Why it is so important to discuss on public channels

(This is an email I sent to my team after I received a Slack automated email saying we have 57% of message in private vs Public Channels)

Hi team,

I want to address an ongoing concern that is getting dangerous as it will jeopardize our culture in the long run.

I know I might sound a bit unusually serious below. So please bear with me; if you think otherwise, feel free to voice out.

Last week we just hit a record high of 57% of messages our team sent on Slack are direct messages.

It is a bad signal for transparency, and transparency is essential for good communication; Transparency makes knowledge & experience sharing more effortless and enables us to learn what others are doing. In addition, remote work and the flexibility for someone to know they can switch projects or roles is only possible with transparency.

From day 1 of Oursky, we try to make things as transparent as possible:

  • We used a Wiki from Files Sharing to Project Progress Tracking in the 1st year and IRC as a chat room;

  • Since we got some non-technical fellows who found Wiki too tough to use, we migrated to Dropbox, which is public, Hipchat (and now Slack), which consists of primarily public channels;

  • We grant access to everyone on almost every repo;

  • Last year, many of us found it challenging to track what others in the team are doing anymore; we have re-introduced a wiki (Quip) which is public and encourage everyone to write things down there.

It is so tempting to discuss face-to-face – that’s something we can’t change (and something good), But having a majority of chat messages private? I can’t think of any excuses.

We need to work against this trend, and here is what I wish every one of us would do after reading this email:

  1. If someone direct message you to discuss work, answer her with, “Hey, maybe we should talk about it in #channel-name.”

That should apply to any technical questions, problems, how-to type questions, and discussions on work and business. Don’t worry about stupid questions- I ask many of those every day.

  1. If you need to talk with someone quickly for 15 mins or set up a meeting, try to do it on #public-channel

  2. On a side note, my opinion is sometimes it is better to discuss async instead of sync to avoid interruption, especially for developers who need to focus. So consider discussing on Github Issues / Slack instead of face-to-face, and after a face-to-face discussion, it is also an excellent habit to jot down some notes on Github / Quip.

I know I do some of these too, so if I DM you and make the same mistakes, please try to remind me.

Many issues make it challenging to communicate effectively; it is also impossible for everyone to know what others are doing in a larger team. But let’s try to build up a better habit to improve communication. 

If there are any comments or ideas on how we can improve transparency, please let me know!


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