Slack and the communications stack

Before Pilotship, Dan and I each used Slack with teams of all sizes. We’re big fans, and view chat as an important part of team collaboration. But we have also found ourselves on both sides of healthy debates about Slack’s impact on etiquette, productivity, and work/life balance. Many of these issues seem to stem from different ideas about how and why teams use Slack, which got me thinking back to basics of what Slack is and what it’s not.

What Slack is good for

Transparency: Channels are public by default, whereas emails are private by default. This lets everyone view and contribute to conversations.

Organization: To paraphrase Reverend Goodrich, “a channel for everything and everything in its channel”. Grouping messages by topic rather than recipient is a big advantage over email.

Speed: It’s designed to have long complex conversations in real time. You get pretty close to IRL speed, allowing you to communicate more naturally.

Small teams: Transparent, organized, and fast works really well for discussions among small teams. It can increase velocity and keep everyone informed.

What Slack is not so good for:

Non-core stakeholders: If you’re not a member of the small team, a channel offers much more detail and nuance than you need. It’s hard to follow along casually in your free time.

Scaling across teams: Chat is able to scale to many teams within an organization, but is not able to keep those teams connected to one another without notification overload and imbalanced engagement.

Knowledge base: The search function finds all the messages that contain a keyword, but good luck trying to surface complete thoughts. It’s best at recalling messages that you already know exist.

Ultimately, Slack is not a silver bullet for internal communications. I like to think of Slack as one layer of a team’s communications stack, similar to how we’ve defined the tech stack or marketing stack. Here’s what our comms stack looks like here at Pilotship:

What communications stack does your team use?