Slack brought us the promise of reducing emails and having all the knowledge of your company in one place, searchable. While I still feel it’s completely failed to deliver on the latter, on the former it most definitely has delivered. Internal emails at JetBrains have been significantly reduced. At least in my case. But I personally feel that it’s come at a cost; that of productivity.
As a remote person, I very much advocated and encouraged the use of Slack at JetBrains, and I believe that it has greatly benefited our company. In fact, most of our team is remote and we have a channel on Slack which is esssentially the same as a watercooler; giving us a sense of working together and constantly being in touch. Much the same way, it has contributed positively to non-remote workers too.
But Slack has also given us the feeling that we can reach out to anyone at any time for anything. The consequence of this however is that frequent interruptions can often lead to context switches which in turn, much like with threads, can impact performance.
Now of course, many may say - don’t blame the tool but how you use it. And that’s OK. In fact many times I’ve used the same argument, and this post isn’t about me “rage-quiting Slack”. Instead it’s about changing the way I’m now using Slack.
A simple rule
This change is reduced to a very simple rule:
Unless it is urgent, I do not ping a person or a group of people (understanding by this a group DM or small private channel) directly. Instead use email or issue tracker
I’ve moved(ing) back to making use of the right tool at the right moment, as opposed to believing Slack should be used for everything, i.e.:
- Email or issue tracker for non-urgent discussions or issues that need attention. At JetBrains we make heavy use of YouTrack, not just as a software project management tool, but for many things including organising shows, trips, payments, etc. We also at times use it to have discussions and make decisions. The benefits over email are that people can leave and join at any time, and everything is documented
- Email when pinging someone to see if and when they’re available for a chat (when not urgent).
- Issue tracker for logging bugs as opposed to some random code snippet or unexpected behaviour, expecting everyone to drop something and attend to my problem.
About the only time I will post a question to a channel is -
- It’s something urgent
- I have no idea who could help me with the question at hand
Now while some of you may suggest to just shut down Slack and open it once in a while, the point here is about being available for when it is important and benefing from the many good things that Slack does provide, while at the same time not feeling completely overwhelemed by the many notifications.
Finally, I think it’s important to not confuse being open and willing to help with constantly being available on Slack, responding to any notification instantly. We can all still be open and helpful to others. It’s about appreciating that at times one tool may be more appropriate than another when asking for something.