4 Problems with Slack that can ruin Remote Work
Slack is one of the most popular tools for remote work. The latest numbers show that 750,000+ organisations are using Slack. Our community, Remote Clan, is no exception and I saw that 56% of our members have indicated Slack as the remote working tool they swear by.
I have been using Slack for 3+ years myself and as our primary mode of communication (internal team) over the past one year. But I've had my fair share of qualms with Slack and so I took to our community to see what others think.
So here's what we do in our team:— Hrishikesh Pardeshi (@hrishiptweets) December 1, 2020
🔕 snooze notifications when working
⏱️ expected reply time is 3 hrs
✍️ 1 person always summarises points from important conversations - puts it on slack first & later on our wiki
❌ replies at odd hrs never celebrated & in fact, discouraged
Here's the post where we've had an engaging discussion - Why should you not use Slack? I have followed this up with an entire post on what I feel are the major downsides with using Slack and possible solutions to tackle the problems.
A quick disclaimer - I still love Slack as much and have it in my tool stack, just with additional set of guidelines. Also, we will be doing more of such posts on Remote Clan where we figure out the best way of using products, so hop on if you have anything to share.
4 Problems with Slack & How to Solve for them
1. Constant interruptions - Slack doesn't let you focus on work
If you have your notifications on throughout your work day, you will end up only checking and replying to messages about work rather than actually doing work. The worst part is you, as the sender, have no clue whether you're interrupting the other person.
- Snooze your notifications or set yourself to 'away' when you're actually working. Periodically, say once every 2-3 hours, go back to Slack and clear up pending messages.
- Include the expected response time in your internal team guidelines so that everyone is aligned on when to expect replies.
- Exercise discretion on when & if it is appropriate/ needed to message the other person on Slack.
2. Loss of context and the need to catch up when you miss messages
Let's say you implement our previous suggestion of snoozing your notifications for 2-3 hours and you come back on Slack only to see a long, engaging discussion that's already finished an hour back. Firstly, you have to read through the long chain of messages and even then, if you reply, the conversation might have lost steam and your inputs might go unnoticed.
Of course, this might not be a frequent occurrence if your entire team is in the same timezone, however, this can be a daily reality if your team is distributed across timezones.
- One person involved in any important conversation should be responsible for summarizing the key points and sharing them on Slack itself. Anyone who wasn't part of the conversation should be able to quickly read through the summary and share comments.
- Eventually, a gist of the entire conversation should be transferred to your team's permanent doc/ wiki (e.g. your company's workspace on Notion/ Slite).
3. Slack = Instant messaging and it promotes short-form, not-so-thoughtful conversations
Any instant messaging app by design promotes short-form conversations and replies. While this is great for quick catch-ups, it doesn't work so well when you are discussing anything that critically impacts your product, team or company. Plus, short-form conversations should never be the default mode of communication in your team.
- It is tough to entirely avoid short-form conversations because Slack promotes it by design. However, the negative effects of having chat-like conversations can be avoided by documenting important conversations in a more permanent place like your company wiki. When you start documenting important information at a more permanent place, you naturally provide scope to add more thought and nuance to your earlier responses.
- Everyone in the team should be aware of the right place to document information. We put together a simple framework to help you decide this, you can have one of your own or use just this. Additionally, your internal team guidelines should emphasise on long-form responses, even on chats.
4. It keeps you awake at night and it is the first thing you check in the morning
The great thing about Slack is that your team will start to feel connected even if they are separated by timezones and geographies. But that also eventually turns out to be the worst thing about Slack.
Your team could start feeling that they have to constantly stay connected to be able to keep up. This eventually results in burnouts and fatigue.
- Your only respite in this case is self-control. I wrote just last week on how you can unplug from work and the simple hacks mentioned there should work well.
- This should also be conveyed & discussed in your team meetings. Responding or having conversations at odd hours shouldn't be celebrated. In fact, it's great to address & discuss the situation to avoid that eventuality in future. The manager or the leader plays a crucial role in setting the right example.