Yet another f#@king Slack Channel

Matt Casey

Written by Matt Casey. Co-founder of DoThings. Author of The Management Delusion and We Need to Talk About Scrum.

March 10, 2020

Do you remember back in the days before Slack, when we used to have all those meetings?

Remember how annoying it was when we were in a meeting room, and we all wanted to talk about something different to the thing we were already talking about, so we all had to get up and go to another meeting room so we could talk about the different thing. Remember that?

And do you remember how many meeting rooms we had!? That was ridiculous! Every time there was another thing we might need to talk about one day, we had to make another meeting room so we could talk about that thing when we needed to. Most of them were empty most of the time, it was such a waste of space. I can’t believe we did that. Do you remember when we realised that some meeting rooms shouldn’t just be to talk about a certain subject as well, because really there should be a different room for each different team to talk about that subject. That was a nightmare. We needed a whole bunch more meeting rooms all of a sudden.

And remember how difficult it was finding notes from those meetings? We’d leave recordings of everything we’d said about the specific subject in the specific meeting room for the specific subject, so whenever we didn’t remember something we’d talked about, we’d have to go back to that specific meeting room and listen to everything that had been said in it to find the thing we needed. And remember how sometimes we couldn’t remember which meeting room it had been said in, so we’d go back to one meeting room and listen to the recording of everything that we’d said in there going back weeks and weeks, until eventually we’d start to think “Hmm, maybe it didn’t get said it in this meeting room”.

Remember all that?

No. Me neither. So stop making a different Slack channel for every different topic that you might discuss.

I love Slack. I think it’s a fantastic tool that is integral to how we work and stay connected with each other. I think of it as more essential than email now, and if you consider the short amount of time it has been around, that’s quite something. But we really need to stop using it as a way of labelling conversations.

You don’t need 50 Slack channels. You just don’t. I was working with a client recently who had 40 employees, and over 80 Slack Channels. I wish this was unusual, but it’s not. I speak to so many people who say this is exactly how Slack is being used in their workplace. Whenever I’m at these places, I can go into almost any channel and I know the most common conversation will be one entirely centered around which channel the thing someone wants to talk about should go into. “Sorry, that should be in #whatever_other channel” must be the most common message in all of Slack. It’s turned into yet another communication tool that interferes with the communication itself.

I really try to resist thinking that people are doing something “wrong”. I try to remember that there are different ways of doing things and that just because something isn’t being done my way, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s being done wrong. But…


You’re doing Slack wrong!

If you’re making Slack channels for different topics, you just are. There’s no reason to have a different Slack channel for every different topic, just like there’s no reason to have a different meeting room for every different topic. Slack is just a place you can have a conversation - any conversation.

This problem is created by people trying to use Slack for something it’s not well suited to. It’s not a good place to store important information. There’s just far too much information that goes into it, so anything important will be drowned out no matter how organised you try to be. Slack is the modern meeting room, nothing more. It isn’t a good way to organise or store important things that have been said in those rooms - it’s just a place to have a conversation and determine what those important things are.

You wouldn’t have a long meeting, and leave all the notes in the meeting room itself. And you wouldn’t insist on having different rooms for meetings about different subjects. Slack provides you a place to talk about things, and it’s exceptionally good at it. But you should store and share the important things that come out of the conversations some place else.

At DoThings, almost all our conversation happens via Slack. There’s very little structure to how we use it, because there doesn’t need to be. Slack gives us a place to talk, and we don’t really care what the channel we talk in is called, because once we’re finished the conversation we’re never going back to it. We won’t leave our meeting notes in the room Slack gave us, we’ll take those with us when we go. Once we’ve finished our conversation in Slack, the important information that needs to be remembered and shared with everyone is saved in DoThings. This means we’re never trawling through Slack looking for something that was said, or griping at each other for putting something in the wrong channel.

There is only one reason to create a different Slack channel, and that’s if one that has all the people you need in it - and none of the people you don’t - doesn’t already exist. That’s it.

You probably need one channel that has every employee in it. Call it General, call it Everyone, call it whatever you want. You only need one.

If you have teams, you arguably might need one Channel for each team.

Then you’re probably done. The only thing that matters with a Slack channel is who is in it, they should be subject agnostic.

Every tool, no matter how good it is, is only as good as the people who are using it. Slack is genuinely one of my favourite business tools, and I cannot imagine doing my work without it now. But if I had to work somewhere where they insisted on trying to funnel every conversation through a perfectly labelled Slack Channel, I think I would probably cry all the water out of my body.

If you liked these words, please share them.