Collaboration tools within the workplace have become the central hub of productivity, and this movement will continue into 2020 as the chat-for-business hype shows no signs of fading.  Though it’s only been around for six years, Slack’s daily active user count has crossed the 12 million mark, with Microsoft Teams just overtaking it at 13 million users. Alternative team collaboration tools such as Google G Suite, Facebook Workplace and more are growing exponentially.  

There’s great value in collaborating in a team space reserved for a specific topic vs. trying to use email. But complementing and sometimes replacing email inboxes with a collaboration platform can be a substantial workflow shift, and many people have been quick to point out the shortfalls of using Slack within the workplace. Popular articles such as “Death By a Thousand Pings: The Hidden Side of Using Slack,” and “Slack Wants to Replace Email. Is That What We Want?” have people questioning if Slack is right for their team.

It’s hard not to nod your head in agreement with some of the arguments made in these articles, but there are ways to address these common complaints.  

Complaint: We have too many different channels

When Drift audited their Slack, they were shocked to discover they had over 950 channels. Being a part of too many channels can feel like you have ten other email inboxes to check on top of your actual email.

Solution: Minimize and declutter    

Do a routine decluttering by leaving any channels that are not relevant to your job or you’ve lost interest in. It’ll give you less to catch up on and fewer distractions. Slack recommends setting up your main channels according to teams, projects, and functions, and adopting a naming convention that keeps things straight for everyone on your team. 

Complaint: The same repetitive questions keep popping up

When people don’t know where to find the information they need, they turn to chat, asking the same questions over and over, and spamming the channel – while sales reps and managers alike waste time answering them each time.

Solution: Use a knowledge-sharing platform  

Document that knowledge once and for all (even the tribal stuff) in an easily searchable, one-stop-shop where reps know they’ll find what they’re looking for. Your playbook is a good place to start, since it captures all the tips, tricks, and processes your reps need to sell.

Complaint: There’s too much play and not enough work

A little socialization? Not a bad thing. In fact, that water cooler banter can bring teams closer together. But when conversations repeatedly veer too far away from productivity, you’ve got a problem.  

Solution: Set some guidelines

Self-control and time-management are essential factors to consider when deciding which channels to join. Company guidelines outlining how Slack should be used within your organization can help cut down on wasted time and make productive use of the tool part of your culture.

Complaint: Conversations are too long

Some conversations are perfect for Slack, like urgent questions and recognition. When it comes to making big decisions, planning future work, sharing complex knowledge or giving in-depth feedback, Slack can actually be a time-waster.

Solution: Take it outside Slack

If a conversation is taking longer than 10 minutes, it’s probably a better idea to hop on a call or meet in person to save time. Just because you started a discussion in chat doesn’t mean it needs to end there.   

Complaint: There are too many notifications during (and after) work

There’s a drawback to making communication as easy as sending a message through Slack: it becomes easy to send too many messages or messages outside of work hours. When it’s right there on your mobile device, you may receive non-stop notifications – and feel obligated to respond to them right away.

Solution: Keep Slack at work and reduce notifications

Most responses can wait. Don’t be afraid to turn off notifications, mute a channel, set a custom status, flip on “Do Not Disturb” mode, or talk to your colleagues about expectations to establish a better work-life balance or help you focus when you really need to. If it’s an emergency, the person will find another reliable way to get ahold of you.

Complaint: I can’t find the information I’m looking for

Did you know Slack stands for “Searchable Log of All Conversation and Knowledge”? Sometimes it doesn’t feel that way when your channels fill up with overlapping conversations about different topics. Instead, it leaves you scrolling through the wreckage to keep up.

Solution: Be thoughtful

When we email, we think about who needs to be included, what we need to say, whether it’s urgent, and how people will read it. We need to give the same level of thought to our chat channels. Threads help keep topics in-check and mentions help identify who needs to be part of the conversation. And if you do get lost, there’s good news: Slack has improved its in-app search with attention to your behavior, context, the people you communicate with frequently, the files that are most relevant and the channels you participate in most.

Define what Slack means to your organization

If you do nothing else, do this: set up some guidelines around how you’ll use Slack within your organization, and what you aim to get out of it. Setting expectations up front will help you combat most of the most common problems.

What does that look like? Consider:

  • When to email vs. use Slack
  • Expectations for responding
  • Best practices for sharing
  • Office policy for mentions
  • How to contact when Status is set to away
  • Limiting non-work related channels

Even if a written policy isn’t put in place, discussing best practices and defining boundaries with the team will benefit everyone in the long run.

Companies are quick to jump on board when a new tech trend emerges yet forget to ask themselves how these tools will fit into their workflow. And when you’re not sure how you’ll use that tech, the results can be frustration, becoming unproductive and then quitting or blaming the tools. It’s up to the people and the organization to dictate how to best use the tool – and not let the tool use you.  

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