Help my team communicate more efficiently
June 17, 2018 9:39 AM   Subscribe

With the rise of Slack, frequent notifications resulted in a very distraction-heavy work experience for me and my team. What norms can we adopt to balance the needs of visibility and accountability with the desire to avoid distraction and do work that requires deep concentration?

I've read articles like Dear Slack Let's Just Be Friends, which provide an excellent overview of how to make Slack less distracting for me, but I'm more interested in team norms that will improve things for everyone.

One of the biggest challenges we face is that the @username facility is overloaded to be a way of getting someone's immediate attention as well as tagging a piece of non-urgent information as potentially interesting or needing follow up from that individual. How can we use Slack (and potentially email, though it's nearly extinct at my company) to achieve both of these disparate goals?
posted by Cogito to Technology (5 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
First step: Unless you're in a job that requires rapid reaction, turn off notifications. Your response to them trains people to rely on your reacting, and it perpetuates the cycle.
posted by dws at 10:00 AM on June 17, 2018 [7 favorites]

Caveat - I haven't done this yet, but I want to. Close the app(s) entirely, and sleep phone notifiations. Use the Pomodoro Technique for X minutes of completely uninterrupted time. When the timer's done, check your email/slack/whatever. Respond as needed. When done, take a break and then start another Pomodoro session. Even in my highly connected job where things can move fast at times, the world will not end if I don't check slack for 30 min.
posted by cgg at 10:12 AM on June 17, 2018 [3 favorites]

I worked at an organization that used Slack and I hated it. I fail to see how a constant running chat room is more efficient than email - I constantly was having to read other people's conversations about stuff that didn't involve me. My organization didn't do it, but I would try to use threads so everyone isn't having to constantly read minutia about a bigger topic. If it's something that really involves no one else, people should move it to DMs.

I would also start snoozing notifications when you are working on something and don't want to be distracted. Or you can keep them snoozed all the time, if you want. Bit when you snooze them, if someone tags you in something, they will see a message along the lines of, "Cogito's notifications are snoozed. Do you want to send a notification anyway" - they should only say "yes" when it's actually urgent and otherwise, you can just go back and see where you are tagged once you come back to check on Slack. It used to drive me nuts how I constantly kept getting tagged in @here and @channel messages.
posted by AppleTurnover at 10:18 AM on June 17, 2018 [3 favorites]

tagging a piece of non-urgent information as potentially interesting or needing follow up from that individual

First off, never do this. Things that notify (@username or @here or @channel) are for situations that require immediate response. If you're tagging people that way you're going to make them notification-deaf (or cause them to turn off notifications, which has more or less the same effect).

Further, I became convinced that Slack is incompatible with long term archiving, because there's too much chatter and noise. You could come up with a convention for non-notifying tags that people could search later, but I'm not sure it's really helpful in light of the Giant Bucket Of Chatter that surrounds whatever you're actually trying to create a notification for.

I'm a believer in emails or wikis for wrap-up summaries. You can have the live discussion on Slack but somebody should then create a summary document that lives in your wiki or gets emailed to the dev list, and that's where you can tag people for next steps (and then go create tickets in whatever system you use, referencing the wiki as a roundup of how all the tickets fit together, and assign tickets/tasks and get your queues filled that way).
posted by fedward at 10:19 AM on June 17, 2018 [3 favorites]

I'm in the minority in that I really like Slack, especially as a way to remain connected across geographically-distributed offices, and to share information quickly when needed. I do, however, think Slack has specific uses, and is not the be-all end-all catch-all for company communications

In addition to having everyone customize their own notifications, including setting Do Not Disturb hours and muting channels (I sit with new team members and show them how to do this in their first week!), here are a few norms many teams have adopted at my company that help a lot:
  • Published company guidelines for when to use Slack (time-sensitive messages, casual communication, operational chatter), when to use email (anything that needs to be read by everyone, including people who may be away from Slack and unable to catch up), and when to use both (important company-wide messages get duplicated on Slack and email).
  • Liberal use of Away and statuses--and a culture of actually respecting them and not messaging someone who is Away or has an OOO/In a meeting/Heads-down right now status. If you need someone whose status indicates they're not reachable via Slack right now, send a dang email. (I have to admit, this is challenging to stick to, but it's worth it! It works best when the people who set their statuses also stick to them, because if they don't they eventually get a reputation of "Oh, Carol will usually respond even when she's set to Away".)
  • Slack is NOT for task assignment. If you need to ask a person or a team to take an action (follow up with a customer, research a case, research a bug, comment on a spec, etc.), you submit that via the relevant team's ticketing or task management system. Only a single exception (the channel that has the single purpose of reporting global outages), and constant reminders when someone tries to hand off a task via Slack whether it's in a channel or via DM.
  • Speaking of reminders! Slackbot's Remind Me feature is awesome, and allows people to quickly clear notifications that are interesting but they can't follow up on immediately. Some people use Mark Unread similarly, but most people I know prefer not having that unread message taunting them. While this is an individual behavior, training everyone to use it helps benefit the whole team.
  • For teams who find themselves answering questions for other teams often, we have #ask-team channels. They're only for general questions ("Remind me how this process works once your team gets it?" or "Which is the best printer for color copies?")--anything requiring specific research or follow-up is a task, and people asking for that will be redirected to the team's ticketing or task management system. For teams who get a lot of these questions, it's really helpful to have a rotation of a dedicated person to answer them, so the whole team doesn't feel like they need to keep half an eye on the channel when they should really be heads-down. One team even has published hours for their #ask- channel.
  • As much as "Ohgod not another Slack channel" is a thing, it's actually better for us to have lots of specialized Slack channels so only the people who need to be involved in conversations about a specific topic can do so and others don't have to be disturbed by updates and discussions not relevant to them. Use cases: discussions about an upcoming or recent feature release, issue/outage post-mortems, event planning, coordinating visitors, etc.
  • Lots of social/fun and #x-offtopic channels people can mute them when they need to. Does a decent job at keeping offtopic chatter from channels people feel they need to monitor for work stuff
  • Swift examples made of people misusing @channel or @here. People usually do this once when they're new and then never again.

posted by rhiannonstone at 10:56 AM on June 17, 2018 [14 favorites]

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