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Why Vets are Slacking Up for Better Communication!


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. What is Slack?


Slack is an online communication hub - think of it as a very organized chat room. Utilized by 20 million daily users and 65 Fortune 100 companies, it’s becoming ubiquitous in non-veterinary industries. Practices (or any business or group) can set up a free “workspace” that can be accessed 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 its 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 information and notices in a much better way. Team members can access Slack -- if they prefer -- on their off time or at work. I no longer have to worry about someone at the clinic going to the clinic Facebook group to find out about 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, and they’ll be able to respond during their working hours.


Organization: Slack’s organization is very efficient. Conversations about topics like inventory, social media, scheduling, continuing education, etc. can all stay in one place, 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 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 and 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.


Do Not Disturb: Let’s be real. Sometimes we just need a break from constant communication. Fortunately, Slack let’s you choose the timeframe in which you’d like to receive messages. Simply set your notification schedule by selecting the days and times you’d like to receive notifications (e.g., Monday through Friday, 8am-5pm). Don’t worry, you won’t miss a thing. Your messages will be “paused” according to the schedule parameters you select, and you’ll be able to see them when you return to work.


Instant Messaging/Notifications Throughout the Hospital:

I’ve long wished for some of the “legacy” practice management software 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 messages from getting lost in a pile of records, blood work results and journals by typing them into Slack.


Working Remotely: Ok, I realize 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), email, 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).


What are the Downsides?


New Technology: I think there are very few, if any. It’s a free platform, works inside and outside the clinic, 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 and 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 by typing in the “message bar” underneath 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 cat fact 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 it’s 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 effectively, wherever you work.

​-Caitlin DeWilde, DVM

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