The creators of group-chat app Slack reckon that their product is poised to transform office communication.
Based on Slack’s own surveys of its users, the San Francisco-based startup boasts 25 fewer meetings, 32 percent more productivity, and almost 50 percent fewer emails within offices communicating via Slack.
Based on my own experiences with Slack, these numbers strike me as a rare case of truth in advertising. The priorities Slack emphasizes, transparency, creative collaboration, and the real-time documenting of office culture, are indeed changing the way we communicate as offices. As a leader, your job in a Slack-connected world is to make these new priorities work for you and your employees.
How it Works
On its face, Slack fulfills a role similar to old-school instant-massagers, like AOL IM, but Slack improves upon the model and makes it especially office-suitable by automatically archiving conversations, making it easy to organize topics into different channels, and synching across devices. The result becomes something like a transparent-to-all, free-flowing, concertedly casual office email inbox.
Users can opt to chat privately, but the default is public chatting, which allows employees across business divisions and project groups to keep tabs on what their colleagues are up to. Because it’s all archived, a new hire or someone who has changed roles within the company can bone up on how various ideas, or even aspects of office culture, have evolved by reading as far back as he or she may choose into old conversations.
Slack opens up the channels of communication that email keeps closed. One central benefit of this is the greater opportunity for creative collaboration, even across divisions and project designations.
Of course, there are potential drawbacks to bringing all (or nearly all) conversations happening within an office out into the open. Some conversations that shouldn’t be public, like those involving painful criticism, will sometimes indeed happen publically. Managers within these offices will need to develop skills for dealing with this new breed of tech-enabled landmines.
While there are certain features, such as mentions, that allow you to tag certain individuals or even entire channels by using the @ symbol, there is also a time and a place for such tools, and it’s important to know when a message or mention warrants a private (direct) message instead.
Fortunately, there are ways you can adopt your office processes in ways that will help you realize the full benefits of the changes Slack has wrought while continuing to create an environment that thrives on positive and productive communication.
- Make it easy to collaborate in person. To take advantage of the more creative, open atmosphere of Slack chats, find ways to ensure frictionless transitions from Slack conversations to IRL collaborations. Slackbot is also a great tool that incorporates artificial intelligence into your workflow.
- Encourage brainstorming and creative spitballing across company contexts. Make it clear that sparks of ideas don’t have to be fully formed before they’re shared. If you can loosen up creative juices in Slack, they’re likely to loosen up in other types of office discussions, and vice versa. You can help encourage this by creating channels dedicated to this kind of mentality. For example, you can create a channel called “brainstorming” or “ideas.” In this channel, you can send relevant articles and challenge people to brainstorm ways to bring new ideas into practice. It would also be a good idea to share what the competition is doing to continuously push innovation.
- Incorporate reaction buttons to add a more playful and personable element to office communications. Sometimes office environments can get overly serious or stressful, and using emojis as an alternative way to react to messages or content when appropriate can add a new and unique element to workplace communication.
- Establish clear protocol around what types of discussions call for a private channel. If everyone’s clear about this, it’ll be easier to flag inappropriate conversations and make them private before they get out of hand.
- Utilize stars, hashtags, and the search function to keep team members organized. Taking advantage of these tools will help to keep conversations organized and eliminate the need for individuals to repeat or resend information. This is particularly useful for team members who struggle with organization and will lessen the friction or irritation that can result from needing to ask co-workers for information that was already provided
- Embrace transparency in other parts of office culture, too. Show your employees that you truly value transparency by shining light on company finances, challenges, hiring processes, and other parts of business operations.
Let Slack shake and loosen up office culture and processes in the ways that need to be shaken and loosened. It may mean losing a few meetings and gaining a few emojis, but chances are your employees will be just fine with that.