Ernie posts today on IM as a corporate tool, asking, “So what does this IM stuff, which is clearly the province of young people, have to do with corporate culture?” My company, Jaffe Associates, operates “virtually” — our staff work out of home offices located throughout the world. All that connects us are telephones and the Internet. IM is a critical piece of our corporate backbone. When I first joined the company, I was skeptical about IM. Although I’d used it to a limited extent on internal corporate networks, I’d avoided it like the plague as an Internet tool, fearing constant disruption. Instead, I have found it to be invaluable. Got a quick question for a co-worker? IM is faster than e-mail or phone. Need to steer a conference call in another direction? An IM lets you discretely send a comment to one of the participants. Miss having an office watercooler? Use IM to chat about last night’s American Idol. Best of all, there seems to be an unwritten code among the people in my company not to overuse IM. I am not bombarded by pop-up smiley faces all day. My coworkers use IM sparingly and respectfully.

Ernie refers to comments delivered by West CEO Mike Wilens at ABA Techshow about IM as a customer service tool. Although I have read of lawyers using IM with clients, I suspect we are a long, long way from IM becoming a common method of communication between professionals and clients.