Here’s a little secret about group chat: The main point of any group messaging platform worth its salt–whether it’s the one I work on, HipChat, or any other, like Slack–isn’t to make team communication easier. It’s to help teams move faster. Ease and convenience only get you so far.
In order to improve how quickly and efficiently groups can get things done, group-chat platforms need to turn down the volume on distracting noise and crank up the important signals that whip people into action. That’s the goal we’ve had in mind in building HipChat, and it’s the one we’re constantly aiming for in the ways we ourselves use it here at Atlassian. These are three ways we use HipChat to stay as productive as possible.
A common complaint of group messaging platforms is that they’re a cesspool of unfocused conversation–with either too many side chats or way too much activity in a single big room. One of our solutions is simply thinking of the “rooms” we create as disposable.
Unlike a general channel, we primarily rely on rooms for focused conversation about projects with clear end dates. Rooms rarely exist in perpetuity. For instance, we may set one up in order to plan a hackathon, and invite only the team members involved, then limit all conversation about the hackathon to that chat room. Once the event ends, we just shut down the room and archive it.
That way, all conversations, files, and links are searchable and available when we need them, but work for that project in that room is now complete, leaving us free to move on to other projects and spin up new rooms.
I’ve found this helps my team and me stay focused on what’s important to us at any given moment. When time is tight, it’s easy to catch up quickly inside the limited handful of active project-based rooms, and swing back into the (even more limited handful of) more general channels later in the day. We also keep several “broadcast” rooms up and running strictly for announcements. This means curbing the volume of high alerts by keeping them targeted in the right places–using our per-room notifications–to make sure important information doesn’t get lost in the project-based chatter going on elsewhere.
Managing rooms’ life cycles, alert levels, and integrations across a limited number of clearly defined rooms keeps everyone productive, cuts back on FOMO, and leaves space to dive into new work as the need arises.
We talk a lot about the need to design for “signal over noise” in team-chat environments. But we’ve also found that sometimes the “noise” leads to unstructured creativity that our business actually relies on. And that’s probably true for plenty of other companies, too–whether they use HipChat or not. It’s incredibly important for any communication tool to strike the right balance. One way we try to do that is by encouraging daily video chats across the organization.
Earlier this summer, HipChat launched a new group video chat and screen-sharing service. The idea wasn’t to replace formal, scheduled videoconferencing, since other vendors provided that. Instead, we focused on a bigger challenge that remote teams tend to face: Replicating the spontaneity and creativity that comes from those unplanned collaborative moments team members usually have in a physical office. We think of those as the “spin around in your chair” moments–when you invite a teammate to help you hash out a half-formed idea or talk through some challenge you’re facing over coffee.
Now every room and chat in HipChat is equipped with a one-click video chat function. Instead of firing up an external service (share the link, open a tab, log in, and wait for your colleagues to do the same), we find our customers are using video chat just like we do internally–for spontaneous, quick discussions.
As HipChat’s general manager, I’m able to participate every day with all the our HipChat teams in each of their rooms, no matter where they are in the world. These teams are distributed throughout the globe, so work happens pretty much continuously in a given 24-hour period. All that work is tracked in JIRA, which integrates right into every team room and lets me see both the progress a given team is making and the context around it.
Since JIRA is basically a project management tool and bug tracker, there are “tickets” for every issue, and I can simply click into the “glance view” for more information and to check out any comments on the ticket. It’s sort of the “meta” way to catch up on conversations inside HipChat that I might’ve missed in real-time. After a quick skim through JIRA, I can then bring a ticket into a given room so the team can unblock whatever the issue might be.
Whatever method you use in whatever group messaging app your team may rely upon, you’ll need some sort of method for separating the important information out from the noise. And it needs to work equally well for every member of your team, so it has to be accessible to everyone with a single configuration–no high-level credentials for special access. Any member of my team knows exactly where to go for the current information they need and has the tools to take action on it immediately (whether it’s via chat, JIRA, or video chat), all from a single spot.
These are just some of the useful tools and parameters we’ve set for using HipChat in the process of building HipChat. But the guiding principles hold true for any team using a group messaging platform–it’s all about cutting down on the noise so you can focus on the tasks at hand. Having talked to thousands of customers and seeing my own team work on HipChat, I know that real productivity isn’t about communicating more (or just more easily), but smarter–so you can get work done faster.
Steve Goldsmith is the head of HipChat, a team communication platform. He’s spent the past 18 years developing consumer and enterprise services across multiple industries, including HomeAway and Portico.