As a digital collective we need a place to hang out online, be able to send timeline messages, contact any team member directly, or even goof around. Synchronous Communication means in real time, what we talk about simultaneously. For this we use a tool specifically designed for online collaborating teams called Slack.
Slack is a tool which began as an internal communications and collaboration solution during the development of an online game. "Slack" is an acronym for "Searchable Log of All Conversations and Knowledge" and you can think of it as a messaging app (think Telegram, Whatsapp) on steroids. On that point, the reason we don't use the same messaging apps you may use in your phone is because Slack gives us a sense of intimate space - as if it was our digital office. Phone apps can mix your social, family and work life, but we use Slack only for GT. It is also searchable, integrates with our other tools, allows attachments and the creation of groups. These "conversation" groups correspond to the Area/subgroup structure, but Slack also allows you to have one-on-one conversations with team members or to easily create conversation spaces for small team "clusters" of three or four people.
Slack (like Trello, or G-Drive below) is proprietary software. We've tried open source alternatives such as Riot and Mattermost but they didn't allow the accessibility and rapid implementation that Slack has given us. As with the other proprietary tools, Slack may get substituted in due time for other open source tools or, perhaps, our own custom built ones, but the purpose of this overview is mainly to discuss how we use Slack and what we use it for. This knowledge can then be taken forward to whatever tool(s) we may use in the future.
What we use Slack for
Slack is the space where we hold real time conversations. These are organized through channels which mostly correspond to the subgroups we described on our Tools Mindmap and Spreadsheet. It allows us to quickly connect with each other, share in-the-moment updates and create a sense of "real" space.
We use the chanels to talk about the topics which are relevant there and which, often, mirror the working circles structure, so you can think about some of the channels as small meeting rooms where you catch up with your working circle peers. We use the one-on-one conversations to talk to each other, focus in small groups and create trust. There are also other channels which are not so focused on the work circle or direct communication aspects but on team culture.
It is very important, however, to distinguish the type of communication that takes place in Slack (synchronous) from the type which takes place in Loomio (asynchronous). The following is taken from Patterns for Decentralised Organising:
The "trinity of digital comms":
- Real-time/synchronous: like chat, messenger, or Slack. Informal, quick, organised around time: it's about right now. Short-term memory.
- Asynchronous: like email, forum or Loomio. More formal, organised around topic. Has a subject + context + invitation. Can take days or weeks. Makes a useful archive, considered comments rather than random messy chatter. Long-term memory.
- Static: like a wiki, Google Docs, handbook, or FAQ. Very formal, usually with an explicit process for updating content.
Depending on your work, you will need different tools. The important thing is that you have an agreement together about what tools are for what job. With a shared understanding of the tools, they all fit together beautifully. When people have different ideas, it gets messy.
What Slack is (and isn't) for
Slack IS for:
- One on one conversations and quick check-ins
- Working circle real-time communication
- Our daily check-in
- Urgent announcements
- Off-topic and fun stuff
Slack ISN'T for:
- Having long discussions, making announcements everyone needs to see and acknowledge or voting on decisions (use Loomio)
- Figuring out how we work and how we go forward (use Loomio)
- Workflow and project management (use Trello)
- Specific tasks (use Trello)
- Attaching documents that have to do with specific tasks (use Trello)
- Setting precise deadlines in tasks (use Trello)
- Attaching readily available documents for larger tasks (use G-Drive)
- Writing collaborative documents (use G-Drive)
- A searchable repository for information (use the Wiki)
How we use Slack
Basic usage of Slack is pretty intuitive. You visit our Slack page and check if there are any unread messages. Some of these are part of what Slack calls "threads" . The threads are sometimes easy to miss, but you can find them compiled here. Otherwise, unread messages are clearly marked by a red dot in whatever channel they may appear. You will also be notified whenever someone @mentions your name. All in all Slack is a spruced up chat program with team features, you'll know how to use it pretty quick. Basic usage aside, there are some recommended guidelines to make sure your Slack experience works well for you and the rest of the team. Check them out below.
Be respectful of everyone's time and attention. The following tips will help you make sure you are using Slack in a way that's most beneficial to the collective:
- If adding a message on a collective channel first ask yourself, "Will this message/comment be useful for everyone right now?" If yes, then post to your heart's content! If no, then ping particular people through direct messaging, or if the info will be relevant to everyone on the long term, then add it to a relevant Loomio thread.
- When replying to a message/comment that is quite particular and may not be relevant to everyone, then do so by clicking on the dialogue icon next to the emoji one. This basically prompts a direct reply, rather than a new message. This helps to keep the related info all together instead of mixed and lost in the thread.
- Keep on topic. Use the Daily Channel only for daily check-ins , use the right channels for the right conversations (this lets us retrieve info more easily and allows working circle members to catch up if needed without having to search all over).
- If you want to stay focused on what's relevant, mute the channels which aren't part of your work circles (find out how here).
As mentioned before, there are a number of channels which are exclusive to Slack only, i.e. they are not work-circle (or project) specific or reflected on our tool diagrams. We will now describe what each is for.
- Art, Music and Poetry: A channel for the team to share their creative work with the rest of the members. We post our own music, poetry etc.
- Ask us anything: Inspired by the Reddit threads of the same name, "Ask us anything" does what it says on the tin. Ask away! You can see this as the channel for mentoring when you want to speak to the larger group and not just your GT Buddy. For longer questions which may benefit everyone, there is also this Loomio thread.
- Daily Check-in: This is one of our most important channels and where our daily community rhythms takes place. We usually acknowledge everyone's check in with an emoticon. If you want to follow up on what anyone says, direct message them, but keep "Daily Check-in" just for the check-ins.
- General: Everyone is included in the General channel by default. We use it announce video calls, or team-wide check-ins and announcements that are too big for any one circle. Use judiciously.
- Peer support: Is for non-work, supportive conversation. Want to talk about your feelings or just vent? This is the place. Like "Ask us Anything" above, this is the channel associated with mutual support, and you can use it when you want to share beyond your Mutual Support Pal.
- Random: A place for non-work-related flimflam, faffing, hodge-podge or jibber-jabber you'd prefer to keep out of more focused work-related channels. Want to share memes and talk about Tarot decks? Do it here.
- Thanks: What's this channel for? Thank someone or something and find out!
- Tools: Have a quick question to ask about Tools? Then do so here. For longer questions, use this Loomio thread.
- Translation help: GT is a translation and general communication/language services collective. Need translation and language help? Ask here.
We also have a number of "pop-up" channels having to to with specific projects which get activated and deactivated in a per-case basis.
Additional Slack Resources and Tutorials
As a well funded company Slack has very excellent introductory and inclusive help materials. This unfortunately doesn't happen so much in the Open Source space (Loomio is an outstanding exception). Many of the following links are sourced from the Slack Help Center. The tutorials and help pages there are designed to be read sequentially for an easier learning curve or just used for reference. It also features an excellent search function. Slack doesn't have much of a learning curve, (especially when compared to Trello or the Wiki) so these additional tutorials will not be as necessary as the ones for other tools. They will, however, make your Slack experience more comfortable and valuable, so take a look!
- Slack Help Center
- Slack Demo
- Getting Started on Slack Tutorials (video playlist)
- Advanced Slack Tutorial: 19 Tips on How to Use Slack
- How to Use Slack Like a Pro and Become a Power User (22 Tips & Tricks)