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Ah, Slack! The increasingly popular tool (along with HipChat and Google Chat) claims to increase collaboration and reduce email within offices. While this can be true, it can also be a hyper-distracting, inappropriate mode of communication, and I’m hearing and reading more and more grumblings about how teams are not being as effective as they should be.

I believe that most of these issues are due to the fact that a new set of social norms have not yet been determined and internalized to get the most out of these awesome new communication tools. So, in the spirit of my email, phone, and meeting rules, here are 15 digital communication rules to live by:

  1. Chatting a question is easy—in fact, too easy. So before doing so, make sure you’re not just being lazy and avoiding finding the answer for yourself. Next time you want to ask your colleague a “super quick question,” ask yourself these two questions: Can I Google this? Can I find this in our internal drive or documents?

  2. If someone’s offline or using a “Do not disturb” status, consider it like a closed office door. Only message your colleagues if it’s the sort of issue that you’d barge into their office for, because that’s effectively what you’re doing. With that said, when you don’t want to be disturbed, make that clear as often as possible by signing off or enabling DND.

  3. Don’t need a response today? Then you should always send an email instead of a chat. A chat means “I need this now.” Need the response today, but also need it to cover a lot of ground? If the answer would take more than five minutes to figure out, you should always opt for email. This is giving your colleague the courtesy of deciding when to interrupt his or her work to deal with your issue.

  4. Know that when you say “Got a minute?” (or any variation thereof), you’re really saying “I’m going to take up your time right now.” Because the answer you’ll almost always get is usually “Yes, what’s up?” and the reality is that the person was likely in the middle of something else. Instead, try, “When you have a minute, I’d love to bounce something off you. No rush!”

  5. Similar to email and texts, tone can be hard to gauge via chat. So, always give people the benefit of the doubt and assume good intentions. Think they’re being snippy or sarcastic? Re-read the message to yourself with a pleasant tone and a smile as a gut check. On the other hand, if you’re worried your message might be misinterpreted, throw in a GIF or an emoji to make your intentions clear.

  6. Just like reply all to the whole company is the worst, sending a chat that’s only relevant to a handful of people to 50 co-workers is obnoxious. So, when you’re debating who to loop in, loop small at first.

  7. If it’s an announcement you want your team to be able to refer back to, use email. The exception here is if your company uses pinned chats regularly and everyone knows how to use that feature and where to look for key info.

  8. Use tools and plugins to make chat smarter. Asking “Is everyone free for a team lunch on Thursday?” opens up a floodgate of replies and back and forths. A simple polling plugin like Simple Poll takes care of this well and reduces all that noise to a single message:

  1. Always have nuanced or hard conversations in person. Or, if that’s not possible, do it via phone or video chat—that includes giving constructive feedback, negotiating, and reviewing projects.

  2. Learn how to read between the lines in a conversation. Because chatting so casually does make it easy to get off topic, it happens a lot. (And it’s OK! Breaks are good!) But if you notice you’re dominating the conversation or supplying 75% of the GIF reactions, it probably means it’s not the best time for the other person.

  3. Don’t ever assume someone saw your important message in a group chat. If it’s something you 100% want someone (or everyone) to see, send an email instead.

  4. If you chat a group and then it turns into a one-on-one convo that the whole channel doesn’t need to be privy to (or shouldn’t have to be), relocate the discussion. Even if not’s confidential, it’s oftentimes best to have those talks away from the group.

  5. Unless the office is currently on fire, try to take a minute to say “Hi, how are you?” to someone before launching into a conversation. It’ll make whatever you say go a lot more smoothly.

  6. If a conversation doesn’t directly require your input, don’t feel pressured to chime in if you’re busy. And, on the same note, if you are busy, don’t distract yourself by following every single conversation.

  7. Finally, this last one isn’t really a rule, just a reminder. Even if your boss doesn’t participate in random, silly group chats, he or she could still be watching. And if you’re struggling to get assignments completed on time, he or she won’t be thrilled to see how active you are. So, have fun, be appreciative you work for a company that recognizes a good GIF, but also get your work done.



What rules would you add to this list? Tell us on Twitter @TheMuse!