Slack: You, Us, and Slack (Team Norms + The Theory of Slack)

Slack Resource Pages: Overview | Getting Started | Getting Fancy | You, Us, and Slack

If you’ve made it to this page, you’re probably familiar with Slack, have been using it for a few days or weeks, and curious about what else it could do… or maybe you’re wondering why we’re trying out this tool instead of something else. Well this page contains some proposed (but not yet agreed to) team norms, FYIs, and notes/reflections from the Comms Team about Slack as a communications tool.

Proposed IISC Team Norms

  1. If you expect a response from an individual or channel, tag them (@TheirUsername)
  2. If you are beginning a new conversation, start a new channel.
  3. Work (i.e. communicate) in the open. If you are making a private channel ask yourself why.
  4. If a project or conversation is complete, archive the channel.
  5. Respect people’s attention.
  6. If you have a time sensitive request, put your “by when” front and center.
  7. Check Slack multiple times per day.
  8. Use the appropriate communication tool for the urgency of the request (in an emergency situation, email probably isn’t an appropriate tool and Slack might not be, either…).


How to communicate when you need: a response, an action, and FYI
Being clear about the desired outcome of any communication (phone call, email, face-to-face conversation) is important and that applies to Slack, too! If you need a response to a message, make sure to put that up front

  • Response requested: “@andrea & @ceasar: can you review this agenda for next week’s meeting and let me know what you think?”
  • Action required: “@lqb2: Would love for this to get sent out on our social media channels by tomorrow morning.”
  • FYI: “@channel: just letting everyone know that Ceasar’s TEDx talk is tomorrow at 9:30p! so excited!”

When to start a new Channel
A new channel should get started whenever a new topic of conversation begins. It can take a few days to get used to the idea of creating a new space for a new conversation (and in some tools, like email, this type of activity is frowned upon), but in Slack, it really helps keep conversations focused and trackable when each conversation/topic has its own channel.

One sign that you might need a new channel is when you find yourself getting lost between different subjects in a conversation. For example, on the Go Boston 2030 Slack team, we created a channel called #roundtables to get ready for an event, but as we got closer to the event, we realized that we needed a separate channel for the roundtable materials (#roundtable-materials) and another one to manage the logistics of promoting the event (#roundtable-ads). Because channels and started and closed (archived) so easily, there should be as many as needed.

Public VS private channels VS messages
Slack is designed to encourage transparency. Public channels are where the majority of conversations should happen on Slack. That said, some conversations do need to private and private channels exist for that purpose. Messages are best for 1-on-1 conversation that may not pertain to a specific topic.

How and when to close or archive channels

When a channel is no longer needed (which can happen for a number of reasons), the channel can archived so as to not clutter anyone’s Channels & Preferences bar. Archiving a channel removes everyone from the channel, but doesn’t delete the content. Archived channels and the files in them are still searchable via Slack.

Reasons you might want to close or archive a channel

  • The conversation has come to a close because a decision has been made and no more discussion is needed.
  • The event being planned in the channel has happened.
  • The process being planned in the channel has ended.

Time sensitive issues (how to handle)
In the event that an issue is time-sensitive, you should think carefully about the proper tool for that communication. In some circumstances, it might be best to just give someone a call or physically go find them or to actually have a meeting about it. But, if you’ve sent someone a message on Slack and it’s not to you that they’ve seen it or is going to follow through with the appropriate action by the deadline, following up with another message or another communication with a different tool is always a good idea.

What to expect about people paying attention to messages
This is completely up to each team that uses the tool and the expectation for this should be set explicitly in the team norms. That said, just like with email and phone calls, it should be expected that folks won’t be able to be reached all the time.

Personal responsibility, responsibility, norms, tolerance
There are three areas of issues with with any tool: individual user, collective, and tool.

No two users are alike and there each person will experience the system differently. This should be taken into account when writing and receiving messages. Always remember that the way someone else uses the system may be different from the way you do. The team norms are the guide that should govern at a high-level how to behave with the tool, but individual variations will be present and that’s a good thing.

It is important, however, to know, as an individual, what your own tolerance for different types of communication is. Slack is a wonderful communication tool and has all sorts of intended and unintended benefits, but each user has to take responsibility for themselves in making sure they know what they need in order to be successful with the tool. If you know you are a person who is easily distracted, be sure you know how to set your own boundaries for the tool (and please ask one of the champions if you need or want support in figuring out how to do that).

Slack and Transparency

How does Slack make IISC more transparent?…

Tool Structure

Check out this interesting article about how the structure of a tool/technology shapes how we operate within it:

Notes and Reflections

Coming soon…