If you use @here/@channel more than 2 times a year, please read this post

Since @here/@channel is the digital equivalent to standing in the middle of the office and shouting at your coworkers, are there ever legitimate use cases and why do people abuse it?

What exactly do the notifications do?

First, definitions: @here notifies anyone who is a member of a channel in Slack and is also online. @channel notifies any member regardless of their status. More in-depth details can be found on Slack’s website. For the purpose of this blog post I’ll be using @here/@channel to mean “notifying a large group of people in Slack.”

Slack’s own website says, “We suggest using @here, @channel, and @everyone sparingly. If you need to get an individual’s attention, you can simply @mention them.”

@here/@channel legitimate use cases

What are some legitimate uses of @here/@channel? I would argue that @here/@channel is good for announcements and very very rarely is it good for questions/requests. Announcements are statements that do not require an answer back.

Examples of announcements:

  • Today is the last day of Open Enrollment.
  • The office is closing 1 hour early today for a staff event.
  • The parking lot is raising their weekly rates from $40 to $50.

Just because you are making an announcement doesn’t mean you should use an @here/@channel. Most times, you probably shouldn’t. A good test is to look at the channel you’re in and assess if the information you want to share is relevant & impactful to the majority of the group

In my first example “Today is the last day of Open Enrollment” the answer is “Yes.” The majority of people in the #general channel of your office would care about that, since having health insurance is required by law.

My last example, about the parking in the building is probably only relevant to a handful of people who drive to work. Using my above framework of “Is this information relevant to the majority of the group?” it’s easy to determine if an @here/@channel would make sense or not.

In San Fransisco very few people drive to work but in Utah almost everyone does. In a distributed office (like Lambda School’s) we have channels set up for the specific offices #staff_ut and #staff_sf. It would be inappropriate to announce the parking situation in #staff since a decent amount of our company works remotely. 

I would not use @here/@channel in #staff_sf (but would create a thread and tag the drivers I knew) and maybe use @here/@channel in #staff_ut.

A rare but legitimate use case for @here/@channel is when you need time-sensitive assistance. Something has happened and you’re in a crunch and you don’t know what to do.

Examples include:

  • Locking yourself out of the office
  • A major bug/system error that is impacting lots of users

One day someone arrived super early and forgot their keycard. They did an @here asking if anyone was around and could let them in. Totally legitimate since they didn’t want to individually Slack every member of the office asking to be let it. It was also appropriate that they used @here instead of @channel because they only notified people were online and working.

When your emergency issue is resolved it’s polite to comment in a thread that you are all set. That way if someone stumbles across your request later they don’t need to wonder if it has been addressed or not.

What are the root causes for @here/@channel abuse & how can it be addressed?

So with the legitimate uses of @here/@channel out of the way, why do people still abuse it? When I sent my tweet about the issue I received a thoughtful response from Brant Choate (which actually inspired this blog post!). His answer resonated with me:

The biggest reason people abuse @here/@channel is they don’t trust that posting in a channel by itself will garner a response. This is due to communication and trust issues within the org, as Brant noted.

At Lambda we have a #staff_salesforce channel, of which I am a member. My team and I monitor this channel closely as we own our Salesforce instance and any issues that might arise. The channel has ~80+ people in it and for awhile we had some issues with @here. 

This is because it wasn’t clear to members of the room that it was monitored with regularity and clear etiquette hasn’t been established. Slack is doing good work in this arena with their new Workflow Builder. It allows you to send a custom message to people who join your channel. It would be easy enough to add @here/@channel etiquette guidelines as well as who the “owners” in the channel might be.

Another reason @here/@channel is used is because a process has not yet been implemented to solve the communication issue. Say your support team needs to know when a customer’s order has been shipped and the only way to know is to ask the shipping team. Whenever an angry customer writes in wondering the status of their shipment an @here/@channel feels warranted!

I have found the less process-oriented a business unit is, the more likely their respective channels are @here/@channel chaos. No one knows who is in charge and who can help them, so screaming into the ether feels like the most effective method. Clear processes help the flow of communication and information between groups.

The siloing of information is a bummer, but I assume Brant is talking about other etiquette and org norms that I’m not addressing here. A personal preference of mine is to discuss anything related to work that might be relevant for other people in a channel vs. 1:1 messaging. This allows others to see/learn and also chime in if they have experience. I learned this from Ryan Mason who always encourages people to discuss data-related questions in the #staff_data_analytics channel instead of in his DMs. This behavior greatly increases transparency and the flow of information–especially at distributed companies.

In conclusion

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