Stop Forcing Synchronous Slack Conversations

It’s been well over a year now since I first posted about Jana’s switch to Slack, and I’m even more happy with it now—it quickly surpassed email as our primary means of communication, and has almost replaced email entirely.

Today, I overheard this on the streets of Boston:

“Slack is like being in an 8-hour meeting with no agenda.”

I have to admit I cracked up a bit—I get it. But this is the kind of thing that’s different for different people, and you have control over it (“Own It”, as we say here). I don’t want to write Yet Another Slack Productivity Tips Post, but if you find it’s cutting into your productivity, then try out different settings for notifications, start using the snooze feature, and perhaps even (gasp!) pick chunks of time during the day where you quit Slack entirely.


approximate location I overheard this, c. 1910 (from wikipedia)

(Also, I don’t mean to speak for Random Boston Tech Person—for all I know he has a boss that gets angry when he doesn’t respond to Slack messages immediately, which might be out of his control).

What I do want to talk about is something you can do to help not just your productivity, but also that of your coworkers: don’t force your Slack conversations to be synchronous. Part of the beauty of Slack is that it replaces synchronous forms of communication (IM) as well as asynchronous forms of communication (email). When a conversation can be asynchronous, it’s better for everybody, because each person can organize their time in a way that works best for them.

In other words, stop doing this:

kevin: hey dan-o
<30 minutes later>
danob: hey kevin, what’s up?
<30 minutes later>
kevin: oh hey, where’s the code that does XYZ? I couldn’t find it.
<30 minutes later>
danob: ah yeah, it’s confusing but take a look here <link>

I hope you can see the problem right away: Kevin had a simple question, but without asking it right away he missed his first chance at an answer. Compare with:

kevin: hey dan-o
kevin: where’s the code that does XYZ? I couldn’t find it.
<30 minutes later>
danob: ah yeah, it’s confusing but take a look here <link>

For the same task, the latency is reduced by 67%, and the number of interrupts is reduced by 50% on each side! As I say, it’s better for everybody.

I get the instinct to want to engage in a conversation, and maybe it seems rude to just blurt out a question. Again, I think the right way to think about it is to remember that Slack can be asynchronous just like email—you’d never send an email that just said “hey kevin”.

Or maybe you would, but if so, you probably don’t want to work here.


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