An Email (rant) about Slack

I periodically rant about productivity to the team here at GameChanger. I’ve been doing it forever, but it feels more justified now that I’m a COO. Below is an email I sent about Slack’s impact on productivity, posted with minor edits for clarity/grammar.


Hi!

TL;DR: Slack conversations are not a substitute for in-person ones, particularly for making decisions and ensuring alignment. Email and face-to-face communication are not obsolete.

Many of you have been talking about what the best uses of Slack are. It’s a powerful tool, and I for one love how few emails I get (because much of the silly, transient stuff that used be an email I had to read is now just a message in a channel). However, it can be overused.

Here are some guidelines:

1) Don’t make meaningful decisions in Slack. It’s too important that everyone impacted by a decision know about it, and just because someone’s technically in the room doesn’t mean they noticed the conversation or had a chance to respond. If a discussion leads you to a conclusion, make sure you follow up with an email to the group elucidating that conclusion, or better yet, call a short meeting to confirm it’s right and make sure objections are heard, and that everyone understands the direction.

2) Don’t announce things in Slack that everyone needs to see, because then you create a universe in which everyone has to always monitor Slack to be sure they didn’t miss something. Email is still the best way to make sure everyone gets a particular message. Re-posting in Slack is fine, but don’t rely on it to get the message across.

3) Don’t assume because you sent someone a message in Slack that they got it, and don’t rely on a Slack DM to handle an urgent issue. People have different work rhythms and different levels of engagement. That doesn’t mean you can’t use DMs, or that they don’t often work, but don’t rely on them for immediate, or even reliable, responses. Send an email if you need a response from someone eventually. Call or walk over to someone if you need a response urgently. Again, if we expect everyone to always reply to Slack in real-time, then nobody can do anything but patiently sit at their desks awaiting Slack messages.

In general: be mindful of other people’s time, focus, and productivity, and be mindful of your own. It’s always OK to turn off Slack and get work done, and as a result we cannot set expectations with others that they cannot do that.

Tips:

* Document any meaningful conversations that happen on Slack (particularly decisions or realizations of import to projects or teams) in Email so that everyone gets access to the same information.

* Defend your own focus: if we all make the conscious decision not to let Slack control our time, then people who do overshare lose their incentive to do so.

* Do your meaningful, regular communications in person/over video. Stand-ups and formal discussions require nuance and engagement that an asynchronous medium does not sufficiently support.

Value your own productivity, and value the productivity of your team. Don’t abuse the great tools we get in a way that slows yourself or your teammates down. And before you say “Slack is less interruptive than an in-person discussion,” remember that it’s not about just one person’s personal preferences and productivity, but about making sure the right conversations are had in a way that’s inclusive that ensures the whole team can move forward together with clarity.

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