Quit Slacking Off: How Teams Are Using Slack as a Project Management Sidekick
The popular chat tool helps teams stay connected and in constant communication. But if it's not helping us work on the right things, is it actually helping us work at all?
In May of this year, Recode referred to Slack as Silicon Valley’s “darling of the moment.” That may be true—with over 3 million daily active users and customers from 77 of the Fortune 100 companies, the team messaging app is hands-down the most used out there.
There’s no doubt that Slack changed the game in regards to connecting colleagues in real-time, and it has certainly revolutionized work for remote teams all over the world.
But the bridges it created in terms of work communication have shown modern teams the gaps that remain as it relates to project management.
Sure, there are many valid arguments out there that question Slack’s ability to help people stay focused on what matters most. “With you in my life,” began Samuel Hulick in his critique of Slack over at Medium, “I’ve received exponentially more messages than I ever have before.”
Many others have penned thought pieces speaking to how Slack, with all its fun features, is often used as a slick way for teams at work to feel productive when, even if unintentionally, they’re just slacking off.
Still, through Slack’s ubiquity and adaptability, it’s always encouraging to see how some teams are finding interesting new ways to use Slack to bring their team together and boost productivity as a result.
For Savannah Reising at Astropad, Slack serves as a way for her team—distributed between Minneapolis and San Francisco—to begin building relationships:
When Giovanni uploads a picture of the gnocchi he made for lunch, for example, it makes it easier to jump into a video call with him later because now we have a way to break the ice.”
For QuHarrison Terry and his team at Redox, Slack is a way to share the joys of work that are often missed on those solitary days of staring at a computer screen:
Every time a developer commits code, their camera is set up to take a picture of the moment they submit their work. This is a ‘Lolcommit,' and we have a whole channel devoted to capturing the special expressions of sheer happiness and elation that often accompanies the completion of a coding project.”
Through our work with leading teams around the world we’ve come to see that while Slack is an amazing tool that people enjoy using, the best way to actually be productive with it is to pair it with other tools—to think of it like a gear in your overall project management machine.
In other words, when it comes to the basics of project and task management, Slack should be the sidekick—not the star.
Too often we see teams with productive intentions jump from a Slack conversation, then to Post-It notes and meetings, and then back to Slack. The result? Even in the best scenario, many great ideas and conversations inside of Slack aren’t so much captured as they are buried in the mosaic of messages.
When Slack becomes the sidekick, however, there’s a shift in mindset. Now, more of the ideas and conversations in Slack are created with the intention to drive projects forward—and with a project management tool like Flow, they can be immediately turned into actionable tasks.
The more we talked to teams at work, the more an interesting picture began to form:
Slack is a way to chat about projects, but it’s not a tool to help manage them. (tweet this)
While a team chat app alone can’t shore up fundamental communication challenges, teams from all over the world shared with us how they’re trying to use Slack to better manage projects.
Take, for example, how the team at Delphic Digital, a marketing agency based in Philadelphia, uses Slack to keep track of all those “Hey, can you do this?” tasks:
A fast-paced office also means a full Slack inbox. A lot of people on our team use starred items as a way to keep track of tasks that people ask of them throughout the day. One tip is to reserve 30 minutes at the end of the day to check off all of your Slack stars."
These seemingly innocuous tasks—those that often aren’t directly part of a particular project—are often the cause of missed project timelines, yet they are rarely organized or documented. Furthermore, it's typically the best collaborators among your employees who will get blamed for slowing down projects.
What's the solution? Don't just react to tasks, take control of them. This helps employees make more informed decisions about what to work on next, and it will likely help those natural collaborators achieve the states of deep focus they need to complete the project-related tasks that may be more important.
Delphic’s strategy serves as a quick way to prioritize those tasks while they are top-of-mind, but it’s still a rather clunky hack. With Flow's new Slack integration, teams can create actionable tasks as they come up in conversation, right inside a Slack Channel, removing the need for workarounds like this.
The consensus, after many conversations with teams who use Slack heavily, breaks down like this:
1. Slack grants them the crucial ability to have real-time back-and-forth conversations in project-based channels, but it doesn’t ensure a project is moving forward.
2. Slack gives teams a great atmosphere to foster creativity and generate ideas, but it doesn’t offer an easy way to pulse that creativity into a project or help teams capture those important ideas.
Slack’s impact on modern workplace productivity is without parallel, but productivity wonks and project managers are increasingly realizing that it’s only a messaging app. The best way to get things done is to use Slack for what it was meant to do, and take advantage of integrations to sync the best of what happens inside of it with tools like Flow that actually help teams stay on top of workloads and drive projects forward.