A couple of weeks ago I found myself in a conversation with a peer of mine in the office. We both recently stepped into management roles and were exchanging our experience with being a younger millennial manager. At one point he shared “I had to establish boundaries pretty quick, someone asked for a day off on gchat and I asked them to email me that request instead”, for the record we use G-Suite (Google’s enterprise offering) for work. I thought that comment was interesting, considering that personally I’ve seen the lines blur further and further at work about accepted modes of communication. Thinking about my work relationship with my boss we communicate across the following:
- Face to face – usually at our weekly hourly meetings.
- Email – for formal work updates and questions that need an answer within a week ideally.
- Work Phone Call – quick questions and fact checking.
- Text or Gchat – one or both of us are remotely working and need time sensitive answers.
As I drafted up my list, I realized that I also opt to gchat my direct reports when I have something more time sensitive or want to make sure my message isn’t “missed” (but what I really mean is ignored…) like an email or phone call might. Although this always feels much more intrusive and I use it sparingly, despite it all being work-sanctioned communication methods. But the more thought I put into it, the more I realized that the workplace has been pushing more opportunities to communicate like traditional social networks for quite some time and it’s changing the way we work, the expectations we have for each other, and the etiquette around how we communicate.
Before I left my last job in DC in 2015, our office had just gone through a significant staffing transition which included downsizing physical office space, remote work environment for 30 percent of staff, and significant tech investment on upgraded office phones and software. One of these was in a Cisco product known as Jabber, which is a software that combined instant messaging, team chatrooms, and conference call video solutions. This led to a transition of our analog phone lines to hardware equipped for Voice over Internet Protocol (VOIP) calling which tied back to your status as shown on Jabber. If you were on a call, this was then displayed as part of your “presence information” which acted as a form of an away message. Jabber is supported across many operating systems and integrates with Microsoft Office applications, making it easy and streamlined to integrate this into the most common enterprise office suite.
This was a major shift in the way our office did work. We had a hard enough time getting select people to answer emails in a timely manner so adding a new suite of tools brought forth a lot of ambiguity. What’s the difference between calling/emailing/instant messaging someone? How many chats is too many?
Luckily, this was something our human resource department was thinking about too. And with this new job configuration, along came a whole series of new office expectations. Even around instant messaging use and etiquette:
This made sure culturally that expectations were clear and established across all staff members. It cut out a lot of the questioning that we had about “appropriateness” of using each option and because it was launched as soon as the option was available it established a culture up front. These guidelines were also integrated as part of the onboarding for new staff as well, helping reinforce the culture and expectations about these tools moving forward.
I typically associate the Slack tool with young start-up work cultures, so I was surprised to see The New York Times and ADP listed as enterprise clients. Slack advertises itself as the “collaboration hub”, a tool where teams can manage discussions and meet virtually. With discussion boards based on hashtag topics (very similar to IRC chatrooms—I might be dating myself here) and the ability to @ tag teams or users, it very much feels like the work environment of the millennial workforce.
And it’s not just a trend, this past January Slack announced that it had surpassed over 10 million users. It’s no surprise the tool is appealing, not only is it easily accessible as a freemium model, it uses key language that is prevalent in social networks to make the tool easily digestible and user intuitive. This and other work messaging tools provide a “safe space” for employees to chat without feeling disruptive or intrusive to their colleagues.
A sign that the workplace social hub is here to stay is Facebook’s investment in building up their own work collaboration tool, Workplace. The tool which launched in 2015 and leverages much of the functionality and framework that exists in Facebook’s personal social network. Newsfeeds provide an ongoing stream of team updates and announcements, group pages host projects or teams, and chat rooms use FB’s messaging service to host workplace discussions.
I believe these tools will continue to penetrate the workforce, especially as companies continue to trend towards flexible work schedules and remote offices. As with any office technology, it will require a collaborative effort between IT and human resources to help establish and define the culture around using these tools on an enterprise level. Policies around user expectations of these not only will remove the ambiguity a new communication tool could foster, but can also provide a more productive experience for employees.
Does anyone use Slack for work? Is it effective and does your HR dictate how to use the tool?