One of the worst things about being an independent consultant is that you don’t have a lot of colleagues in the formal sense of people who work at the same company. You have people you work with on projects, and you have friends, who are often people you work with on projects, or have worked with, or will work with again. It’s easy to get lost in your own world when you work on your own, only coming up for air when you notice the sky outside is getting darker and it’s not just that it’s raining. Getting a cup of coffee is not the way to take a break and talk to somebody; it’s just a way to get a cup of coffee.
Instant messenger (of multiple brands) fills that gap for me, and gives me a sense of working in a group. It’s like being in virtual cubicles. I can see if people are around, I can see if they don’t want to be disturbed. I can knock on their virtual door to see if they have time for a quick chat. And when the names start to dwindle on the buddy list, I can tell it’s time to knock off for the day.