Using Slack


At UCLIC we have recently moved to a new building. I very much like our new building and in particular I really like our new lab / hacker space / design space, where I have the great opportunity to work on my new (standing) desk.

Reason for using Slack

This move of offices however means, that UCLIC is not sharing one big open plan office anymore, but is spread out over three different floors and many smaller offices. It is difficult to see now whether someone is at their desk, and having lunch together became quite rare. In a recent staff meeting we decided to tackle that feeling of separation. Among other things (a blog post is soon to follow) we just started using Slack in a small beta test to find out whether we want it to be part of our team communication.
If you don't know what Slack is watch their video

Why I like[1] Slack

In two companies I have worked previously we've used different forms of group communication, rather than email. Simply because email is not meant to discuss things internally and is not as immediate. We used Skype (just IM) and Google Talk. Both companies moved to HipChat (somewhat comparable to Slack) a while after I started. I experience that in the beginning there was a novelty effect and a barrier of getting used to it, including people wishing to go back to the old system. Eventually the benefits where greater though than the downsides (isn't it always like that when there's something new, unusual around?)

So here at UCLIC we've started using Slack as a trial for our internal communication. I am still fairly new to Slack myself (have been using it with a smaller sub group of UCLIC a few weeks already) and in both teams we are still getting used to it. The main focus is still on how to best utilize it for our purposes.

I like the idea of having a more relaxed communication channel than the "heavy" way of using email.

I also love the openness that Slack offers. Everyone can join any channel they like, that way everything is open and transparent.

This openness on the other hand comes with a downside: Especially at first people are intrigued to join every channel that's available. This will very soon become overwhelming.

So without further ado here are some quick tips:

Several tips on using slack

Create channels with a clear purpose

Most importantly I think we need to define separate channels with well-defined topics. That way everyone can subscribe to only the channels he/she wants to and turn on/off notifications on a channel basis. This would also imply that everyone has to stick to the topic in these channels / e.g. not flood them with other things, but I think we are a bunch of reasonable people who should be able to do that - and already doing that so far. And from what I observed flooding is usually only a novelty effect.
Many companies share how they use Slack for their purposes. In particular I like the way Hover setup their Slack channels.

Adjust notifications.

Sometimes even on a daily basis. I think this post on Quartz has it nicely covered on how to stay sane when using Slack.

Post wiseley

I'm urging that Slack is much more relaxed than email, however we have to consider what we are posting.
I think of Slack as an enriched multimedia communications channel (anyone still remembers the good ol' days of GoogleWave? :'-( ). With emails I always the have the feeling that an incoming email bears a To-Do, filling up my inbox and my mind. On Slack I post more freely as I see it more as a communications channel. Plus I can always go back through a channel or search content
Nevertheless I think we need to be careful on what to post and in which channel. It's very easy to flood a conversation and annoy others. That's why I always try to think about it:

  • would I send the same content via email? If yes, then I'll post it.
  • would I tell this right now to my colleagues around me? If yes, then I'll post it.
  • would I tweet about this? If yes, then I'll post it.
  • all other cases: I carefully consider.

Make it personal

This not only means that Slack allows for a great deal of customizing the experience: profile images (a well undervalued feature I think!), custom emojis, slackbot responses, logo, etc.
Furthermore I think Slack is great for personal one-on-one communication. Even the small bits of just sending a quick link to a colleague about something they might be interested. Previously this would either have created a To-Do in there inbox - or would have never made it to them...

Way to go

Yes, using Slack does involve some setup and some time of getting used to. But over time I see that Slack definitely has a potential to enhance / replace email and help us in our group communication and group organization.

I am hoping that Slack will be an integral part of UCLIC's internal communication and I will be reporting back on how we ended up using it.

[1] I won't yet say I love Slack. For this it has to become my tool for everyday communication. I think the bigger acceptance of the group will show whether there will be a love relationship between Slack and me ;-)