I’ve previously written about the need to have a digital workspace for veterinary teams to communicate. In the practice I work, our team Facebook group is still a go-to for sharing important/urgent updates (like when there was a water main break), upcoming team events or random funny memes. It has its limitations, however, and I’ve turned to Slack for work with many of my clients with TheSocialDVM, and have now implemented Slack in a a half dozen client practices. In the face of a coronavirus scare, social distancing and potential quarantines, having a good handle on how your team members communicate outside the building is essential. So What is Slack? Slack is an online communication hub- think of it as a very organized chat room. Used by 12 million daily users and 65 of the Fortune 500 companies, it’s use is becoming ubiquitous in non-veterinary industries. Practices (or any business or group) can set up a free “workspace” and access it via a weblink, desktop app or smartphone app.
Within your workspace, you can add team members (who sign in with their own login). Each team member posts publicly as themselves, but can also have private direct messaging conversations with other members of the team.
Each workspace has multiple channels of conversation, all starting with a hashtag for organization. For example, veterinary practices often have a dozen or so similar channels that might look like this:
Basic Slack Terminology
Channel: channels are topics, designated by the # symbol.
Mention: To notify a particular user, you can mention them by typing “@” and then their name. When it appears, simply hit enter to complete the mention.
DM: A private, direct message conversation
Status: Under your profile name, you can set a status so your team knows where you’re “at,” if you’re not in the office. For example, you can set it to “off sick,” “working remotely,” “on vacation,” etc.
If a team member would like to post something-- for instance, that the new schedule is available-- they could go to the #scheduling channel, and drop in a note that the new schedule is posted and upload it as a file attachment. In another example, let’s say a photo was taken of an adorable patient and the receptionist wants to get it to the technician that does social media, but doesn’t want to bother her on her time off. They could simply upload the photo and patient’s name in the #socialmedia channel, and then tag the technician @Amy to let her know that it’s there. Other team members can see the content, but only @Amy will get a notification that she has something waiting for her in the channel.
How Do You Use Slack? After a team member signs in, they can see any channels that have new public conversations (notice that they are bright white)- this means there are unread messages. If a team member would like to post something-- for instance, that the new schedule is available-- they could go to the #scheduling channel, and drop in a note that the new schedule is posted and upload it as a file attachment. In another example, let’s say a photo was taken of an adorable patient and the receptionist wants to get it to the technician that does social media, but doesn’t want to bother her on her time off. They could simply upload the photo and patient’s name in the #socialmedia channel, and then tag the technician @Amy to let her know that it’s there. Other team members can see the content, but only @Amy will get a notification that she has something waiting for her in the channel.
Why Should You Use Slack?
Work-Life Balance: While I originally set up my clinic team’s Facebook group several years ago, I’ve since realized it’s limitations. It’s still a GREAT place for us to dump fun content and share news. But I’m ever-conscious of people’s time outside of work, and I never wanted it to be a place where “work work” happened-- since it’s a platform most people are using after hours and for fun, they shouldn’t be held accountable for an important policy update in the same place where they go to relax, watch funny videos and connect with their family and friends. Slack provides the same functionality of “hosting” important info and notices in a much better way. Team members can access-- if they want-- on their off time, or at work. I also don’t worry about someone at the clinic going to the clinic Facebook group to find out about the new changes to the prescription labels or a staff scheduling change, only to then get distracted looking at something totally non-work related (we’ve all been there, am I right!?). Have a question for an employee that’s off today? No problem- put it in Slack so you don’t forget, but they’ll be able to respond during their working hours.
Organization: In addition, Slack’s organization is much better. Conversations about topics like inventory, social media, scheduling, continuing education, etc. can all stay organized, and only the people that need access to a channel can be added. For instance, the entire clinic doesn’t need to see the message about a veterinarian-only CE opportunity, or a payroll team software update.
Integration with Other Programs: Slack integrates with hundreds of other software programs….but no veterinary specific ones, to my knowledge. That said, my Slack is integrated with my Google Drive, Asana, Zoom, Google Calendar and a dozen more. No more signing in and out of a zillion programs and browser windows.
Fewer Emails & Meetings: By sharing updates, announcements and news to the hospital through Slack, practices can cut down on meetings and emails-- something no one wants more of anyway. Most of the practices I know will post an update and then ask everyone on the team to respond to it to acknowledge that they have read it and understand.
Instant Messaging/Notifications Throughout the Hospital: I’ve long wished for some of the “legacy” practice management softwares to link to some sort of instant messaging system to allow the receptionists to message the doctors and techs in the back. Slack allows for this- by displaying a little icon on each computer (with the desktop app) when new messages are available, and a cute little notification noise if enabled.
Saving the Planet: Yep, a little strong on this one but come on...how many post it notes and message memos does your practice go through in a week? And how many get lost? Save a few trees and prevent it from getting lost in a pile of records, blood work results and journals by typing the message into Slack.
Working Remotely: Ok, I get that this is a long shot in traditional practice. Veterinary medicine is a profession that demands people to be in-house. But when you’ve got a team member out sick or let’s say, a pandemic virus sweeping the nation and keeping people at home, Slack does let teams continue to work. Scheduling, inventory and ordering (depending on your ability to remotely access your software), emails, telemedicine offerings, social media, etc. can all continue, and Slack is a way to communicate with the team on the ground without bothering them with phone calls and texts (since they’re probably in a room with a patient anyway). Work together but let them get to it when they can with this tool.
What are the Downsides? New Technology: I think there are very few, if any. It’s a free platform and works in the clinic and out, and can be accessed on virtually any device. That said, us veterinary peeps are slow to change and it is a new technology. Having a quick one-hour lesson and using some fun easy Slack tasks can be a good way to get started and get over the hump. Top Three Tips
Typing @channel notifies every team member
Threads: keep your conversations even more organized by replying to a message in a thread- click the “speech bubble” to the upper right of the original message.
Search: can’t remember where that employee manual is? Or what about that message you left for Dr. Smith-- the owner called back and you need to update it before they return from vacation? No problem- use Slack’s search function
Fun Apps Your Practice Should Try
Hey Taco: give your team members a virtual high five with this fun taco emoji rewards/leaderboard system
Lunch train: Organize everyone’s lunch order and stop chasing down your team for their orders
GIPHY: who doesn’t need more GIFs in their communication?
CatFacts: everybody loves a random catfact every now and then, even though you’re already catvocates.
Bottom Line Slack gives practices a better way to organize, communicate with members while respecting boundaries, and work more efficiently. It’s decreased the number of emails, meetings and missed messages for businesses, and is free to use on any device, anywhere. Ready to give Slack a try? Create a workspace, add your team members, and check out this article on the Top 5 Tips for Getting Started in Slack. I’m hopeful this helps your team work together more efficiently, wherever you work.
-Caitlin DeWilde, DVM