9 MINUTE READ | November 28, 2019
The Shared, Sacred Language of Slack
I’ve been training for a work communications app like Slack for my entire life. I was exactly the right age when AIM first hit the scene in middle school. After dinner, I would dial into the Internet to chat with my friends and obsess over what my Away Status said about me. Chatting with friends through screens continued when cell phones came about in high school and only accelerated when Facebook was invite-only for college kids when I was a freshman. In my first decade of work, gchat was how I kept up with friends and, eventually, coworkers.
Slack combines the addictive features of all of the chat platforms mentioned above (statuses, emojis, photos, and giphys) with something that all of us obsess over in other ways: our jobs. That potent mix led to a 50% higher-than-projected share price and a $4 billion increase in its valuation when the company recently went public. They tapped into the mix of work and social, which is only appropriate for this era of technology.
I just recently read a book called Conversational Intelligence by Judith E. Glaser. It was suggested to me by a coworker and perfectly encapsulates why the ability to get creative with conversation is so important. It talks about how, “…co-creation of language is a set of skills and complementary mindset that allows us to have transformational conversations with others.” When we have conversations with each other to get things done during our day-to-day, we are really just trying to get them to “…accept our views of the world [so] we can transform reality together.” When we negotiate on Slack about priorities and task lists, we are transforming our daily workloads and tasks to effectively reach our client goals.
In the last 30 days, our company sent 12k messages a day. If all 242 of us used Slack in the same way, it would come out to about 50 messages a day per person. As it is, there are several client-specific channels that send the most messages in public channels along with the PMG Dallas office, which has almost as many messages in the last 30 days as some of our biggest international clients(?)!
The marketing industry is uniquely situated for taking to this type of platform. We are using these 12k messages each day in conversations to shape our work for clients with creative concepts and proofs. The way that we read into insights and communicate them back to clients can shift strategies and exchange buying power across the world. Conversations and creativity are core to our business, and with the way that our company is set up now, a lot of that happens in Slack. And luckily, we can keep our conversational skills honed with our co-workers since we like talking to each other.
Our company is proud of our culture, which is pretty clear if you look at our website, see our social profiles, or talk to us in person. As we should be! But outside of our bonding activities and our meetings where actual work is getting done, most of our interactions happen on Slack. We have shorthand phrases, custom emojis, and all sorts of channels to bond over whatever your ‘thing’ is (#potterheads, #memes, and #bachelor_nation, just to name a few). A lot of our day-to-day culture is taking place over Slack. Forming common bonds is just so easy when tech takes your interests, neatly categorizes them, and alerts you when you’ve missed something.
It also helps to have the ability to get custom in the platform. It allows us to be reactive to what’s trending in our world. By the numbers, PMG has 675 custom emojis, a number that climbs weekly. Most of them are so unique to us that I sometimes get disoriented when I can’t find the same emoji when I’m texting in iMessages. Then, I have to think about the exact emotion I was trying to convey and go try to find something that gets close to it within the basic offerings on my phone.
The emojis that I use the most are so ingrained in me now that I type them out by their full name (:dumpster-fire:) to match an emotion I’m feeling (stress, in the :dumpster-fire: case).
The most popular set of emojis in our workplace are these dancing parrots that have multiplied after it started to become one of the more popular reactions for a basic “yay!” emotion. There are different degrees to how excited you are about something, so your range of parrot is pretty varied. You have your morning time :coffee-parrot: and your happy hour :margarita-parrot: and you can send a :gothparrot: if you like your “yay!” a little more muted. The :explode-parrot: is, to date, the most extreme “yay!” you can send. If the name didn’t give it away, the parrot explodes after a slow dance that progressively gets faster.
We have 600+ public channels, a number which doesn’t even reflect how many private channels there are (a LOT, I would guess). The vast majority of the public channels are client specific. Rather than hundreds of clients, however, each client is subdivided into team-specific channels. Client X would have their #mainX channel along with #X-social or #X-search, and so on. We have location-specific slack channels to keep interoffice communication relevant to the people who are actually there and a main PMG channel which was recently turned READ ONLY, a feature that I had no idea existed until I saw it staring at me after a recent message:
This is to cut down on random chatter that exists outside of PMG company news that might happen in that channel. We have one implied rule of Slack, which is: if you’re going to notify all 200+ employees about something, it had better be really funny or extremely relevant to us all! And god help the poor fool who chats in the big channels outside of a thread. We may be at a point in our company size and maturity level that we have to have Slack “rules and regulations” written down somewhere (probably pinned in the main #PMG channel). These would be ours:
All of these rules are in place because Slack is almost TOO addicting during our day-to-day. For example, I have an intricate set of rules in place on my workspaces. I have a tight list of favorites for my active clients, and others only appear if someone has pinged me or the entire channel specifically. I mute all notifications during certain blocks of time so that I can concentrate better. Thinking about work has become almost too addicting for me now!
When we were primarily contacting coworkers via email, by phone, and in person, the culture part would happen mostly when we were in person. The shared language of email is, well, not too in-depth at work. With some well-placed exclamation points (no more than 2 per email) and some personable opening lines (Hope everyone had a great weekend!), it might be possible for you to build a relationship with someone purely over email.
Lauren B Collister, a Ph.D. Candidate who wrote her thesis on Linguistic Multitasking in World of Warcraft found the differences between how we talk and chat to be fascinating parts of group communication. Back in the days when we had all company email threads (best to use this sparingly, too, like the @channel rule), you couldn’t be too casual anywhere else but Gchat. And what was sorely lacking over email and Gchat was the sense of community, or what Collister says is “…specifically the talk and action that happen simultaneously when one is a participating member of a group.”
Slack allows conversation with anyone, no matter where they are in the office or world, quickly and easily. It enables you to loosen up a little bit with punctuation and language in a way that just makes off the cuff conversations seem totally normal and welcomed. Calls, meetings, and email are still an important part of the client/agency communication process, of course, but each mode of communication is specialized based on the rules of the platform.
Collister found this as well as she was, “…chatting to the group on voice chat at the same time as I was typing a private message [Slacking] to an in-game friend [to a coworker] who wasn’t in the raid [during a meeting]. Voice chat [a meeting] was being used for quick communications in the heat of battle [standups], and text chat [Slack] was being used to make a semi-permanent record of important things, like specific people assigned to specific tasks. All of this required coordination, because if even one person in the raid group [client team] failed at their duty, everyone would die [miss their deadlines].” If all of this incredible multitasking is happening during WoW, chances are it is happening in our workplaces too.
Can email do all of that by itself? It’s a tall order for any single platform to fill. Stewart Butterfield, Slacks co-founder and chief, predicted that company email would be extinct in seven years. It’s a pretty bold statement for a company that has yet to turn a profit. If we’re looking at his statements from a cultural impact standpoint, however, he just might be right (and on the precipice of making a lot of money, indeed).
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As young millennials and GenZs enter the workforce, many companies struggle with keeping their new workforce engaged. Slack hit the scene right on queue. If your company is agile and adopts Slack right as younger employees are coming aboard, Slack can be a powerful business tool to enhance your culture and improve team chemistry.
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