “hi” ….long pause… the other person is typing….I’m wondering what it is… can’t get back to work…

    For the OP, the easiest solution is to talk to Bran. His understanding of how to use IM is different from yours. Instead of you stewing and starting to become passive aggressive (while Bran is wondering what he did wrong), just tell him. Come up with a solution together. Maybe it’s for him to change his use to what you expect. Maybe it’s for him to continue as usual, with the understanding that if you’re busy, you won’t respond.

  64. SineNomine*

    I wonder if this is generational, I would be curious how old OP is, or other people that feel the same way about IM. I certainly know that this strikes me as a completely normal use of IM and being frustrated by it is very strange in my eyes. I obviously suspect people around my age (30) who grew up around computers would generally agree, but I may be off on that.

    Away isn’t DND, all it’s telling the other person is that you aren’t actively there to respond so they should expect to wait before hearing back from you. If you absolutely needed an immediate reply you would call them or, if possible, find them and speak to them in person. But then again, seeing the program flash on the task bar wouldn’t disrupt me at all either, I’d just get to it when I could.

  65. Manager-at-Large*

    Wakeen: Hi
    Me: hello
    Wakeen: just sent you an email
    Me: (arrrggggg)

    Fergus: hello
    Me: hello
    …. (crickets) …
    … (Fergus now shows Away status) …
    Me: (what the heck is this about – the hello-and-hide)

  66. IM User*

    I always thought that “away” status meant that you were away from your keyboard. In such a case, sending you an IM wouldn’t bother you, because you’re not there to be bothered. When you get back to your computer, then you’ll see the IM. The OP is using the status incorrectly by choosing “away” status when not really “away”. “Busy” or “DND” would be a more appropriate status.

  67. Need Answers*

    I’m also need help with this . The problem is that my offshore teammates send me messages at odd hours that are vague “Hi” messages — and %80 of the time, it’s not urgent. I wish that they would say what they want.

    My onshore officemates use chat effectively. I don’t mind if they send an IM, if they say what they want in the message. I don’t want to have to write back to figure out what they need.

    How can I tell my place of work that the first issue is anoying and counterproductive. I want a message when people chat me to say, “Please be sure to state why you’re sending an IM”. It’s like the subject line in an email.

  68. Mrs. Tiggywinkle*

    I am a teacher with an additional position at my school, and our faculty and staff communicate during the day primarily through Google Chat. In my position I can only work on those tasks when my class is busy at work or I have a quick few minutes to spare.
    There are three coworkers that I often need to contact to get important information about how to proceed on a case-by-case basis. Out of all of them, only one responds promptly to my chats, even if she just says “k.” The others may not answer for hours, or ever, even. I am often left in a lurch because I am teaching my class and cannot take a lot of time on the question and cannot leave my classroom – I’m just trying to get a quick answer. I realize they are busy too, and they might be busy right then, but three or four hours, or never answering is a little far-fetched. I am often left to proceed without the needed information, or put off the task, which means it may not be done in a timely manner. We are all acutely aware of each other’s schedules and time constraints. I have assumed I knew what would be advised a couple of times and went ahead and proceeded, and later one of them actually told me to “never assume anything.” Many times they will not answer my chat, but they will in some way act on it, so that later that day or the next day I come to find out they have done something that affects the outcome of the case I was working on, and they never notified me of any part of that. These women are in their late thirties. I am fifty-five; I do not think it’s expecting too much to ask for a little higher maturity of them in the communication department, but I ask you, if these two are not going to answer my chat messages, and I am also not to assume anything, I just don’t know what to do. I have gone from enduring it, to casually joking about it, to mentioning it with slight aggravation, and regardless of my approach, nobody is moved by my predicament. At times I have chatted both of them the same thing, as well as emailed them both the same thing, with a note to explain that I was trying to get an answer, and then they act like my sense of urgency is unfounded. In addition to this, these same two will often respond to my chat (after two or three hours) with a completely unrelated question about something else, usually requiring me to give an immediate answer and do something for them or gather and provide information for them ASAP. I admit I have gotten frustrated to the point where I chatted, “did you read my last chat?” which I have also typed when they actually answer my chat and ask me questions that I already answered in the chat! This situation is maddening. And the school year is starting up again soon. Should I just have good communication etiquette and put up with them? I don’t see what else I can do.

    1. Girl friday*

      Start logging your requests and find a more effective way
      Maybe they are pop-inners or something else, but being ineffective in your communication isn’t healthy for your psyche at work.

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