person chatting

Slack, HipChat, Yammer, Lync, Pie, Bitrix24—one of these words most likely has a lot of meaning to you. After all, it’s how you communicate with all your co-workers every single day. (The others might have you scratching your head and wondering how one sentence could have so many typos.)

For many companies nowadays, chat rooms are the water cooler. So, just like you need to be respectful and careful of what you say aloud in your office, you need to know the dos and don’ts of using these tools appropriately. (This isn’t 1997, and you shouldn’t be asking anyone “A/S/L?”) Even if you’re using it every day, you still might be making some basic etiquette mistakes.

Follow these five rules, and you should be good to go.

1. Use it (Only) When You Need Answers, Fast

If you need an answer fast or have news your team needs to know now, this is the first place you should turn. People usually have notifications set up so that they see new chats as they come in and can respond to time-sensitive inquiries quickly. However, if what you want to communicate is an FYI, a question that will require some thought, more of a long-term idea or project, or really anything you’d want to reference in the future, turn to email. You’ll get a more thoughtful response—and avoid annoying your co-workers.

2. Be Friendly

Now you know that these rooms aren’t meant for long, in-depth conversations. However, that doesn’t mean you can forget your manners under the guise of being brief. Remember “please” and “thanks.” Also, note that this is one those rare forms of work communication where emoticons are OK, and a basic smiley face in response to a “You’re welcome” can do wonders. As can starting a conversation with “How’s your day going?” before jumping into “Is the report ready?”

3. Reply Quickly

One of the biggest advantages of chat over email is that it takes just seconds to send a message. But, that means there’s often an expectation that you should reply quickly, too. So, when you’re asked something in chat, respond as soon as you can. In most cases, colleagues are assuming they’ll hear back instantly. If you’re working on something important, in a meeting, or even going to lunch, take a moment to change your status so people know you’re not available.

4. Set Up Alerts

With that said, chat can easily be forgotten just running in a background window on your computer all day. Make sure you don’t miss a thing by adjusting your settings so that you hear a sound or see a pop-up whenever a message comes in. (Just remember that if you’re not regularly using headphones, you should turn off that sound.)

In addition to that, you should check your settings to see if you can get conversations sent to you when you’re offline. More often than not, someone will email you if he or she isn’t hearing back. But it’s not a bad idea to stay in the loop and skim over what you missed—especially in group chats where conversation often moves back-and-forth between lighthearted banter and serious topics.

5. Stay on Topic

On that note, since it’s easy to fire off a string of comments in chat, you can easily get distracted and find yourself discussing your weekend plans instead of talking about tomorrow’s project review. Keep the conversation productive by sticking to the subject at hand.

If you (and your team) struggle with that, set up a separate “break room” or “off-topic” chat room for any side discussions. There’s no shame in having a room reserved solely for puppy videos. After all, a good laugh can brighten everyone’s day. And, there’s nothing quite like watching everyone read the same chat and burst out laughing at the same time. Just don’t get too carried away or go all NSFW. This is work, after all.

Chat’s quickly becoming the standard for team communication today. So, keep these rules in mind as you work. It won’t just make your job easier, it will also make your communication far more effective. Plus, if you really commit to it, your GIF game will be that much stronger.