Company Culture

How HR Can Keep Slack a Safe, Productive Space

August 2, 2019
November 7, 2023
Sulagna Misra
Lattice Team

Slack has become a huge part of the modern workplace. It’s incredibly useful for managing both teamwork and team bonding, its archives provide a library of valuable information for new employees, and it provides a community for the ever-growing remote workforce.

With Slack itself recently going public, suffice to say it's here to stay. But that doesn't mean it's not without its problems, and if you're running people operations, Slack is its own special minefield. Here are some common problems that HR faces in keeping Slack a safe, productive space for both them and their company, and how to address them.

Constant interruptions hurt productivity

It should come as no surprise that the #1 thing we hear HR wants more of is time — more time to work on exciting projects and build out processes; more time with the HR team, employees, and managers and executives; and more time to evaluate current processes to figure out if they’re still working. 

So when you're trying to not waste precious time, the last thing you need is one more thing pinging you for attention. 

During Lattice’s Great HR Debate event, one of the most heated discussions was around the use of Slack versus email. “I come from a human biology background and I have read way too many terrifying studies about how horrible interruptions are for our brains,” said Director of People and Culture at Omada Health Anna Martinelli. 

It’s hard for us to focus on the deep work we need to do, Martinelli further contended, when people are constantly reaching out to you and asserting their own priorities over yours. 

And then there are the requests. During the same event, Jonathan Akhavan, Tonal’s Head of People, added that 80% of the Slack messages that came to him that particular week were requests. (He did the math.) Requests about sending offer letters, reviewing job descriptions, preparing compensation bands, questions about commuter benefits — all from employees and executives alike. And those can add up!

But interruptions aside, all the participants in the debates agreed that Slack is, in a lot of ways, indispensable. And sometimes all that usage can slip into problematic territory.

Slack culture is an extension of your company culture.

First of all: you can’t really control all of Slack. Social channels will proliferate and not everyone will invite HR. But second: you don’t really want to.

Slack is a digital extension of your company’s culture. Often, the rules and etiquette will emerge organically, based on how executives and more tenured employees use Slack. It’ll also change and develop differently depending on who you hire, how quickly you scale, and how big your company is. The more you leave it alone, the more you can observe and understand how your company culture manifests across teams and departments. 

Slack can also be a place where teams can discuss ideas and make suggestions in a more free-flowing environment than long email chains. Slack is also where remote workers — a faction of American workforces that is growing every year — can feel connected to their fellow employees. 

Teams can also give feedback within Slack; tools like Lattice integrate with Slack for feedback and public recognition, or #praise, as Lattice’s internal channel is called. Both can be a huge boon to company culture — helping employees across departments see what other departments are doing, building connections between coworkers, and celebrating wins.

Slack is also a great place for people to show their personality and build camaraderie, allowing them to be goofier in chat than in live conversation. Inside jokes will bloom and grow thanks to Slack’s various features, such as custom emojis and custom responses. A Slack you’re happy to be a part of means you’re more likely to be excited to come to work, which means happier, more productive, and better performing employees overall.

The social aspect of Slack can be tricky for HR because it’s not a natural part of the HR professional’s job. HR has to operate with a degree of remove from the rest of the company. So that means it’s good for you to stay in observation mode while providing simple guidelines to employees as they use Slack. 

Because Slack channels have their problems. Some social channels will be created where not everyone is invited. Channels will be created to complain about managers and executives and various policies. People might get too distracted by their coworkers’ funny anecdotes. What’s important to remember is that a lot of these behaviors are going to happen, whether or not it’s on Slack. 

Does that mean that Slack is a necessary evil, even as it interrupts your deep work? No, of course not. If the #1 thing HR people need more of is time, the #1 thing they love making is process. So, we suggest a solution for HR professionals: Slack etiquette.

Manage the chaos with Slack etiquette.

Slack etiquette is not a set of hard and fast rules for how a company uses Slack. Instead, it’s a way for HR professionals to manage Slack both individually and throughout their company.

Create channels specific to have a place for all those requests: #employee-experience, #recruiting, #people, etc. Have a designated person on your team to monitor and moderate what goes in those channels. In some cases, it may not always make sense to answer them in the channel. Push back gently by suggesting you talk offline. Also, preemptively let employees know that while you encourage them to use these channels, “If you’re not sure if it’s going to work on Slack, that’s what email is for.”

Make sure to always remind employees that, like emails, Slack messages are company property. Anything they post on Slack can be downloaded for review, without their permission or knowledge. New hires should be told this during onboarding.

The way an individual employee acts on Slack is just as pertinent to their work persona as how they act in real life. Make sure managers provide necessary feedback to their direct reports to both curb and push back on inappropriate or disruptive behavior on Slack.

At the same time, Slack can also be a place where people are left out. As with any social media, there might be cyberbullying or harassment. Make sure your policies are updated to include Slack, set up a process to discipline or empower employees with these problems, and keep executives and managers informed of these policies so they can act accordingly.

If there are company-wide problems, Slack is sometimes the first place employees name these concerns. They might even become amplified within Slack. Unfortunately, as an HR person, you’re unlikely to be privy to all these kinds of conversations, and it can be frustrating to be the last to know. 

The best way to get in touch with these problems is by using an engagement survey as a release valve for these feelings. Ask people about their use of Slack alongside their feelings about their managers and coworkers. Because engagement surveys are anonymous, employees will feel more comfortable being honest with you. 

Don’t let the in-person conversation die out at your company.

One big problem with Slack is sometimes it’s easier to have hard conversations over Slack instead of in person. With the Lattice feedback integration, this is easier than ever.

But we at Lattice are big believers that constructive feedback should always be a conversation. With its delay in messaging, favoring of the faster typist, and lack of body language, Slack doesn’t allow for the kind of conversation that leads to people feeling heard,understood and managed. The CEO of Slack, Stewart Butterfield, agrees:

The job of digital communication is to take care of those low-bandwidth conversations, where things are on the record, you don’t have to remember the details, and the content is straightforward. A lot of information falls into that category. And then there are the high-bandwidth conversations, where people may or may not exchange factual information, such as stats, but where a high degree of trust is necessary. These types of conversations can benefit greatly from social signals such as body language and facial expressions.

Don’t sacrifice trust for convenience. Your direct reports will thank you.