Maia’s Mailbag: Slack. . . love, hate, or somewhere in between?

Jan 29, 2022

My longtime friend Sorby Grant, Chief Program Officer at the Center for Resilience in New Orleans, reached out recently with some light anguish around her team’s use of Slack. It’s a challenge I’m sure many folks can relate to, so I thought I’d post my response to the blog!

Dear Maia: 

I dislike Slack. Like why did we need a new medium to communicate? Here’s the skinny: It’s a completely virtual team. And the team is struggling with this merging of text and email. We have a multi-generational team and I’m revamping communication norms and team meetings because I’ve jumped into a messy-mess-mess.

I don’t want the communication norms to be about my preferences or any individual’s preferences—and honestly past conversations they’ve had about norms have been about individual preferences instead of what the team needs to function. New channels are popping up, folx repeat one another, SOMETIMES DECISIONS ARE MADE, tone is lost, slack during meetings, and sometimes people, l just don’t read it.

Any help is appreciated!

Oooh, I love this question so much, and while I don’t personally have Slack experience because my distraction-hungry brain also cannot handle one more thing, and I would never get books written if I was pinged all day, I reached out to some Together VIPs and they had some great tips!

Sarah Brock reminds us that Slack has helped fill the water cooler void on a lot of teams where remote work is still happening. It’s a great place to talk about that new Netflix series, your weekend plans, or share pics of your beloved pets (otherwise known as WFH office-mates).

But as Sarah notes, there are some downsides. “In my observation, Slack doesn’t work well for teams where lots of people are moving around frequently throughout the day. Too easy to miss messages or whole conversations. For mission-critical things for larger teams doing that sort of work (think Ops staff), I’ve seen text chains or WhatsApp work well (with the expectation that the group text is for critical in-the-moment needs and should stay clear of chit chat).”

If it seems like Slack is here to stay in your workplace, what are some tips to keep it manageable and effective? Alison Marie weighed in with a few clear Slack communication agreements her organization has in place.

  • If you need to have a conversation, pick up the phone (or use Slack call, a nice feature).
  • If you need a written record, use email or draft a memo (which you must then email).
  • If you’re sending a “can’t miss” message, assigning a deliverable, sharing a deadline, you must use email.
  • If you need to focus on something (a meeting, a project, etc.) feel free to shut Slack off so you can focus – if I need you urgently, I’ll call you.

Alison also noted a survey she uses during onboarding to understand everyone’s interaction styles.

How do you interact with others?

  • How do you coach people to do their best work and develop their talents?
  • What’s the best way to communicate with you?
  • What’s the best way to convince you to do something?
  • How do you like to give feedback?
  • How do you like to get feedback?

And lastly, Jillian Berger reminds us the importance of maintenance, “We routinely (every month or so) review all the channels and archive the ones that are no longer needed or redundant. We have also set up channels that have very limited user functionality (i.e., restrictions on who can post, who can @ mention, threading ability, etc) in an effort to reduce some of the Slack noise. We certainly haven’t figured out the most efficient way to manage Slack but I think the routine audits and establishing channels with limited functionality have helped.”

Okay, Together-verse, thanks for helping! And a reminder that if you have ever attended a Together course, join us over at Together Forever, a great place to solicit help, share strategies and get it all Together.