by Leon Rosenshein


Software development is an odd mix of collaboration and isolation. Especially now that we’re all WFH. And we work for a distributed company. Across at least 4 time zones worth of offices and folks working from even more places. Which means that collaboration takes place mostly on Zoom/gMeet instead of in person. Both of those are pretty high bandwidth and interactive, which is good. But because we’re not all awake at the same time, let alone working at the same time, that kind of real-time, high bandwidth, synchronous connection isn’t always possible.

So we fall back to more asynchronous connections. Like Slack, or email. Now email is clearly asynchronous and non-interactive, so we have no expectation of an immediate response. And email generally shows that. There’s a storytelling pattern to it. And I’ll get to that one of these days.

Slack, on the other hand, feels more like a phone call. I call, you answer. I talk, then you talk. Details are requested and added as needed. At least that’s what usually happens. But sometimes, the person on the other end isn’t really there. Or they’re at the keyboard, but busy doing something else. So you say “Hello” expecting an answer, but nothing happens. So you wait a few minutes, then figure the other person isn’t around, and move on. Some period of time later the person you said hello to notices and/or has a chance to respond, and says “Hello” back. But now you’re busy. This goes on for a while and eventually you ask your question, like “What was the link to that article you were talking about in the meeting?” And you get your answer. After 3 rounds back and forth, 6 workflow interruptions, 20 minutes watching slack for a response, and 4 hours of wall time. Because Slack isn’t a phone call.

While it sometimes feels like one, it’s really an asynchronous communication channel. It’s just that often the delay is minimal. So when communicating on Slack it’s important to keep that in mind. You’d never send me an email that says “Hello”, then wait for me to respond before continuing with the rest of the email. So why do it in Slack.

Which leads to what I talked about in the Hello vs NoHello debate. The short recap is, at least when communicating with me, don’t say “Hello” and wait for a response. Just ask your question. I’m fine with, prefer actually, a nice greeting, but don’t wait for me to respond. Say hello, or don’t, and ask your question. That gets you the answer faster, wastes less of your time waiting for me to respond, and interrupts me fewer times before I can answer the question.

It’s better for everyone in so many ways. What do you think? Share in the comments.