Distributed Teams

Define a communication policy so Slack doesn't kill you

Twist is the Doist team's answer to the overwhelming amount of real-time interaction they have experienced using Slack:

It wasn’t healthy for our team, and it wasn’t helping us focus on the hard work that really moves projects forward.

Ironically, instead of changing their habits, which are the root cause for their issues, they set out to solve the problem by building a new tool, essentially a forum, with stricter rules applied to how communication should work.

Every powerful tool, like Slack, comes with the responsibility to learn how to use it properly. And if you do, it's general purpose makes it so easily adaptable for many use cases. It's the same with Trello where boards can become very chaotic and overwhelming for users that don't know how which features are there to organize cards.

Not matter which tool you use to communicate, one of the most important actions to tackle communication chaos is defining a communication policy. (You can read about the rules at one of my former workplaces here.) This means that you establish a common, (written!), understanding within your team, which communication tool you use for what and what the expected response times are.

Especially for a highly invasive tool like Slack rules like these can help:

  • we don't expect to answer to Slack messages immediately, but within 4 hours on a work day
  • we use the Do Not Disturb feature to signal if we need uninterrupted time to work
  • we don't send Slack messages an Weekends or Holidays
  • we rarely ever use @channel in general topic channels
  • we switch to Video Chat if we observe that a ping-pong discussion is happening

It's also important to educate every team member about the features of each tool to manage notifications, and how to turn them off.

So the next time when you start blaming a tool for limiting your ability to be productive, try taking a step back and find the root cause for the symptom.