When it launched in 2013, Slack promised to revolutionize workplace collaboration with instant access to coworkers and a centralized, customizable backchannel for all company projects. The reality proved to be a bit different. While these collaborative work apps were sold as a way to boost productivity, the result has been more mixed. Many companies and people have soured on the experience.
As an example, too much overtyping can lead to confusing group conversations where it's difficult to get a word in edgewise. Instead of aiding workplace communication, Slack can obscure meaning.
Also, conversations can easily slide into non-work-related areas that waste time and diffuse focus. You could appoint a Slack "hall monitor" to keep everyone on track, but you might lose that person's productive work time or even breed resentment in other colleagues.
Finally, Slack use can contribute in an unhealthy way to the "always on" culture that frequently leads straight to burned-out, stressed out employees.
So is the answer to delete Slack altogether and go back to an over-reliance on email that made us all a little crazy in the first place? Not if you implement Slack (or any other collaborative technology) carefully, with some clear guidance for your employees on when and how to use it.
1. Set up Slack channels for more streamlined use.
Start with a clean slate and optimize your Slack workspace and channels for maximum productivity. Look into integrations for tools and apps your company already uses, then get those set up initially.
Next, create specific channels that target individual projects. Maintain all discussions, documents, and other files in this channel, and assign one or two leaders as managers. "Star" important channels. Discourage employees from setting up a never-ending stream of useless channels by creating clear guidelines on who can create new ones and when.
Finally, create naming conventions-- or rules for channel names-- so employees can easily identify relevant channels at a glance.
2. Minimize visual clutter.
On Slack, visual clutter can draw the unsuspecting employee into a sea of distractions, leading to wasted time and decreased productivity. Fortunately, a few steps are all it takes to declutter the interface and prevent that loss of focus.
Start by streamlining the sidebar display. In the Sidebar Preferences menu, select 'Unreads and starred conversations" instead of "Everything." This restricts the sidebar display to only those conversations you've starred or with unread messages. Cleaning the clutter can help employees stay on track and avoid getting pulled into other conversations unnecessarily.
3. Silence those notifications.
Encourage deep work and a minimum of interruptions by bypassing notifications altogether. Smaller teams might be able to adopt a less stringent policy that gives employees the discretion either to use "Do Not Disturb" mode or to set up notifications according to their own preferences.
You can also customize notification preferences to ensure that irrelevant channels are muted, as well as where those notifications are displayed (i.e., desktop, mobile or both).
4. Don't rely on Slack for everything.
Use the appropriate tool for the task at hand.
Some things simply need to be said face to face or over the telephone. For example, urgent messages may be better suited for a telephone call or face-to-face visit.
Likewise, sometimes email really is a better communication mode. Slack's reminders function can aid team productivity for repeated tasks (submitting reports, for example, or regular team meetings) which might be more disruptive if handled through email or calendaring notifications.
5. Communicate clearly on Slack.
Train all employees (including yourself) to stop using Slack as a de facto chatbox for real-time communications. Instead, users should always put some thought into their messages, craft them carefully and aim for readability and comprehension.
You want to communicate one clear thought to your team members. Instead of breaking short thoughts up into multiple lines, use a few sentences in one single message. Make it more like email communication than instant messaging.
Use Slack strategically.
Keep Slack constrained to its appropriate context--centralized "hubs" for project- or team-oriented collaboration--and it can truly fulfill that early promise of increased workplace productivity.