When we started AGEIST, I had never used most of the digital tools I live with today. The introduction to modern digital-team workflows was a clumsy process, with constant mis-steps and learning that continues to this day. Rarely does a day go by that Jack, our great CTO, doesn’t admonish me for some digital misstep.
One of the aspects of modern workflow is the digitally connected team, and it’s a big change from everyone being in the same office. Getting into this mindset took some adjusting, but when I did, it was a huge productivity boost.
Though I am still coming to grips with some of its nuances, Slack is the digital app that allows our team to communicate in real time across time zones.
Slack is a text-based application for team messaging. Think of it as iMessage or sending a text. It can be to a group, to a person, or grouped by a specific topic. Since it is almost real-time communication, it is better than email for your direct work partners. But this real time aspect is also its downside and needs to be managed.
The main learning hurdle is not so much setting it up, which we will show you how to do, but in understanding its unique etiquette and how to keep it from taking over your day.
There Are 3 Ways We Use Slack
Direct messaging. These are messages that the others in the team don’t see. The message thread is initiated by going to the Direct Messages part of the menu, selecting the person on the team who you want to chat with, and typing in the Message field. You can also share files by dragging and dropping into the Message field. I would caution against using Slack as an archive for your files. Keep them somewhere additional just to be sure.
Group Direct Messages. These are for one-off discussions between you and up to eight other people. To initiate a group DM, click the plus icon (+) next to Direct Messages in the side menu, then select the names of the people you wish to add, before clicking Go to finish. This will start a discussion that only these people will see. Once the group DM is set up, all you have to do is type in its Message field and all the participants will see the message. And, of course, you can add people to a particular group if you realize you forgot someone, or as the scope of the project/conversation expands.
Channels. These are for ongoing discussions about a certain topic or project, and can include up to 1000 people. To create a channel, click the plus icon (+) next to Channels in the side menu, choose whether you want it to be public or private, give it a name and purpose, then send invites to people. Channels already created are listed in the side menu and marked with a hash (#). This is one where I mess up all the time. You need to use the @name in order for someone in that channel to be immediately alerted that you are telling that person something, otherwise everyone can browse the channel to see updates. Just typing in the channel’s Message field will add to the channel, but will not directly alert the other channel members.
Mobile integrates seamlessly with desktop. You will need to have your notifications set properly, and you will be alerted on mobile the same as with desktop.
Now the issue is the etiquette. It is assumed that if you have your Slack up and running, that you are available. If it is off, then you don’t want to be disturbed. The conflict comes in when there is a lot to do, and you don’t want to be disturbed. It is best that everyone on the team have an understanding of the assumed response time, and what “unavailable” means. If there is a large active group with a number of channels, it can get pretty crazy pretty fast. Some people thrive on the immediacy of Slack communication, for others it is just a massive time suck.
Ask the existing team some questions. What is the culture around response time, quiet time, after-work time? Younger people are much more text based than people who grew up with landlines, and since it is their world, it is up to us to adapt. Remember that the biggest problem with older workers integrating with younger ones is cultural.
As a rule, unless there is some major drama happening, I don’t have Slack active on my phone. It’s just too much with having to monitor all the other communication apps.
- Slack is a highly useful, and now ubiquitous app, in the digital work environment. If you have not used it, and are looking to a career pivot, it is well worth your while to learn it.
- It is easy to use once you adopt a digital team communication mindset.
- The main problem is understanding the team’s culture around communication response expectation, and not having Slack take over your work life.