Let’s chat about chat.

Nathan Garvie
4 min readSep 24, 2014

We’ve moved our team over to Slack as our main means of communication at Heist. It’s the dreamy chat client we’ve been craving after using Skype and Google Hangouts and hitting bumps in the road. If you’ve used Slack, you know they have smoothed over the little hurdles and pain points in a mature software space that has existed for years.

However, with buttery smooth communication, the amount of communication goes up. Way up.

Theoretically this is great. We have quick convos on our iPhones! It breaks down silos! Inline gifs! Collaboration! All things that were only in the promised land five years ago.

The downside: it gets really noisy, really fast.

“I just ate this cronut that changed my life”
“Cronuts sucks.”
“I think the cronuts at Cronuts R’ Us have the too much sugar in their icing compared to Cronut Kings”
“OMG how can you guys put that in your body? My diet is strictly avocados with olive oil and I’m the healthiest I’ve been in my whole life. Try this shake recipe...”

All your devices light up like christmas trees with notifications about stuff that’s really not important. We’re a team of 15 people that are mostly in the same office. All of us being fairly young, most of us haven’t come from the corporate world where Blackberrys and reply-alls at midnight are the norm.

Here’s a screenshot of what my sidebar looks like. The Hoth theme is great.

We use Slack channels for team wide announcements, non-work topics, article sharing and stupid gifs, with group chats for projects and work related conversations. It’s not a hard rule but how the software best lends itself for how we work.

Here’s what our team has learned and what works for us so that Slack doesn’t become our full time job.

Feel free to leave channels or groups

There’s no obligation to stay, leave if you find yourself getting distracted.

Try to only use notifications for DM’s or mentions

Having a little notification popping up on your screen or your phone is a great way to be constantly distracted and not get any work done.

Put your conversation where it belongs

Like to talk about sports? Hop into the sports channel. Have a personal question? Don’t put it in the all team chat.

Know your limits and be responsible

Everyone has a varying degree of communication capacity. Some people ignore team wide channels and catch up on their free time, others can post five gifs a morning and still get work done. Know what works for you and be respectful of what works for others.

If you’re getting into a debate or a long back and forth convo, take it out of all-team channels.

“Where’s the unfollow button?”

Think before you send

It’s easy to get into the habit of sending the first response that comes into your head or by hyperbolic like the internet tends to be. Pause, edit, write something longer and more thoughtful.

Remember to be IRL

Say “hi” and “see ya later” IRL. Don’t DM the person sitting beside you, be a human and talk with your mouth. It makes for a friendlier office.


Find a great article? Share it and lets talk about it. Have a stupid gif, put that in a channel. New album just drop? #music that Rdio link.

As you can see these aren’t really about Slack or chat software but generally how to be a decent person in a work environment. The behaviour and norms are more important than any “setup”. This new generation of chat software (there’s Hipchat, Hall and a slew of others) exposes your team’s culture dramatically because there’s more full team conversations, a clearer topic/reply log with the chat history and conversations are just easier to have than over email. I know a lot of smart people have written about the culture of email within companies but I do think there’s another shift that comes in the increase in volume and transparency that chat software brings to teams.

Everyone is directly faced with all the personalities on the team and how they interact. It’s tougher to get around or ignore like you could in email. It’s there when you arrive in the morning. It’s in your pocket at the doctors office. It’s on your couch when you go home at night. You’re culture is put on a pedestal for the entire team to see. How people talk to one another, their flaws, where they shine, it becomes consolidated into your stream of communication. Kind of like the rings of a tree, over time you can go back and spot the healthy moments and not so healthy times. If you’re culture is based on negativity or fear, it’s visible. If you’re culture is built around positivity, growth and meaning, that shows too.

While we’re happy with how our culture and behaviour have evolved online within our current team, it’s always a work in progress. Fortunately, we’ve seen a set of norms begin to harden that make for a great place to work. I think these are issues more and more (non-internet-y?) companies are going to face as they move away from email. I’m curious to hear how other teams have had their culture show up in their chat and what patterns have shown up. Share your thoughts or shoot me a tweet @n8garvie.



Nathan Garvie

Hyperglocalist. Product Designer at Facebook. Previously Design Director at Heist.