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Why public slack chats are better than direct messages
Director of Engineering
March 14 2019

Do you even slack, dude?

We use slack, and use it extensively. As a remote team, it’s a crucial part of our workflow. I’ve noticed that I sometimes use direct messages when I should be asking a question in a public channel. Upon examination, direct messages have the following attributes:

  • less intrusive. I sometimes worry about an excessive amount of chatter bothering other team members.
  • protect my ego. When I ask a question it is admitting that I don’t know the answer. As a “director of engineering” it can be humbling to admit ignorance. But of course I don’t know everything! It’s just my ego talking. However, it still stings a bit sometimes to ask publicly–it’s easier to just side chat.

However, on the other side, the benefits of posting in a public channel are many. A message in a public channel is:

  • viewable. This means that others can chime in (as opposed to just the person I DMed). And that others can learn in the present as they read my question and the answers.
  • linkable. This means that if I want to reference the conversation (in a PR, trello card or elsewhere), I can. Of course, I should extract info into documentation (future me will thank past me) but for context around a decision, a link to a slack chat can be very helpful.
  • searchable. This means that others in the future who are searching for this information can find it. Yes, slack’s search leaves something to be desired, but if the conversation is private, that’s a guarantee that no one else will be able to search and find it.
  • vulnerable. I want everyone to feel comfortable asking questions. That leads to better outcomes for clients and for team members. How can I expect that behavior of others if I don’t do it myself?

So my rule of thumb going forward is if I can imagine someone else asking this question, I’ll take it to a channel. If I’m answering a question, I’m going to apply the same test.

To address my worry about intrusiveness, I’ve started to use threads (which I kinda hate, but kinda love). I of course will continue to use DMs or DM groups for private information. However, if a group convo might be more useful if it is viewable, linkable or searchable, I’m going to create a channel–those are free, and easy to archive.

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