We speak with Joel Primack, who teaches us how to develop a Slack culture that is aware of inclusion and psychological safety.

Slack Best Practices Series: Optimizing Internal Communication & Engagement w/Joel Primack

Slack Best Practices May 22, 2023

Hi everyone! In this interview of our Slack best practices series, we speak with Joel Primack, Podcast Host @The Community-Led Growth Show, and overall community specialist. Joel gives us insights into how to develop a Slack culture that is aware of inclusion and psychological safety. Click below to watch the full recording, or read through the transcript at your own pace. This is our last interview in the series, we hope you enjoy!

About our Host:

Abigail Caldwell has been a People Operations and HR professional for the better part of the last decade. She's had the opportunity to work with several startups and upstarts, and is particularly skilled in kickstarting and maturing People Operations at companies that have not had it before.

Abigail Caldwell (00:00):

Hey, welcome back everybody to our Slack best practices for internal communication and engagement. While we focus on overcoming challenges in implementing an asynchronous culture today we have Joel Primack with us. Joel is the host of the community-led growth show, a podcast, a community consultant, and came from one of our favorite platforms, Latice. Joel, welcome. Tell us more about yourself and your journey to this point.

Joel Primack (00:29):

Thank you so much for having me, Abby. So quick couple highlights, as you mentioned previously was with Latice on their social and community team serving a global community of HR and people ops professionals. And our conversational space was hosted on Slack. So been there, done that. Very exciting times. Um, also I host the community like Gro show where I have the opportunity to learn from people who are continuing and leading the way in the community space. And most importantly, I am a fun person who loves community. And I think that community comes and takes shapes and sizes of all and goes for and like spans everything from people and internal communities at companies to external communities of customers or your broader audience who you wanna engage with. So, very excited to be here and let's get into it.

Abigail Caldwell (01:33):

Awesome. All right. To set the stage, how long have you been using Slack in your entire career?

Joel Primack (01:40):

Oh my goodness. <laugh>, uh, slack at least six years at this point. Wow. Um, six years and I would probably say significant uptick in the last two to three. Um, especially now that I'm finding like the really great communities that I want to be a part of too, that are also on Slack. Because Slack and I, we have a great relationship. We're really tight. Um, and what I love about it is like the ease of use, whether on your phone or on a laptop. And my favorite feature to honestly use is there one where you can record messages?

Abigail Caldwell (02:31):

Yes. That is incredibly helpful, especially if you kind of have have like a mouthful of just something that you wanna say or you want to provide the inflection or the tone of what you're trying to communicate. I just think it's fantastic. Um, and since you've been using it for six plus years, I'm kind of interested to see how have you seen the platform evolve since the very early years that you've been using it?

Joel Primack (02:55):

Yeah, I mean, I think the parts that I'm honestly most excited for have always been the things that have kind of seemed small to others, but have been great for me personally, especially being in the community space, such as like when they rolled out the ability to have, um, the field for pronouns and name pronunciation. I hate when people pronounce like other people's names wrong. Um, and I think that Slack, by allowing you to do that similarly to how some ATSs do for candidates, um, it creates like a more equitable and great experience for everyone because, oh, I don't know how to pronounce so-and-so's name. Let me go into Slack listening. And it's like one second to do that. And Slack is so easy. It's just right there. It's too easy not to use kind of thing.

Abigail Caldwell (03:47):

Yeah, it, I think Slack kind of embeds diversity, equity, and inclusion in every function that it has potential.

Joel Primack (03:56):

I agree.

Abigail Caldwell (03:58):

Um, so Joel, what does an asynchronous community or organization using Slack look like to you?

Joel Primack (04:05):

Yeah, I think that it's a couple of things, but the biggest is like a shared communication and like norms, like they understand how the company operates and they know like when to use email for what purpose. They know when to use Slack for what purpose, when do you use a Loom video or video yard or whatever other video tool that you use to record content to like deliver what you're saying. Like I think it's the use of the tools coupled with the timing and the use cases leads to effectiveness because if everyone is like doing email but one person isn't and they're like a Slack person, that's gonna be an issue. But also if everything is going in emails, your inbox is gonna be flooded. There's no way to keep up with it all, especially at larger organizations. So that's why I think that it's like the balance of knowing the tool and the use case results in the efficiency that a company would see In terms of like a community, I think that like honestly, it's more about other things that create the environment for people to feel comfortable and confident to share publicly and to meet their peers who are in the community too.

Joel Primack (05:39):

A little less so on the use cases because it's just a different type of use case. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> between a company and a community. But that would be my short and sweet answer.

Abigail Caldwell (05:50):

I like that. And kind of diving into those best practices, culture and efficiency. I'm really, every organization I'm sure with plenty of organizations that you've been with, they have their own set of values, their own culture. Do you think that Slack as a tool has an innate culture that it brings to every organization?

Joel Primack (06:13):

I think so. And I think it's this idea of like fun, like work can be fun. Like if you ever have read the product update release notes in like the app store on your iPhone for Slack, it's not like someone from a boring tech company who's just writing these because like it, they have to, there is serious copywriting and brand going into this too. Like it is just as good of an experience to read the release notes as it is to use their product. Like I think that there's that element. I also would say that from there they also do a great job at just being overall like fun and allowing you to work the way your organization works. For example, like I love being able to add emojis and gifts to like custom reactions and I mean, there's a whole site dedicated to Slack emoji or like slack emojis and I legitimately have it just favorited. So I can go in and I can get my favorites every single time I join a new community where I see my favorites aren't there already. Or especially when I'm the community manager or consulting in a community and I like to add them. Um, I often will hit up like the inclusive ones, so like inclusive, clapping, inclusive, celebrate, there's a really cool celebrate that has like parties, so it's like different colors and fun. There's the classic party parrot, which I'm sure we're all familiar with. <laugh>.

Abigail Caldwell (08:03):

I love the party parrot. I love the, um, pirate. Parrot too. Ooh,

Joel Primack (08:07):

I haven't seen the Pie Repair.

Abigail Caldwell (08:09):

Yes. <laugh>. Yes. I I love that. Um, a common word that I've heard when I've asked this question is fun. Slack brings fun. And sometimes I think it's hard for us to recall a time before we used emojis and reactions in email, but it was really less than a decade ago when people were saying, don't use smiley faces in emails if you wanna be taken seriously and, and don't you react with emojis or anything. And now it's, it's a staple in people's best practices, their culture to do that sort of stuff.

Joel Primack (08:45):

Yeah, I mean I think I'll kind of even go in two directions. One, when I'm in psych in like in a work environment, emojis help emotion and other things. Two, I sometimes will say something and literally all I need is the reaction. Like, gimme a thumbs up if it's good. Yeah. Like that's so much less work and yet that's all that helps me go forward in my work if I need something from someone else. And that's like the relationship that we've set as our communication norm. And on that point of like it was only a decade ago, a hundred percent yes. But also I think what's significantly actually helped, this is in a okay, in a very negative circumstance. Covid I think helped this significantly because it really humanized work for companies and therefore like we became more human. But I hope you use like the reactions and the fun and like bring in the gifts. I have my favorite gift, one of my favorite gifts is bye-bye bye from nsync. I will always hit that up when I'm like, Nope. Just like send it and I'm like, I'm done. I'm taking a break. Or like just have fun and it's just gonna make work so much better for you.

Abigail Caldwell (10:12):

Awesome. Thank you Joel. And you hear that Slack, you are known for being fun and that's probably the best thing you can be known for. Um, all right. So Joel being in community, how have you influenced other organizations to really organize their Slack channels and keep them efficient and also easy to navigate for the audience using them?

Joel Primack (10:34):

Yeah, so I'll say a couple things. One, I will go the route of ease of use, especially like having a naming strategy for your channels. Like don't have Chicago Dash Meetup or Chicago Dash crew. Go like l o C for like location always and then go Chicago, D M V for dc, Maryland, Virginia, SoCal, et cetera. And like include the descriptions, like the actual, like more in depth area for example, just so that it's easy and it's like sorted too because you don't want to be looking for a Chicago meetup DC area crew. Like there's, it just creates chaos. And the thing is, especially whether it's in a community or a company using Slack, you need the structure to make it easy for people to find what they're looking for and then adopt it and lastly participate and engage in it. So I would say like have a naming strategy.

Joel Primack (11:48):

Biggest thing, flip side of that to your point of like influencing. Um, but I think the biggest is there are tons of resources online, whether you're in communities like lettuces, resources for humans community or just other ones or Googling, literally go find Slack guidelines or communities and look at Slack guidelines for companies and you'll see really good things in there that are like, they're not weird or out there, they almost seem like so basic, but people sometimes will overlook or forget about them. Yeah. And those like super small things can have huge impacts. For example, like enabling people to add name pronunciation or add their preferred pronouns to their profile. Just like, I don't want to even make them sound small, but like a feature kind of toggle. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> has like an impact of this is how we live out, D E I B, we have these and it is more common than not in our organization for people to have both of these fields completed, for example. So it literally helps you bring things to life.

Abigail Caldwell (13:11):

Yeah. It's, it's simplistic but it's efficient.

Joel Primack (13:14):


Abigail Caldwell (13:15):

So what are your best practices as an advisor for establishing psychological safety in a Slack community? Whether it's an established one or a brand new one?

Joel Primack (13:26):

Yeah, so my biggest thing that I've learned, especially from in the last, I'll say like year, like have an application review process to make sure that people know that your space is dedicated to people of their peers and like a specific persona or group of personas. Um, on the flip side, if you choose to go the route of like, Hey, we're open to anyone that's a hundred percent okay too, but you will then have to walk this other side of being strict to a degree with your community guidelines mm-hmm. <affirmative>. Um, because it's great to have space for everyone to come together, but you also don't want people and members to have bad examples. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> for example, you don't want, I assume anyone in your community to get spammed or sold to things like that. It's just not helpful. It creates a negative impression of both the community and that other organization too. So I think that that's just like a trade off that you have to balance. Um, and there are pros and cons to both, but you just have to be aware of them for sure. And also set your community guidelines and enforce 'em.

Abigail Caldwell (14:49):

Mm-hmm. <affirmative> and um, kind of diving into communities just a little bit further, I know we're coming up on some of our final minutes here, but I really wanna pick your brain. If an organization wants to go from a hundred to 500 to a thousand, what kind of recommendations would you give to them to build that community at that scale?

Joel Primack (15:11):

Yeah, so I would start with like one, listen to your current members. And I say this because it's so, so important to build membership like programs or benefits, whatever you want to call them with your members, not for your members. And think about this too, and I love this line from Jordan, Scott commu head of community programs at Figma. She said this at a recent virtual event that I attended or watch on demand, excuse me. And it was community happens in small moments over long periods of time. That is like the epitome of community. And I think that that just means like you have to stay close and if you're not hearing from members and they're not responding to you when you request feedback or to hop on and do stuff in the community, that means you're starting to lose them already. Cuz it means that they just don't care anymore.

Joel Primack (16:13):

There are plenty of communities that I've like joined and I've thought like it's great now and it's either changed or it's grown or I've shifted my interest in where I'm focusing my time and it's just not relevant. Mm-hmm <affirmative>. So I check it literally zero times or I'll leave. I've deactivated probably six or so in the last year. I'm like, I just don't need it. It's not relevant to me. It's more of like noise now than it is actually helpful and relevant. So I would definitely go that route building with your members. Two in that like realm of building with your members, you also have to balance like the structure of programs to support scale. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, you mentioned a hundred to 500, I'll imagine this jump of a hundred to a thousand in a company that looks different. You need different processes, need different processes in a community it looks a lot different also when you're going from a thousand to 10,000, 10,000 to 25,000, et cetera.

Joel Primack (17:20):

You just need different program structures to support the work, to support the business outcomes and to support your members at that scale. It's just not possible always to do it at the way it was being done at a hundred when you're at 25,000. I'm not saying don't like lose or to lose, excuse me, the human touch cuz you need it, but you have to balance it and it just pushes you honestly to be more thoughtful and like when you redesign program structures, it's not losing and eliminating. It's just a push and it's just a challenge you have to overcome. But you can do it. I believe in you <laugh>.

Joel Primack (18:07):

Like that. That's your puff shock.

Abigail Caldwell (18:08):

<laugh>. All right. And coming down to the last three minutes, Joel, what are your top three Slack apps that you've used over the past six years that you just absolutely love?

Joel Primack (18:22):

Uh, so not an exact Slack app, but I kind of teased it. Um, the site that I go to for my Slack emojis, uh, slack emoji. We all need it in our lives. I need my slack emojis. I need the green and white like t y for thank you. I need my inclusive like celebrate and clapping hands. I need it. It's just that is essentially a non-negotiable for me <laugh> at this point. Um, so one, uh, slack app number two, I would say, Ooh, Asana is really good, especially in companies like Asana and I and Slack. Oof. We are fun, we have a great relationship. Everyone needs it in your work. Um, and I'll say kind of going a different route and it could be a blend of company org community is, everyone needs some sort of platform, I think to create a better experience than what most companies or like most platforms allow with their Slack integrations to create like a great experience, whether it's for your employees or your members.

Joel Primack (19:39):

Um, they're amazing tools that are light years ahead of way that I've seen and some that I've used too, such as like campfires, such asto such as Atomic and like you can do amazing automations and workflows and automatic replies or automatic reactions. You can do some really cool things, but you need something better than like, in my opinion, just your basic integration that comes with like a lot of like hr ss or other things, which just like, this is not the type of onboarding a person like wants to deliver. It's just like what we can deliver because of the limitation of the tool, go for the better and like make it better. That experience, like having a good experience is not something that can be under like valued in my opinion.

Abigail Caldwell (20:40):

I completely agree and I like what you said about want versus can. Uh, I think companies definitely should push the boundaries of what they can and should do to create that experience. And with that down to our final 30 seconds. So thank you so much stroll for joining us today and sharing your experience, expertise, and best practices in building an asynchronous culture with Slack. And my call to action to everybody will be, please take a look at what you are doing to build community and psychological safety within it, and while ambassador and encouraging everybody to bring their authentic selves to Slack every day. So with that, thank you again, Joel. It has been a pleasure learning about your experience and thank you so much for sharing.

About CultureBot:

CultureBot is an all-in-one app for Slack to help build connected and engaged remote teams. Use it to celebrate your team's special milestones like birthdays and work anniversaries, recognize each other for jobs well done, and more.

For additional communication tips in digital (remote) workplaces, check out this article on "mastering the digital work environment" by Porch.


Amy Campbell

A professional wizard with all things PeopleOps, Amy has been helping HR and People teams optimize their remote work setup and culture for over 10 years now. She's originally from California.