Communicating

As a general rule of thumb: Asana is a good tool for working and Slack/Email is a good tool for talking about work. Conversations that relate to specific Asana tasks should happen within those tasks in order to provide context and clarity about that task. More casual conversations or coordination are perfect for Slack.

For example, if you were to ask “What color should the button be?” The best place for this to happen would be on the related Asana task for the button. If you need to confirm that a lunch time worked for all parties, Slack would be appropriate.

Regardless of the system, always default to being as transparent as possible. That means posting in public Slack channels or making issues in shared Asana boards. Context is key and allowing more people to access context means that we can all get more done.

It’s best practice to respond to your messages, requests and task updates in a timely manner. It depends on the urgency, but most messages should be replied to within a day.

Asana

Asana is the central repository for all to-dos, and is largely organized by projects. Asana can be used for:

  • Project management
  • Task tracking
    • Personal tasks
    • Project-related tasks
    • Tasks for others: create an Asana task and Slack the link to them so they are aware. This allows both parties to form an impeccable agreement to get the task done (or push back / redirect if they’re not the appropriate person to do that task)
  • Weekly meetings: Agendas and issues for discussion in
    • Team weekly meetings
    • 1:1 meetings
  • Goals tracking
    • Quarterly goals listed in team weekly projects
  • Any discussions related to a particular project/task. Discussion history in Asana is more permanent than Slack messages. The discussions should happen in particular tasks within projects.

See the Accountability + Asana playbook for our guidelines for how Asana tasks should be created and managed across the company. See the Getting Sh*t Done Guide (10-15 min read) for how to organize your work-life, using Asana for different purposes, and setting up tasks and projects to be well organized and efficient.

Slack

Many companies prefer to use Slack over email for informal internal communication. Sample Slack uses include:

  • Notify someone of a newly created Asana task. Slack the Asana link to them.
  • Ask your team or an individual a question via the team’s Slack channel
  • Sending out updates to the company or a specific team
  • Share an article with the company
  • Casual conversations

Slack is for informal communication and shouldn’t be considered a source of historic truth. Accordingly, Slack should specifically NOT be used for:

  • Obtaining approvals (Instead use email or Asana);
  • Documenting decisions (Instead use project documentation of Asana);
  • Storing official company records or documents (Instead use Google Drive);
  • Sharing personal or sensitive information regarding any individuals (Instead use email or crypto notes)
  • Sharing credentials (sharing credentials is only be done via 1Password)

Default to Asana

Slack, while useful, can also be distracting. By rule of thumb, anything that can go in Asana, default to Asana instead of Slack.

Manage your notifications

You are responsible for managing your Slack notifications. It is perfectly acceptable to turn your notifications off during periods of deep work and focus.

Avoid Private Messages

  • When using Slack for work-related purposes, please avoid private messages. Private messages discourage collaboration. It is less efficient because other people cannot jump in and help. Use a public channel and mention the person or group you want to reach. This ensures it is easy for other people to chime in, involve other people if needed, and learn from whatever is discussed.
  • If someone sends you a work-related private message, it is okay to let them know you’d like to take the conversation to a public channel. The process might look something like:
    • In the private message: “Thanks for reaching out, that’s a great question/idea I think the rest of the team could benefit from. I’m going to move this to #A_PUBLIC_CHANNEL”
    • In the appropriate public channel: “@Person asked “question” in a DM, pulling that out here if anyone else has input.”
    • Answer the question in a thread on that channel message, allowing others to benefit.
  • If you find yourself getting a lot of private messages that should go in a public channel, consider changing your Slack status to an attention grabbing emoji and set it to something like:
    • “Please consider posting in a public channel before direct messaging”
    • “Why direct message me when you can post in a public channel?”
  • If you have a quick question, the person will respond asynchronously. If you truly need to have a synchronous communication, then start by asking for that explicitly, while mentioning the subject. e.g., “I’m having trouble understanding issue #x, can we talk about it quickly?”.

Avoid Private Group Messages

Use private channels instead of group private messages. Group private messages are very hard to maintain, track, and respond to. First, consider whether the conversation can take place in a public channel. If not, please use a private channel instead.

Sometimes it is unavoidable, though there can be a downside to using private group messages versus channels:

  • It’s disturbing (all users in the group get notified for each message).
  • It’s not searchable.
  • It’s not shareable: there is no way to add people in the group (and this often leads to the creation of multiple groups.
  • They don’t have a subject, so everyone has to remember the topic of each private group based on the participants, or open the group again to read the content.
  • History is lost when leaving the group.

Instead Use Public Channels

When communicating in Slack it’s best to default to channels. Think of Slack channels as permanent group chats for specific discussion topics. Some channels are applicable to the entire team (e.g. # general is typically used by the entire team to communicate company-wide announcements), and others for specific groups. Keep in mind that anyone can join any public Slack channel if they’d like.

How to Use Channel Notifications

When using channels you should limit the use of @channel and @here to important company-wide updates and/or time-sensitive announcements.

  • @channel will notify EVERYONE in the channel, even if they are not currently active in Slack.
  • @here will update only those in the channel that are currently active on Slack (active = little green dot next to your name). These alerts serve to interrupt the channel’s participants and break flow state, so please use them sparingly.

Only @channel for important company announcements that is very important for everyone or requires action from the whole team. If it is just an FYI announcement, it should be posted sans @.

  • For example, there is no need to @channel to make people aware of an event happening next week, or a reminder to fill out a survey.
  • You should @channel if there is a new policy being rolled out or a fire and everyone needs to evacuate.

Only @here if it is a timely announcement where action is required from those currently online. If it is just an FYI announcement it should be posted sans @.

  • For example, @here to let everyone know that a Town Hall is starting.

Using the #General Channel:

The #general channel is generally used for work-related company-wide announcements, news, and updates. To determine whether something is #general channel-worthy, think about whether you would send a company-wide email with the same subject matter. If not, then you probably want to send it to a different Slack channel.

If you don’t know whether to send something to #general or not, it’s best to check with your manager before posting.

Other company-wide channels to create and use instead of or in addition to #general are:

  • #non-work
  • #business-reporting-updates
  • #events-internal
  • #celebrations
  • #people-ops-announcements
  • #remote-work

To find a full list of channels in Slack, go to your desktop app, click on the + sign next to Channels and select “Browse Channels” in the drop down.

Use Threads in Channels to Avoid Excessive Notifications

Threaded conversations are a way to limit or mitigate the issues outlined above. Slack has done an excellent job outlining their own feature here. Reasons for using threaded conversations are highlighted below:

  • People in the thread (but not the channel) are notified BUT you have the option to notify the channel if you’d like. Great for debating something THEN telling the entire team about it
  • You can summon people to threads with a simple @, again without notifying the entire channel.
  • Threads are embeddable in channels! You can post your reply to a thread next to the original channel post. Perfect for complicated questions that might require nuanced answers.
  • Threads that you are part of are segregated on the top left. It’s easy to catch up on your threads

From the Slack help center, A Guide to Using Threads:

  • To thread or share a message? Threads work best when you want to keep your response connected to the original idea. Sharing a message is best used to rekindle past conversations or highlight specific messages from one channel to another.
  • Avoid overuse. A thread’s discussion won’t appear in a channel’s main view, so if other members would benefit from seeing your message, it’s best to keep it out of a thread.
  • Threads are courteous. They help keep channels focused and prevent active discussions from becoming derailed. But if you want others to see your message in a thread, send it to the entire channel just like a regular message in Slack.

Consolidate messages into 1 slack post

Don’t
Message people
Like
This

Rather than spacing out a single communication point across four Slack messages, keep it to one. Otherwise, people will get four different Slack notifications, which can be extremely distracting.

Control + Enter will allow you to create another paragraph within the same Slack message.

Additional tips and tricks

Read this article for tips and tricks! Learn how to use

  • Stars
  • Mark messages unread
  • Set reminders for yourself about certain messages at a later time

Posting Articles

When sharing an article with the company or posting a link in #news, you should include a few bullet points of summary and important nuggets. Do not just post the link without commentary. You should cross-post in #marketing if you think it might be good for your company’s social account.

Other Slack Notes

  • If you use Slack and plan to message three or more people, consider a channel for customer/issue/project/problem/partnership.
  • If something is important but not urgent – like complimenting or encouraging the entire team – use email or post in the channel without @-mentioning the team.
  • It’s not rude to leave a channel. When you’ve had your questions answered or are no longer interested, feel free to leave the channel so it won’t distract you anymore.
  • If you need a team to acknowledge the receipt of information you can ask them to respond with a green checkmark.
  • Use the Slack “Status” feature to indicate to indicate your status, especially so if you are OOO
  • Use Emojis and GIFs to share emotions and reactions. These responses can help supplement that absence of non-verbal communication cues.
  • Add as much empathy as possible. It’s easy to be mis-interpreted without full context. Strive to add that context by sharing more and following the Context Guidelines below.

Google Calendar

Out of Office (OOO)

Let your teammates know if you’ll be working from home, or out of office. Get into the habit of living by your calendar, and mark any work from home (WFH) or out of office (OOO) time as soon as it is planned.

You can even create an OOO Slack channel for the entire team: #ooo

Communicate to the rest of your team / company that you will be OOO:

  • As soon as your time off is approved, create an OOO event on your calendar. Make sure to include “OOO”, “Vacation”, “PTO”, or “Out of Office” in the event title.
  • If you are planning to take multiple days off, create one calendar event for it vs. one for each day.
  • These events will automatically get pulled into our company OOO calendar and posted in the OOO Slack channel
  • You may want to add a task to the PSA section in your team meeting “Jane will be OOO from 6/1 – 6/10”
  • Use status emojis in Slack to denote that you won’t be responsive are all great for showing that you’re away from work

Using Calendar Resources (Booking Rooms)

When scheduling meetings in Google calendar you also have the option of booking rooms or adding Zoom conferencing. All conference rooms should be listed, as well as how many people each can comfortably seat. When possible do not book conference rooms with more seats than you need.

Need to see what rooms are open right now for an impromptu meeting? You can browse all conference room calendars by doing the following:

  1. Go to ‘Other Calendars’ on the right-hand side of the page and click on the plus sign
  2. A menu should pop up and you can click on the option that reads ‘Browse Resources’
  3. From there you can select any of the conference room calendars to be visible in your normal calendar view.

Interruptions

Headphone Policy

Context switching is expensive. If someone is wearing headphones, expect that they are focusing. Message them on Slack instead of interrupting them. This will help minimize distractions.

General Communication Guides

No Acronyms

Internal communications are most successful when they are simple, transparent, and easy to understand. Do not make it harder than it needs to be by creating acronyms.

Elon Musk wrote the following note to his team about acronyms and he’s right – avoid acronyms:

“There is a creeping tendency to use made up acronyms at SpaceX. Excessive use of made up acronyms is a significant impediment to communication and keeping communication good as we grow is incredibly important. Individually, a few acronyms here and there may not seem so bad, but if a thousand people are making these up, over time the result will be a huge glossary that we have to issue to new employees. No one can actually remember all these acronyms and people don’t want to seem dumb in a meeting, so they just sit there in ignorance. This is particularly tough on new employees.

That needs to stop immediately or I will take drastic action – I have given enough warning over the years. Unless an acronym is approved by me, it should not enter the SpaceX glossary. If there is an existing acronym that cannot reasonably be justified, it should be eliminated, as I have requested in the past.

For example, there should be no “HTS” [horizontal test stand] or “VTS” [vertical test stand] designations for test stands. Those are particularly dumb, as they contain unnecessary words. A “stand” at our test site is obviously a test stand. VTS-3 is four syllables compared with “Tripod”, which is two, so the bloody acronym version actually takes longer to say than the name!

The key test for an acronym is to ask whether it helps or hurts communication. An acronym that most engineers outside of SpaceX already know, such as GUI, is fine to use. It is also ok to make up a few acronyms/contractions every now and again, assuming I have approved them, e.g. MVac and M9 instead of Merlin 1C-Vacuum or Merlin 1C-Sea Level, but those need to be kept to a minimum.”

Multimodal Communications

When sharing important information that is relevant for multiple teams and offices it is important to use multiple modes of communication – typically Slack and Email. Important full company announcements go in #general and announcements to teams or sub teams should be in their respective channels and sent to the appropriate email lists. Most important messages should include a link to the source of truth (Asana issue, Google doc, etc).

Break things up

Whenever possible you should try to separate individual thoughts into separate emails or issues. It makes it easier to reply. If this isn’t possible, please move your larger issue to a collaborative platform like Google docs and create the appropriate Asana tasks for people to review, edit, or comment.

Asynchronous / synchronous

Use asynchronous communication when possible: Comment on Asana issues, edit Google docs, manage work tickets. Announcements should happen on the appropriate Slack channels (without interrupting notifications) and people should be able to do their work without getting interrupted by chat.

Discussion on work projects and issues should happen on the related Asana task. This allows us to both track the context but also limit the amount of direct interruptions. If you need final approval or something urgent related to a task, please then Slack the appropriate channel or person.

When to break asynchronous communication

Sometimes synchronous communication is the better option, but do not default to it. For example, a video call can clear things up quickly when you are blocked. If you find yourself clarifying something more than three times, it’s likely best to have a short call or meeting in person to clear it up.

Always provide context

If you mention something (task, doc, ticket, etc.) please include a link to the relevant material. Additionally, when creating an issue the following framework is useful:
Situation-Complication-Implication-Position-Action-Benefit (SCIPAB)

  1. Situation – Expresses the current state for discussion.
  2. Complication – Summarizes the critical issues, challenges, or opportunities.
  3. Implication – Provides insight into the consequences that will be a result of if the Complications are not addressed.
  4. Position – Notes the presenter’s opinion on the necessary changes which should be made.
  5. Action – Defines the expectations of the target audience/listeners.
  6. Benefit – Clearly concludes how the Position and Action sections will address the Complications. This method can be used in presentations, emails, and everyday conversations.

(Source)

Emails

Email is particularly asynchronous. If you need a reply but the timing is less important, consider sending an internal email that contains only a short message, similar to a chat.

If you add someone to an email chain, it is important to provide context. Please indicate if they’re added for context, action, or decisioning. If you need something, please explicitly communicate your need along with @ mentioning who you need it from.

WFH / Remote

See our Working Remotely: Tips and Resources guide for WFH set-up guidance, establishing WFH routines and boundaries, etc.

When working from home the expectations are the same as in the office. You should be available and productive during your working hours. You should default to the same communication patterns as in-office work.

Special circumstances for Coronavirus WFH: With COVID-19 safety policies in place, children and loved ones may be home with you. It may be challenging to work the hours that you are used to and that the team normally operates by. This situation is highly unusual and difficult, especially for those caring for children and other loved ones at home. If this applies to you, please work when you can and communicate any special circumstances/accommodations needed to your manager and your team.

Meetings should be conducted via Zoom and ideally with video turned on, if you can. Especially if a team or company is fully remote, video helps to stay connected and engaged in interactions. Video may not be possible in different situations and that is also totally fine.

Zoom Guidelines

  • It is not rude to drop off a call when your issues have been completed.
  • Video on is preferred → it better replicates the in-person experience and creates a more engaging environment. Do not feel forced to have your video on, use your best judgement.
  • Mute yourself when not speaking, especially if your background is loud or if you’re eating.
  • It’s highly encouraged to use headphones and a microphone for the best Zoom experience.