How can I stop worrying and learn to love Slack?
May 5, 2016 7:45 AM   Subscribe

I just friggin' hate Slack, or at least what it is doing to my workday. I feel like I am losing an hour a day to watching ping-pong matches that I can't ignore because it will be hard to capture what's being discussed later (and/or people drop references to things they're asking me to do in the threads, sometimes without @mentions).

I mentioned this concern to one of the other senior managers, and really just got kind of belittled. "Well, you can tune out, but then you'll be out of the loop." So - big help there.

My problem is NOT using the app, understanding the lingo, or any of that. Hell, I know more about configuring the thing than most of the team. (If it wasn't for me, there would still be those stupid useless slackbots spewing random phrases at us).

Are there any "best practices" guides out there? I'd like to publish something to the company (I'm in a position to do that) and say "I don't watch this thing all the time; this is how you're going to use Slack if you want to get something out of me?" without coming across as "get off my lawn."


I am a fairly tech-savvy guy who works with people who are
- even more tech-savvy than I am,
- somewhat younger than I am,
- distributed all over the country

and our shop has largely adopted slack. I say "largely" because there are still emails, text messages, etc.

If I had to describe my job, I'd say it's a mashup of COO, CFO, and other odd jobs. I realize that part of my problem may just be workload and a queasy mix of tactical, urgent stuff with head-down, complex tasks that require my undivided attention.
posted by randomkeystrike to Computers & Internet (11 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
on the one hand, i am sympathetic (because old, and also because i need to concentrate, dammit).

on the other, working remotely, i often feel that people "back in the office" (which i am assuming you are) really undervalue communications with remote workers and don't realise how much time they spend in "meat space" chatting with people who are physically close (ie communicating with remote workers is considered a nuisance, but talking to local is discounted as "normal"). so i would suggest you check that you're not doing that.
posted by andrewcooke at 7:58 AM on May 5, 2016 [6 favorites]

I work for a company that is basically run entirely over Slack, and I manage a client's (software development) team entirely over Slack. We, like you, have a lot going on there. But nobody is expected to actually keep up with every conversation unless they're personally involved, or unless they're specifically tagged. I regularly have long conversations with someone in a channel, come to a conclusion, and then @-tag relevant third parties to come check out our conclusions and take action.

One really key ironclad ground rule: If you don't @mention someone, you can't assume they've seen any particular thing, ever. We regularly use "@randomkeystrike ^^" to tell folks that this here is a thread that's highly relevant to them and worth catching up on, and any kind of tasking/action-item request absolutely must have an @mention.
posted by Tomorrowful at 8:00 AM on May 5, 2016 [6 favorites]

Really like this article by Jason Fried (Basecamp company owner) about Slack/synchronous chat:

I think it's important to have some kind of non-realtime place to store actual todo/project commitments. The chatter in Slack shouldn't "count" as far as setting direction/work. Trello is a good one; there are others.

Besides that, if you stop being constantly present in chat, people will notify you when they need you. If people start abusing @channel/@everyone, disable it.
posted by michaelh at 8:08 AM on May 5, 2016 [2 favorites]

I feel the very same way and was vocal about this to my team when someone proposed using Slack. We set up a few ground rules about using it and it has helped quite a bit:
- anything we need copies of or need to confirm goes to email
- anything important and direct should be a direct message, rather than sending it out to a general channel with a mention
- general stuff, non-urgent things stick to a "general" channel

I'm still getting used to using it, but I do find it helpful to have a channel for just my team that I can post a question to and anyone who is available/knows the answer can help, rather than me wandering around looking for someone or emailing the team and getting dozens of emails back. There are times when a lot of conversation is going on-- those are times when I say "this should happen in a real meeting. let's set up a time" rather than play this intense round of ping pong where someone says something that someone else misses and so that person says it again...and again.

I also don't have pop up notifications for group channels-- just direct messages. This stops the constant ping pong and gives me an opportunity to check it when I have the chance and mindset.
posted by thefang at 8:11 AM on May 5, 2016 [4 favorites]

Set "office hours" for yourself. Check Slack only during your "office hours." This doesn't need to be a public pronouncement, just a working style for yourself. Try an experiment, see how it goes.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:57 AM on May 5, 2016 [3 favorites]

My company doesn't use Slack, but we do have a standing group chat in Lync/Skype (which, to my eternal regret, was at my suggestion). We've implemented some rules to minimize distraction.

-Research your question before asking. People used to ask a lot of questions that we have already answered in our internal or external knowledge bases, or in previous notes; or they asked questions that could be easily answered by testing. I started replying "do a search" or "test it", and while my co-workers like me less now, the number of stupid questions has declined.

-Don't have conversations in the group chat that don't include everyone in the group chat. Frequently, someone will ask "hey abc, did you talk to xyz yesterday?". That person should DM abc and ask directly. My interest in the answer to that question is less than zero.

-No "status updates". One of our former team members called our group chat "Facebook" because it was filled with so many banal updates. "Going to lunch now", "who all is working on something right now?", etc. I led a charge (that my supervisor surprisingly agreed with) to stop that. We have a shared calendar and set lunch hours. If you're scheduled off, it must be on the calendar, and if you're not scheduled off, you're presumed to be available. If I care enough to know what you're doing beyond that, I'll ask you directly.

-Limit jokes, sarcastic responses, emojis, etc. Nobody wants to work for a company without a sense of humor, but like AskMe says, "wisecracks don't help people find answers". Ask yourself, is this joke funny enough to interrupt someone's flow? Hint: probably not.

I still hate our group chat with a passion, but these rules have made it more manageable.
posted by kevinbelt at 9:28 AM on May 5, 2016 [3 favorites]

We use HipChat because we're fairly deep into the Atlassian ecosystem, but I think some of the same problems occur no matter what platform you're using. Here are a few things we do to make this more manageable:
  • Ticket or it didn't happen - if you want me to do something, there needs to be a corresponding JIRA issue for it, especially if what needs to be done will take more than a few minutes of my time.
  • If I need to know about something that was discussed in a different "room," it's your responsibility to get that info to me. I'm not going to go scroll up for 10 minutes and then sort through all the various bits of conversation - condense it, put the relevant info in a JIRA issue or an e-mail, and let me know.
  • Everything in a "room" is work-related. No jokes, no links to funny websites, no off-topic or off-color humor. If you need to tell me a joke or show me the latest meme, contact me directly.

I think it also comes down to setting expectations within the company. If not monitoring Slack on a constant basis means you're out of the loop, then what exactly is your job? Doing work, or watching text scroll by on a screen? If missing an @mention means that something important doesn't get done, then something is really wrong with the company culture. It sounds like a lot of people are making sure they look busy, but not a lot is actually getting done.
posted by ralan at 10:18 AM on May 5, 2016 [3 favorites]

You're the boss (even if you aren't exactly). You don't have to respond. Give :thumbs_up:s on anything addressing you. Even if you read it don't respond unless they mention you. If they don't @ you, it's not important. If they do @ you, don't respond right away. Then, if it needs discussion in depth, pop in and ask for them to set up a meeting offline to discuss. They'll learn not to bother you with stuff that doesn't require your input if you put the onus on them to use more than a moment to chat about it.

General Pronouncements might be a bit counterproductive (how will you tell everyone how to use Slack via Slack if you don't know how to use Slack yet?) except for the office hours one. Also, make people use @here rather than @channel. Please.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 10:37 AM on May 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

It's totally reasonable to request that major decisions need to be confined to email / official company documentation / official task trackers like JIRA. That's how we do it at my company (we have 400+ engineers spread around the globe). We also fork out nonsense into their own channels (we have one for each kind of funny gif you can think of, one for free food, etc), which cuts down on the nonsense in the official channels for support and team communication. I don't think managers use Slack nearly as much as individual contributors; our CTO will only pop in to comment sometimes, and only on general topics. They rely on management below them and non-ephemeral tools (email, JIRA, wikis) to get a sense of where things are headed on a project level. So, I'm wondering why you feel it's necessary for you to stay on top of all of these conversations. It could be helpful to look at your processes for tracking projects and spend some time figuring out how to offload the decisions made in Slack conversations into them.
posted by rhythm and booze at 12:03 PM on May 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

Thanks for the suggestions and anecdotes. I feel reassured that there are others who adopt the idea that "if it's important, it needs to be confirmed in another channel." We're also a Jira shop, and there are tickets for development tasks. Management ephemera are what gets me. So I will more fearlessly insist on @mentions, keeping the clutter down in #general, and "don't assume I saw it."
posted by randomkeystrike at 2:05 PM on May 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

Update half a year later: resolved many of the pain points by getting rid of team members who used slack to bury the lede on things I needed to know about...
posted by randomkeystrike at 7:09 AM on December 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

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