When Crystal Shuller, our director of customer happiness at ReviewTrackers, has a question for the engineering team, she turns to Slack.
On the communication platform designed for the workplace, Crystal can pass along feedback from ReviewTrackers’ customers to the engineering team without having to interrupt her coworkers’ workday. Using Slack also makes communication more efficient: the customer success team always knows what has (and hasn’t) been passed on to engineering, since there is a channel where both teams belong together (so there are no repetitive messages).
Three million people communicate on Slack every day. For us at ReviewTrackers, a B2B software company located in Chicago, Slack is easy to use and a more efficient form of communication than email.
“I have a love/hate relationship with Slack,” says Chris Campbell, CEO of ReviewTrackers. “But at the end of the day it cuts down on the internal emails and helps us get information in front of everyone faster. I think for that alone — for helping distribute and exchange information, especially when transparency and communication are so important for an organization of our size — Slack can be pretty powerful.”
While Slack is used primarily for business-related communication at ReviewTrackers, some of us use Slack for personal communication throughout the strings of business messages.
“Slack comes in handy for lunch and weekend plans,” Crystal says.
When noon hits and it’s time for lunch, team members ask each other if they want to go out. Someone will occasionally post a message on one of our open channels, letting the team know a group is going to out to lunch for anyone who wants to join.
What Slack provides is a sense of comfort when communicating. I can ask my coworkers a question if they’re busy. I can easily send a message saying a task is done and ready for the next step. I can send someone an article I think they might enjoy.
Jesse Hinchcliffe, business solutions associate at ReviewTrackers, agrees that Slack is a medium made for both personal and professional communication. He even feels comfortable logging into Slack on the weekends.
Jesse says that the use of “fun tools” within Slack— the emojis, the GIFs, the ability to create chat rooms — makes it a comfortable place to talk with coworkers, and it’s a friendlier space than Gchat or email. The “aspects of an environment [Slack] created makes people feel comfortable when they talk,” he says. “It’s a safe place to talk: We can talk about lunch, we can talk about what we did over the weekend.
“We’re all really close at ReviewTrackers so we goof around. We shoot GIFs at each other all the time. Sometimes they are wildly inappropriate.”
Ben Rifken, our media production manager, adds, “It feels as comfortable to talk about personal things as it does to talk about work things. Any other messaging platform, it feels like it’s either one or the other, but Slack kind of walks the line between personal and professional, which is really beneficial to all of us.”
A Primary Form of Communication
While the archiving and messaging service of Slack is an efficient way to communicate for ReviewTrackers, it does have its downsides.
Jesse says Slack sometimes gives him anxiety because he gets worried about what people need of him.
Chris adds, “I can’t do the constant distraction. I only read Slack when I am dedicating time to read it, which is a couple of times a day.”
For James Bond, director of enterprise sales, Slack is used for business and not for personal conversation. He says there are nuances that come out when you have a conversation with someone as opposed to talking with them on through email or Slack.
When I ask James if we can misinterpret what people say on Slack, he is quick to say, “Yeah, absolutely. The non-verbal cues can mean so much more than the verbal ones. There’s obviously nothing non-verbal about what goes on on the online channels, there’s nothing necessarily verbal, either. They are just words on a screen. I think those are some of the pieces that can cause some of the friction or distancing.”
James says Slack is great for searching for information you need to find, like a news article or blog post that’s previously been posted. Despite its positive impact on the workplace, James says there’s not a lot of time for him to catch up with people on a personal level during the day.
“Most of my interaction with people here is primarily Slack and email,” he told me. “I’m the sales guy. I’m in the minority. It’s not like there’s a lot of social interaction via this online channel. We’re trying to get business done.”
Indeed, Slack is a distraction and can cause confusion in communication. What Slack does provide, however, is a place where we can be honest with each other as a team: a place where we might be more honest about feedback or tell someone what’s on our minds without hesitation.
In a way, Slack can be therapeutic. During the day, if we need to talk with one of our co-workers about our terrible bus ride this morning, or if we need medicine, we can simply send them a message while still keeping on task.
What is clear is that Slack is an integral part of the way ReviewTrackers operates. For example, when new people are hired, Slack is a great, comfortable way for them to ask questions.
Slack is “a lot of what we do,” says Jesse. “Slack is a great tool, and it allows us to ask questions without using email.”
Ben says, “We can communicate efficiently on Slack, and the way we use Slack is a lot like how we are as a company. We aren’t just professional and we aren’t just goofing off. We’re also somewhere in between: moving back and forth, which is good.
“I feel like there’s some kind of social don’t for going up and just asking somebody something, because a lot of people have headphones. I know for me personally, a lot of the time when I’m working I have noise-cancelling headphones on, and it’s not easy to just walk up and ask someone something when somebody is in the zone. Everybody’s accessible via Slack so it feels more professional to Slack someone versus to go up and talk to them.”
Jesse made an interesting point, one we may not think about all that often, that you can get to know people in an office on two different levels: either a virtual level or an in-person level.
“I may feel comfortable asking someone on Slack for something where I may not feel comfortable walking up to them and asking for something,” Jesse says. “Like Bethany (our office manager), I’ll always go up to her because I like talking to Bethany to ask her for something. But if I Slacked her, it would almost feel too official or ‘I missed an opportunity to go talk to Bethany.'”
I agree with Jesse. I should have more in-person conversations with Bethany.
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