6 MINUTE READ | March 3, 2020
Project Management Tips in the Slack Era
Oh, Slack… what a love/hate relationship we have. Although I will admit, it’s mostly love.
As someone who transitioned from working in an open office to working remotely and eventually starting a small satellite office, Slack was amazing. It allowed me to communicate with my teams in a quick and effective way while also staying up to date on company news and going-ons. Even though it’s easy to complain about the number of Slack channels there are — and how irrelevant some of those may be to our day-to-day work — I will admit that in my remote days, all those Slack channels helped make me feel more in touch with the company culture, even though I wasn’t physically near any of my co-workers.
As the number of remote offices at PMG have multiplied, we’ve shifted to become increasingly reliant on Slack to communicate across both company and teams. This has exposed some of the bigger challenges with using Slack as our primary internal communication tool.
By being a member of the client services team that oversees multiple projects for a number of clients, I’ve found that Slack can be both a blessing and a curse from a project management perspective. Below are a few key sticking points I’ve encountered with Slack, along with some tips on how to manage them:
This is usually the biggest complaint I hear about Slack. Being a part of a company that’s so remote-friendly means that nearly all internal communications are conducted through this platform. If you think of all the various media channels, clients, and projects going on at any given moment, it’s enough to make your head spin!
I’ve found that the best way to manage this craziness is to “star” channels that directly relate to my day-to-day work. These starred channels appear on the left side panel, making it easier to access while other channels are muted, but still searchable. This means that only the essential channels that I use regularly are displayed on my left side panel, with all other channels muted. This tactic helps me feel less overwhelmed, and also ensures that any notifications I receive are likely work-related, or of high company importance.
If I find myself with spare time, I’ll simply search for a particular channel that suits my interests rather than displaying them all. To learn how to set this up, check out this helpful Slack article.
For instance, if I’m interested in finding out about the latest movie to check out, I’ll hop into our #couch-potatoes channel; if I want a recommendation for new music, then #tastefultunes it is.
The PMG #couch-potatoes Slack channel
With more intentional Slack browsing, I avoid randomly getting sucked into a Slack conversation without realizing how I even got there.
We’ve all seen it happen before: Someone is trying to explain a complex project or client-ask via Slack. There will be lots of questions, and before you know it, a simple misunderstanding transforms into a full-on conflict with people angrily slacking back and forth.
The solution here is very simple — Pick. Up. The. Phone. Slack is great because you can instantly and easily communicate the same message to multiple people without the need to duck into a conference room; however, Slack can’t replace the clarity that comes with actual voice-to-voice communication. This also applies to long email threads with clients. Sometimes the quickest and easiest way to resolve something is with an old-fashioned phone conversation. Luckily, Slack enables you to Slack call a team member, making the act of “picking up the phone” even easier.
Using Slack for internal communication cuts down on many emails, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t dozens of emails pouring in from clients and partners on a weekly basis. Between Slack messages, emails, and conversations happening across an open office, sometimes it can feel like you’re getting attacked from all angles; making it easy to get swept away and forget what your main priorities are.
When there are so many messages being sent at any given time across multiple platforms, it’s helpful to make sure that conversations don’t get completely “lost” in the Slack. Here are a few tips for keeping teams focused:
Use channel topics to list out key priorities for the day or week so that anyone visiting the channel is instantly reminded of what they’re meant to be focusing on.
Pin things that are important for team members to reference if they missed them initially. Pro tip: Stay consistent about pinning habits.
Set expectations. If you’re relying on team members to contribute to a project with a certain deadline, make sure they know exactly what is expected of them.
Which leads me to my next point…
When so many people rely on timely Slack responses in order to complete projects, answer client requests, and so on, it’s very important to make sure that you’re proactive about letting your teams know when you might be out of pocket or slow to respond to a message.
If you know you’re going to be out-of-office or slow to respond, change your Slack status. This simple update is a way to effortlessly communicate that you’re out of office, on a client call, or “heads down” on a project. This can prevent conflicts, such as your teammates wondering why you are suddenly AWOL or seemingly ignoring them. Sometimes, unplugging can be the best thing you can do for yourself but do so wisely. There is nothing worse than coming back online and seeing numerous panic-inducing “are you there?” messages.
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As with any technology, there’s always the risk of an outage that could really mess up your project management system or internal communications flow. Looking back, I honestly don’t remember how anyone communicated pre-2016, so if worse comes to worst, I guess we can always go back to Google Chat.
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