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How I use Slack for 1-1s

As a lot of us are working from home just now due to COVID-19, our default tools of communication with our colleagues are being reduced to a few key pieces of software. To some folks, these tools are second nature, but for others are completely brand new way of keeping up a relationship with your work colleagues.

I’ve been using IM tools for a long time; I’ve even introduced tools such as Hipchat and Slack to organisations. So in this piece, I wanted to describe how I go about planning and actioning 1-1s with my team, who are all working from their homes also.

(You can probably replace Slack for Teams, Skype, Basecamp or any other chat tool your work has in your organisation.)

Slack is email?

When you want to get some good quality work done, you need uninterrupted time to truly get into the zone. To do that, you need to remove distractions; phone on silent, door closed, coffee loaded, headphones on and email closed.

Slack is just another tool that needs to be turned off when work needs to be done but for some, they have trouble turning off the one tool which is keeping that constant connection with their workplace going.

Why? F ear O f M issing O ut.

Unlike email, which has the overall intention of not being an urgent way to communicate with someone, Slack is an asynchronous method of communication. The expectation that you are only a few Slack DMs away from someone who wants to talk to you is a dangerous precedent for you to set with your team and your organisation to set with you.

We are as much a problem in this scenario as our boss is, or our co-worker who needs to get an answer to that important question straight away. We have an unrealistic expectation that we need to know all the things that are going on in our teams and organisation.

So what do we do to make sure we have all the information? We join all the channels. This means that just 60 minutes away from Slack and your left sidebar is lit up like a Christmas tree.

We feel guilty when we don’t check our messages for an hour or so, just encase we miss anything. I’m guilty of this too! Standing in the line at the supermarket and opening Slack to make sure nobody has asked me a question that I haven’t answered in the past 20 minutes. How terrible of me.

If you want to get good quality work done; turn it all off.

1-1s

It’s likely a fair assumption to make that right now, due to the pandemic, we have a lot of managers who are working purely remote for the first time.

I should be clear right now to say I am one of those managers working fully remote for the first time, but I have had direct reports and teams in other countries for the past 4-5 years.

Currently, I have 15 direct reports (we can talk about that another time) and I track every single 1-1 I have with those 15 people in Slack.

Agenda. Actions. Living summary. All in Slack.

slack
Slack toolbar

It all starts with a single, private channel between me and the direct report. This is our new place of refuge for anything we want to talk about; big or small.

Whenever I get a brand new report, I immediately create one of these channels; it brings me great joy. I name all the channels the exact same ‘ben-NAME-1-1’. That way when they are on my channel list they are sorted in a block in Slack (which looks like a problem they have now solved with groups).

The channel topic is always the same, for every single person;

capture future topics for our 1:1s as well as to provide a handy historic record of what we’ve discussed

Simple, concise and hopefully pretty clear to both parties what the point of this channel is going to be.

At the end of our first 1-1, I introduce the idea of holding our 1-1 agenda and actions in a Slack channel. Over the years I’ve had a bunch of different reactions, from indifference to a mind-blown moment resulting the other person asking if they can use the idea. I’ve also had some direct reports that want to keep track of things another way and that’s totally fine.

I also do this with everyone I have a mentor/mentee relationship with; that way I can dump down ideas for topics for when we talk every 2-3 weeks.

slack
Slack

From there, the content of the channel is hopefully quite straight forward. As 1-1s get nearer, brain dumps of subjects that we want to discuss are put into the channel so we can refer to it in real time in the meeting. As we talk, I as the manager, note any actions and assign them to which one of us needs to get it done.

The Morning Scrub

So, if I have 15 reports and a bunch of 1-1 channels, how do I keep a track of actions that are in those channels? Do I add them to a to-do list? Do I put them on post-its?

No.

Every morning, at work, is the same.

Coffee? Check. Headphones? Check. Open Slack and Outlook? Check. Open Calendar? Check.

The morning scrub, if I’m working the way I should be (which doesn’t always happen), works in the following order.

  • Check email for anything super important (usually the bad is an email)
  • Check my calendar for 1-1s scheduled that day (usually between 3-4 per day)
  • Check their 1-1 channel for the actions that are mine

If all is right with the world, I’ve already scrubbed the 1-1 channel with Calum a few days prior. If I however have an “oh shit” moment, I can quickly get those actions done before my day starts and my report thinks I’m completely on all my actions like a true productivity machine.

I’ve been using the above way of working for about 3-4 years now, and it’s saved me a ton of headache, a ton of paper and a ton of embarrassment with my team on forgetting to follow up on things that matter to them.

While you shouldn’t spend your whole day in Slack, using these tools to your advantage can no doubt make your life easier, as well as let you spend more time thinking on how to best serve the humans you are leading.