Stanford Slack User Stories

Across the School of Medicine, teams are using Slack to improve how they work together by opening communication channels, engaging remote colleagues, and avoiding the clutter and time lag of email.

EPS Builds Communications Structure in Slack

Within the workspace, a number of groups have built channel structures to meet the unique needs of their unit.

In March, the university introduced Stanford Slack, which is the enterprise version of the app. But well before its official debut, thousands of people in the Stanford community were already using the tool. Among the early adopters is the Educational Programs and Services (EPS) team. Within the EPS workspace, a number of groups have built channel structures to meet the unique needs of their unit.

Susan Eller, assistant dean for the Center for Immersive and Simulation-based Learning, and her team have been in Slack for about a year. Eller said her team found the Slack interface to be intuitive. And with the roll-out of Stanford Slack, the tool is fully integrated with the Stanford directory, making it easier to find and direct message colleagues across the campus.

“I’ve been sending more instant messages to people outside of our department and that’s been helpful. It allows me to write fewer emails because I can get a response on Slack,” said Eller. More 

Sharing the EPS workspace is Sabrina Fong, director of finance. Fong manages a team that isn’t co-located and says Slack helps keep everyone connected and aligned.

“When the group can’t be together, Slack gives us a way to check in and stay apprised of what each other is doing. It’s nice to be able to get a quick answer to a question without picking up the phone or trying to locate the person you need,” said Fong. “Because I have Slack on my cell phone, I get the notifications even if I’m not at my desk.”

Fong also appreciates Slack’s ability to keep messages in the queue, so people see them, even if they’re offline when the message is sent.

In her role as associate dean of the Office of Medical Student Affairs, Mijiza Sanchez and her team frequently collaborate with staff and faculty partners throughout Stanford University and nationwide. Meetings in Slack keep the team aligned even when they can’t be in the same place.

“I’m a people person – I prefer talking face-to-face. But sometimes having meetings online is just more convenient. It saves a lot time traveling of back and forth,” she explains.

Sanchez says her team has its own channel, and she knows that when a message is posted in that channel the whole team will see the information. Everyone on the team is encouraged to get in the habit of logging into Slack at the start of the workday.

Lisa Boesch, associate director for HR and Operations, leads a team that works with many different units in EPS. Her team has its own channel on the EPS workspace. They also have a channel shared with the finance team and another channel that’s specific for conversations around operations.

“I like that in Slack you can have dedicated channels for certain things because then you know you’re asking your question to the appropriate people only,” said Boesch. “And since the team can have sustained conversations in a Slack channel, there’s much less reliance on email.”

Her advice to other teams preparing to join Slack: start by identifying your current communication and collaboration gaps.

“If you know that going in, then you can think about how you can leverage this new technology to hopefully improve those gaps,” said Boesch.

For more information on Slack, visit IRT’s Slack webpage.


Communication Hub for Ophthalmology Team

Although fairly new to the tool, the team is already seeing the benefits.

When Stacey Kohler saw the announcement about Stanford Slack, she was ready to take action.

As the administrative services administrator for the Department of Ophthalmology, Kohler oversees a team that sits in three different locations. She was already familiar with Slack’s user-friendly interface and intuitive design, and felt it offered a better way for her group to stay connected.

“I have touchpoints with all different types of groups, whether it’s the School of Medicine, the hospital or Lucille-Packard Children's Hospital,” she explained. “I need a tool that my team can access and communicate with easily, regardless of where they are.” More 

To get started, Kohler reached out to IRT’s Slack experts. Terrell McQuitta, a desktop support manager for IRT, and his team worked to create a workspace for the Ophthalmology department. Kohler then created the channels her group needed. Later, the doctors who were interested in using Slack created some of their own channels in the workspace.

At the Byers Institute, Kohler and her team use Slack as a virtual communications hub, sharing information between the academic office, finance team, faculty affairs, clinical care coordinators, and HR coordinators. Each group has its own channel, so the conversations stay organized.

Kohler said her team was quick to embrace the new platform and getting everyone up to speed has been painless. It was an especially easy transition for anyone who has used an instant messaging platform in the workplace before. Equally important, everyone was ready to embrace the new technology.

“The team is very resourceful,” said Stacey. “They saw the benefits and believed Slack would be helpful, so there was very little hesitation to use the tool.”

Her advice for other newcomers to Slack: it’s a great application but be sure that your team understands that it’s a business tool. Users must be cautious about their tone and always remember that the normal HR rules around etiquette apply.

“It’s important that when a new channel is created, everyone understand the purpose of that channel and how it should be used,” said Kohler.



Improved Team Collaboration, Fewer Internal Emails

Information is shared easily without a distribution list.

Erik Ingelsson, MD, PhD, professor of medicine, was an early adopter of Slack. He used it for a few years before joining Stanford’s faculty in 2016. And he recently migrated his lab’s workspace to the Stanford Slack grid.

“Although we use email for collaborators outside of my group, Slack is our go-to for team communication,” said Ingelsson. “I have the app on my laptop, phone, iPad, and iWatch, so I see messages from my team when they pop up and can respond More  right away.”

With the use of Slack, conversations have moved from private one-on-one email messages to posts in open project channels that the whole team can view. Certain documents, such as papers and meeting agendas, are shared in channels, too. A lab-wide channel lets Ingelsson communicate announcements broadly, without the need to manage a distribution list.

“If I post information on the general channel, I expect that everyone will see the message. I don’t need to worry that someone didn’t get the email because they were left off the list,” he said.

While Ingelsson is a Slack fan, he understands that others may not share his excitement.

“Some people may be skeptical about adding another communication channel, especially if they’re already having trouble keeping up with email. And that’s a valid concern,” said Ingelsson. “But for me, Slack is an easy and fast way to communicate and doesn’t take too much of my time.”

His advice: If you want to try Slack, you’ll do better if you really commit to using it.

“If you’re the PI and you decide to use Slack, you need to go all-in,” said Ingelsson. “You have to read and respond to messages and encourage others on the team to use it, as well.”




Keep Remote Team Members in the Loop

Slack ensures that everyone stays visible and connected.

Slack has become a “virtual office” for Michael McAuliffe, an instructional designer and remote employee. It’s where he goes to chat with colleagues, both one-on-one and in groups.

“I’ve reached the point where I rely on Slack. I rarely email my team,” said McAuliffe.

Often the first “team member” he chats with is Standup Alice, a Slack bot that helps the team do remote standup meetings.  More Each work day morning, Standup Alice asks everyone to provide a project update. It then organizes the responses from each team member into a neat summary that gets posted directly into a designated Slack channel.

“It’s a very unobtrusive way to keep everyone aligned. Now, we don’t have to stop what we’re doing to go to a meeting to tell people what we’re doing,” said McAuliffe.

With Slack, McAuliffe doesn’t have to worry about cell phone service to make a call. If he has his laptop and Wi-Fi, he can start a voice or video call in Slack from any location. And whether he’s communicating via online chat or voice, McAuliffe appreciates Slack’s screen sharing feature.

“The ability to share screens on the fly is huge,” said Mac. “We can have a discussion, take an action, and see the results in real-time.”

When he travels to conferences, McAuliffe can set up a channel in Slack related to the event to share information with members of his team who are interested in the topic. He’s even offered others the opportunity to “join him” in participating in a live question and answer session.

“I’ll ask if anyone has a question. If they do, I’ll tell them to Slack it to me and I’ll ask it for them,” said McAuliffe. “It works well.”


Enhanced Communication Boosts Productivity

With chat, teams get the answers they need in real-time.

With dialogue-driven communication, the information flows faster in Slack. And by avoiding the lag time inherent in email, teams can make decisions swiftly – regardless of where each person is physically located.

“A key capability of Slack is the ability to get information out quickly, which email doesn’t always do,” said Lety Solis, an administrative associate in a department of about 170 information technology professionals. “Most people have a backlog of email, and messages can get lost or buried. Sometimes to get things done you need to be able to send a direct message that can be answered right away. Slack enables us to do that.”   More 

When an immediate response isn’t possible, Solis sets a Slack reminder for herself. When the time comes, she gets a message from Slackbot.

“If I get a request for something that I can’t do right away, I’ll set up Slack reminders for myself. That way, I can go back in 20 minutes or an hour or even the next day, whatever I decide is best. It’s a nice feature,” said Solis.

More recently, the team has explored other ways to use Slack. By integrating Slack with SurveyMonkey, they can send quick polls from inside of Slack. The results are then shared in a channel – keeping everyone in the same page and in the conversion.

“We can send out a survey to see who’s interested in participating in an event. That way, when we start planning, we’ll send invitations and updates only to the people who are interested. It’s worked out really great for us,” said Solis.






Transparency Streamlines Project Management

Open communication lets everyone know who's doing what.

When working together means each person will manage a different part of the project, success hinges on the team’s ability to track all the moving pieces and where they stand. In Slack, the communication is open and transparent. Everyone can see what’s being worked on, what’s wrapped up, and what needs more attention.

As an administrative associate for the department that oversees facilities operations; capital planning, and budgeting; safety and emergency management and project constructions and coordination within the School of Medicine, Tori Kim is enthusiastic about a pilot onboarding process that brings together Slack and Asana, a task management app. More 

With the new approach, everyone sees the history of events. This visibility has made the process easier and more efficient for both the human resources team and the hiring manager.

“The Slack and Asana integration works really well when you have multiple people handling the components of onboarding,” explained Kim. “This is true because the steps must be completed in a specific order. For example, you can’t order a new employee’s equipment until they have their SUNet ID.”

Before Slack, onboarding information was passed along in a one-on-one email or at each other’s desks – and not much thought had been given to how such exchanges could be faster, more broadly shared, and in real-time.

“Now, we receive notifications in a Slack channel, so each team member knows when it’s time for the next step of the process. Everyone knows who's working on a problem and what needs to be done.”

Today, updates from Asana post to a Slack channel when tasks are created, completed, or commented upon. And quick actions in Asana – like adding a new task or assigning one to someone else – are done with Slack messaging.

“Now, we receive notifications in a Slack channel, so each team member knows when it’s time for the next step of the process,” said Kim. “Everyone knows whose working on a problem and what needs to be done.”


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