It’s tempting to try Slack or Microsoft Teams in your organisation because “everyone else is doing it.” By “everybody”, I mean the raving fans who are posting how they could not run their team without it. It’s tempting to colour that fan base as “millennials and startups”, who view email as a dinosaur, but that sweeping generalisation doesn’t hold true.
The trap of adopting a more conversational collaboration platform like Slack or Microsoft Teams, is that you can end up with one big long stream of consciousness that just moves your email overload to chat Slack overload. Now, on top of email, Skype & Wunderlist, you have yet ANOTHER place where people are talking about work things.
Here are our top 5 tips for success with modern collaboration tools, that will bring out the best in them and make you wonder how you ever used to do business before.
- Don’t just add it – replace something else
Email is so simple because it’s the natural place we default to, to ask or tell people things. Add more collaboration tools and that line can blur, leaving people wondering where they should be having conversations, or clinging on to email because everything else just seems like noise.
Be clear on what the purpose is of your Slack or your Team. Ideally, it will replace the group emails you’d normally send from your Inbox. Or maybe it will be a distinct separate place to discuss a project, track the progress of order or opportunities, or share and comment on customer returns or complaints. Whatever the purpose, get your people on board with that as the communication platform, not that AND email.
- Decide on your Rules of Engagement
Think about the ways this collaboration tool might be used and decided what you do and don’t like, then communicate this with your team.
Will you expect your staff to download and use the mobile app? Are they expected to check it when they are working from home? Will you be posting stuff after business hours? As a business owner or manager, that’s tempting when you are catching up on things at night, but your employees may feel they have to check in if the app icon shows unread posts at 8pm. Set the expectations and the boundaries so they don’t feel like it’s an interruption to their family time.
Are you pro-memes, gifs & videos? Maybe only if they are related to the current discussion? Again, this is something to think about before that one person answers every post with a gif and annoys the heck out of you. Check if the tool supports rating systems too and decide if you will restrict gifs to family-friendly content only.
Whatever decisions you make, check that they are in alignment with any other workplace policies you have. Refer team members back to things like your anti-bullying/anti-harassment policy & remind them how to raise anything they are uncomfortable with on this platform too.
- Structure your Channels
Like a blank file storage area, modern collaboration tools can turn into a free-for-all without some structure in place. Known as Channels, these help separate different kinds of conversations so you’re not watching one massive list of posts. There’s a balance here between no structure and too much structure, so here are some things to start with:
Keep the General channel free of chatter and focussed on team-wide announcements. In fact, consider locking it down so only certain people can post here. It makes it easier for important stuff to be seen, and if you really do still need to send an email with an attachment (eg here’s our new company leave policy), use a General announcement as a heads up to your team that it’s been sent.
Decide how many channels you want based on what is relevant to your team (e.g. Vendors, Complaints, New products, Team Chat). Don’t split every little thing and don’t stress if a conversation is started in the wrong channel. Search will surface results across all of the conversations anyway.
Consider adding a Social channel. It’s nice to have a place to maintain a team culture and have some fun, especially if your team includes remote workers. Here you can share the latest funny internet video or plan Friday night drinks.
- Teach the basics
While it’s natural to think of modern collaboration tools as just chat messages, most platforms have specific features that enhance the experience. Teach your team how to ‘mute’ and unmute, how to search, how to star content, how to send a private message & how to notify someone, the channel or the entire team in a post.
Next, take it a little further by exploring how to share a document and comment on it and how to schedule or start a team meeting (including viewing your own calendar). These features vary between platforms, but you’ll find many other collaboration tasks can be done without leaving this tool.
- Embrace integrations
What other information is useful for your team to access? Can you add a website or file storage as a tab in your Slack or Team? Build it up as a portal to all the things you need to do your job.
Explore help “bots” and other bots to elevate the posts to more than just chat. There are time-saving bots like Polly (for running polls to vote on something) or third party bots that surface information from other systems and providers.
And finally, stretch yourself by looking at what other systems you can integrate. Forward a customer email into a channel so your team can discuss it. Get Wunderlist to post in if a task is overdue. And if your other systems don’t natively integrate with Slack or Microsoft Teams, see what connectors you can use from Zapier, IFTTT or Microsoft Flow.
Even with these kinds of things in place, you still need some agreement around ‘How we communicate at Company X’, to lead the culture of your organisation into a better way of working.
What really needs to be emailed, if anything? What still needs to be in Wunderlist? How will we share what was discussed at our weekly team meeting?
Ask the big (and the little) questions about improving your team communication and, coupled with the right modern collaboration tools, you’ll be a raving fan too.
And you’ll have less emails.