Eran Peterson is a Career Consultant at the University of Connecticut Center for Career Development. Below, he shares his perspective on the CCD's transition to using Slack while the team works from home.
As in most organizations, email can be a challenge to spread information. With a large staff and many moving parts, it can be difficult to get the right information to the right people, at the right time. Two years ago, our department moved and streamlined some of our communications to a SharePoint site where we could automate the messaging required for taking time away from the office, and could segment documents and conversations to our areas of best practice. This alleviated much of the feeling of a cluttered mailbox and allowed important documents to exist in the cloud with the ability to revert any document to an earlier version of itself.
When moving to a fully virtual format, we quickly realized that email-type communication was going to play a crucial role in how we conduct business. As an incredibly collaborative team, even the quick questions that someone might pop by an office would need to be dealt with in a different way. There are many options available, including Microsoft Teams, which would integrate a number of existing technologies including SharePoint, and is provided to us by the University. Microsoft Teams initially made the most sense since many in the office actively use Skype for Business as a direct messaging tool which is one of the built-in functions in Teams, but our technology team found this platform to lack intuitiveness.
A couple of members of our team had some familiarity with Slack and praised the user experience of the platform. After establishing a free account for the department, the supervisory team spent the first week of remote work using Slack and discussing if and how we might roll it out to the staff at large. We created what are called “channels” for staff to be able to contribute messages related to topic areas that are related to functions of our department as well as some fun channels to build and maintain comradery. The following channels are what we have been using regularly:
# career-coaching- meant for the coaches to discuss anything coaching or student-facing. Also serves as a platform for coaches to suggest topics for upcoming career consultant meetings.
# career-fair- this channel was used heavily during the planning and execution of our virtual career fair
# covid-19updates- this is a place where people can share updates about the virus, how to make masks, and alerts/responses from the University
# need-to-know- in here are department-wide announcements and work-based matters
# random- as Slack defines this channel, it is for non-work banter and water cooler conversation
# technology- this is an area where people can share issues with any of our technology and updates related to functionality of technology
# thought-of-the-day- this is another “fun” channel, much like #random but another venue for staff to share something inspiring, funny, or a daily fact
And two restricted channels: # supervisors, # search-committee. These channels are for conversations related to departmental planning and for a current search to discuss logistics.
In addition to dedicated channels, staff are able to direct message other individuals or participate in smaller group discussions using the chat feature. Slack allows users to use keyword searches to find older messages and it performs exceptionally. In less than a month, we had hit the 10,000 searchable messages threshold, where Slack encourages the organization to opt for a paid account. The Standard plan would allow for an unlimited message archive and some other functions that we aren’t currently using. At this time, we have decided to maintain our free version as our important documents are stored externally in SharePoint.
The roll-out of Slack to the entire staff was met with enthusiasm and overnight became the primary way that the members of the office communicate with each other. There have been new, innovative ways that staff members have worked to strengthen our team by doing things like setting up a “Donut” meeting where two staff members are paired up at random to talk for 15 minutes about non-work related things, and the start of a new # cooking channel where we can share recipes and experiences cooking the same food. Time will tell if we continue to use Slack when we return to campus or if we migrate over to Teams now that the entire staff has some practice and understands the concept of this type of workspace.
Thanks for sharing Eran!