Stop Slacking, Start Working
Practical and easy rules of tools that help your organisation grow
The New Yorker recently published an article in the Cultural Comment sections, about the potential toxic downside of using communication tools like Slack. Under the title ‘Slack Is the Right Tool for the Wrong Way to Work’, Cal Newport, professor of computer science at Georgetown University, talks about his experience with a London startup that decided to switch communications to Slack. Of course very soon everything starts to go from bad to worse. Before the start-up knows what hit it, it ends in a overloaded, stressed out situation. And guess what, abandoning Slack is the only option left.
The article gets almost everything right, but it does misunderstand one thing: Slack is actually the right tool, for the right way to work. To be able to work in a right way, your organisation and its employees might need to create some rules. Rules that help navigate the communication jungle we live in today. Those rules will not only help you work in the right way to make Slack work. It will also help you to make all tools work for you.
Write down basic rules of tools
There are many tools that you can use for many different purposes. Make sure that you start with a simple list. Include the name of the tool, what it’s used for, and how fast you expect employees to act on each of these tools. For example:
Tool: Email Used for: external communication if not otherwise possible Response time: respond within 24 hours
Write down basic rules of interaction
Once you establish what tools you use, for what purpose, with what time frame, it’s time to move on to the how. Be clear on what good examples of interaction are. Streamline communication through all tools. This list of best practices is personal and depends on your type of organisation. Yet, there are three elements that always come back:
Content: what to ask/answer and how to be clear and concise
Form: how to ask/answer what you want to communicate
Bandwidth: who to involve when you ask/answer something
Mute or disable all notifications
Not everything requires an instant response or answer. Most incoming messages are not urgent or important. Don’t let them keep you from important work, that requires focus and dedication. How hard this may be, clear rules of tools and rules of interaction will make this much easier. Once your organisation agrees that a reasonable amount of time to respond to a Slack message is 4 or 8 hours, there is no need to see all incoming messages all the time and respond to them. By muting or disabling notifications for all tools, you stay in charge and the tools stay what they are: tools.
Don’t look at your tools more than 3 times per day
There is a time of working and there is a time of processing. In an ideal world, you want to separate those two as much as possible. You want to spend more time on working and less time on processing. By allowing yourself to only look at your inboxes a couple of times per day, structuring this becomes easy. A good rule of thumb to start, is to look at your inboxes 3 times a day. Once at the beginning, once around lunch and once at the end of the day.
Create a fail-safe
We are all human and we all make mistakes. Either by checking Slack 50 times a day, by using email for something it isn’t meant to, or by disturbing others while you agreed not to. This is to expect and fine. Learning is part of our lives and we need to embrace it. What help is to create a fail-safe: if you are too busy following the agreed rules, make sure you mention that. More important: create a dedicated role in your company for someone to help others. If you’re stressed or don’t know what to do, you can always turn to that person for help.
Sharing is caring
Doing all the above is great: sharing all the above is better. Make sure that you have a dedicated spot, using a tool, where your employees can find all the above. Make it easy to find and make it easy to change. Don’t forget to have fun while you are Slacking. And don’t forget: happy tooling, start working!