It’s nearing the end of 2021 and professionals are searching for more flexible work, which is empowered by asynchronous communication. Yet employees also continue to feel overwhelmed by information, which can be exacerbated by ineffective async communication.
Teams often look to new tools to solve their communication problems. In some instances, a shift to or inclusion of a new async-focused tool stack is exactly what the team needs. However, it’s critical to also evaluate how your team uses and is aligned on the use of their existing communication and collaboration tools in async-first ways.
Is Slack Asynchronous Communication?
One such tool is the Slack communication platform. Slack has unfortunately become synonymous with the creep into always-on and ASAP culture. Here are some ways that Slack has morphed into a synchronous channel:
- Availability is a proxy for working time. While the availability and status features can be helpful for setting and publicly communicating boundaries at work, leaders often check for green circles or the idle “z” as visual cues of productivity (albeit a false one).
- Notifications interrupt the flow of work. Focused deep work is the hallmark of an effective async team. But regular notifications interrupt this focused time, decrease productivity, and cost teams money.
- Immediate responses are expected. Availability coupled with the immediacy of notifications results in the expectation of an immediate response. Unfortunately, this is leading to overwork and burnout.
But instead of breaking up with Slack, here are some tips to improve the relationship.
How to Use Slack for Asynchronous Communication
Ground the team in a Placeless Mindset.
Many teams that have shifted to flexible or remote working environments have failed to shift their mindset. If you’re checking an employee status to see if they are open to receiving a message right now, great! If you’re checking an employee status to see if they’re working, you’re relying on an outdated in-office mindset. Everyone from new team members to executives need to embrace a placeless mindset and need to want to use Slack for asynchronous communication.
Train your team on async practices.
Our Async at Work eCourse is the only global async-first training program. The 45 minute program helps professionals: find async balance, eliminate inefficient meetings, and reduce team burnout. Read our press release.
Leadership practices set the stage for whether or not async communication will prove effective within a team. The Leadplaceless virtual leadership training program builds essential digital-first management skills with async communication as a foundation.
Set Slack expectations in a Communication Charter.
A Communication Charter helps teams establish use and response time expectations for all communication channels. Specifically for Slack, include:
- Reply to messages in threads vs starting a new message when replying.
- Slack messages do not require an immediate response except in urgent situations. Designate a specific keyword, like “urgent,” that team members can use in their notifications to know when a communication requires quick attention and action.
Scale back on your notifications.
Visit your Notifications preferences section and delete notifications that are distracting. Potentially set your mobile settings to “Nothing” and Flash window to “Never.”
Dear Slack, please add more customization to your “Custom” settings for notifications.
Use the Schedule Message feature.
To respect the boundaries set by your team members without delaying your own workflow, schedule your messages to be sent at times that work best for them. This is especially helpful when working across different time zones. (Tip from @jpgcc_ on Twitter: to schedule messages on mobile long-press send.)
Dear Slack, please also add the schedule message option for replies.
Reply only when needed.
Sending a reply creates a new notification. Sometimes all a message needs is a confirmation of receipt which can be accomplished via an emoji reaction ✅. Or an ongoing message thread may deserve a scheduled time for a sync or blended meeting. Teams can even accomplish decision-making without creating a long Slack thread via emoji reactions, assuming the prework has been established.
Lead by example with status updates.
Team members take cues from leadership. As professionals strive to find work-life balance, they need leaders to pave the way. One way to break out of the green circle = productive cycle, is for leaders to openly and regularly share when they take breaks. Leaders can update their status when they step away for lunch 🥗, take a break to exercise 🚴, go out for a walk 🌄, prioritize caregiving responsibilities 👪, or sign off for the night 💤.
This advice is specifically written for Slack asynchronous communication features, but can apply to any tool where your team experiences the sync response creep.
As our CEO, Tammy Bjelland, shared with the Rosie Report,
“we advise teams to be cognizant of the ways that async communication tools can quickly be warped into sync tools . . . It’s important to recognize the distinction between having the right balance of communication tools and knowing how to use them. Effectively balancing async and sync communication takes practice.”