Has Slack turned into an all-day meeting with no agenda?
A couple of days ago, I hosted a small LinkedIn session with some business leaders to discuss their thoughts and opinions on Slack. It had come to my attention that more and more of my clients were re-evaluating their use of the internal comms tool, some questioning its validity for the first time since they had set it up; others simply pondering if there might be a better, less disruptive way for teams to communicate or contemplating how they might be able to use it more effectively as people began returning to the office.
From its lighting speed adoption as an easy-to-use WFH internal comms tool during the first wave of the pandemic, Slack has quickly embedded itself as a staple within many businesses – its channels allowing teams to easily group their clients and projects together in a stream of consciousness that is trackable and easy to collate.
But, is Slack all that?
As it turns out, Slack’s biggest strength, it’s incredible ease-of-use, might also be its weakness: making it far too easy for everyone to default to using Slack for communicating, without truly contemplating what it is they really want from the channel.
What do people like about Slack?
- Great for creating well considered pockets of information about a specific topic or client
- It’s a good tool to stay connected with a distributed team.
- A space for collaborating with clients and team
- Integrates with useful apps – Slack has over 2,000 apps in its directory, but developers can link up their own internal systems too (some of those mentioned during our chat included Calendly, Officely, Zapier and Timetastic)
- Great for immediate responses and getting quick updates
The number one problem with Slack…
“I Slacked you.” Perceived urgency and distraction
Without doubt, the no.1 problem identified during our Slack chat was that big or small, everything coming in through Slack shares the same compact shape, and worse, the same level of urgency. The Pavlovian psychological pull to read every Slack notification ping is like an irritable elbow nudge happening tens of times a day – if you’re part of a busy Slack account, you might find your heartrate speeding up even reading this… annnnd breathe. As Fran Carter, project manager at digital agency, Cake, commented, “what we’re finding is that it’s a daily distraction. There’s a pressure to instantly reply. There are no real boundaries. People could – but don’t – mute their notifications – likely because they fear they will miss something. It’s always on, even when you’re at home there’s a likelihood of a Slack ping.”
Nick Farrar, who owns creative agency, Shaped By, added; “I’m on too many channels – some are a little vague, but you always feel obliged to check in. We started using Slack casually – like a lot of people did – mostly for social interaction during the pandemic and work from home – now we’re using it more – it’s grown organically, and we probably need to be more thoughtful about it.”
So how can we make Slack work the way we want need it to in a way that is most helpful to the business?
What became unmitigatedly clear was how important it is to be deliberate about Slack. Why are you using it? What business need are you trying to solve? Once you know that, you can create guidelines for its usage. “We want to use Slack ONLY for quick, important messages and updates, it’s really a comms tool for when people are not in the office to talk to directly.” Fran added.
Best Practice, Slack Tactics
Be clear on responsibility
“We’re clear that even if someone ‘Slack’s you’ – the responsibility remains on the person asking to make sure the job or action gets done.” Said Josh from boosst. It’s too easy to send a message on Slack and then relinquish all responsibility – training teams that just because they have @mentioned someone doesn’t mean they no longer need to consider the task as their own is a useful tip.
Remove friction – Utilise Slack integrations (but question if it’s the only reason for using Slack)
There’s not a lot you can’t integrate into Slack, and Zapier allows you to link up other CMS systems which can help keep everyone informed. The time to question comes when integration is the main reason for using Slack – are there other comms tools that might do the job better?
The Slack Police
As suggested by Josh Butten at boosst, one way to make sure people stay on track in Slack is to make everyone in your company part of the ‘Slack police’. “If someone goes rogue on the Slack channel – like posting something somewhere it shouldn’t be – then someone simply hits the police emoji – it’s a bit of fun, but it tends to work and keeps the channels relatively self-regulated.”
Activate “remind me about this”
Just select any message and click the three dots to open up more information. On this menu, select Remind me about this, and then choose when you want to be reminded, anywhere from 20 minutes to next week – it might (might) help curb the need to reply instantly on everything.
Only view your activity
Click the @ icon at the upper-right of the desktop, a new pane opens labelled activity, see all your most recent mentions, reactions, channel-wide announcements, and keywords.
Don’t ‘do work’ in Slack
This is an important one. There’s a chance that stuff will get buried in Slack, so seeing it as an ongoing conversations about the project and clients, rather than somewhere to store and share attachments. As Josh from boosst said, “We don’t ‘do work’ in Slack, the work happens outside of that. Slack is for conversations about the work.”
If you have your channels sorted, then there shouldn’t be any need for DMs on Slack. The more DMs, the more distraction for teams and the more likely work will be derailed as conversations spill into various channels. “Stopping DMs made everyone consider a bit more about the use of people’s time” said Fran.
Create a ‘win’ channel
Create a channel dedicated to all your good news, client wins, award wins, Google reviews, congratulations etc. A great addition to your work channels.
Check in with your teams about what is working
As Josh Butten from boosst said “I put Slack in place, and added all the integrated apps, so clearly I’m going to think it’s perfect, but I need to consider whether it’s really working for the team and what potential problems there might be for them.” A sense check with your teams should quickly unearth any major bugbears and using that feedback to experiment with various levels of Slack usage (as Cake have) is valuable.
Do your due diligence
If you’ve been using Slack for the past year or more, now is probably the time to sit down and really look at who and what you are using it for. Is it still serving its purpose as an internal comms tool and do you need to make some guidelines for usage amongst your teams? During our conversation Fran from Cake added, ‘We trialled turning off Slack altogether, but there was a negative impact in that everyone’s emails were filling up really quickly. So now everyone knows Slack is used only for quick update comms, whether that’s asking a member if you can grab 5 minutes with them, or dropping in a link someone needs quickly before a meeting, or updating people on the status of a job – anything more than that needs to be an email.”
An interesting and valuable conversation with three business leaders who are at different stages of using Slack and questioning it validity and usefulness. A big thank you to Fran, Nick, and Josh for taking the time.
My feeling is that Slack will be the topic of many a discussion going forward, and there’s likely to be a MySpace style revolution as other options enter the market. I’d love to hear how you use Slack in your business.