I’m a community builder at EA Anywhere and I use Slack daily as a communication tool. I helped to set up multiple EA workspaces in Slack, and I believe it can create a lot of value for your group members. In recent times, it has become an especially popular choice for professional and affiliation groups within EA as their number grows. But virtual workspaces should be set up wisely. Sometimes people underestimate all the time costs and responsibilities involved, and in some cases, I argue against creating them.
Most of the advice covered here is applicable if you’re using other tools like Discord, Zulip, or Mattermost.
What are the benefits your group members can gain from a Slack workspace?
I think a good workspace combines all of the following:
- It's a place where people keep updated about the group's activities and ways to get involved in the EA. If you run a professional group, it makes sense to share opportunities within your field (e.g. Entrepreneurship, Mental Health, etc). You can share information about volunteering, internships, and post job adverts from EA-aligned organizations.
- It's a place where group members can receive support and celebrate their successes, no matter how big or small they are. It can empower them to take more actions based on EA principles and feel better. But people are usually uncomfortable asking for help if other group members are complete strangers to them. That's why creating a friendly environment and fostering connections are important.
- It's a place where people can share knowledge and learn from each other. Nothing engages people more with the group than the feeling they are creating value for others. So make sure that it's easy for everyone to contribute and encourage group members to do it.
- It's a place where group members can connect with each other. It's especially challenging to foster bonds if the group operates only virtually, like many professional groups with members from all over the world. Fortunately, there are solutions that can help strengthen personal connections and build human relationships.
Concrete steps you can take
Create a welcoming message for everyone who joins your workspace
- Encourage people to introduce themselves in the #introductions channel, share their background and interests.
- Promote good discussion norms and include community guidelines into the welcoming message, but don’t make it too long.
- Welcome message can be implemented with Slack Workflow, GreetBot, or “Get Started” page (Slack Settings & Administration → Customize → Get Started page → Craft a greeting).
Give group members the opportunity to connect for virtual coffee
- It would increase the number of serendipitous connections made, let people meet a range of other EAs and swap ideas.
- Multiple apps are created for this purpose, like Donut, Shuffl, and RandomCoffee. You can check them and figure out what works better for you, but an app doesn't matter as much as good promotion & clear instructions on how to use it.
- Don't auto-add everyone to the channel. A high proportion of inactive members would discourage others from using the app. Make sure that only people who actually can meet are available for virtual coffee, encourage members to pause intros when they are not available.
Share an invite link wisely
- Especially in the beginning, as the first workspace members will have a significant impact on the inner culture.
- Invite people with good epistemic norms. It's better to invite a few people who share EA values which increase trust, rather than a dozen who will be inactive.
- As Julia Wise mentions in her notes for moderating online spaces, it's easier to prevent someone from joining than to deal with misbehavior and inappropriate comments later.
Policy for creating new channels
- It's a common scenario when a workspace has more than 10 channels, but only 2-3 of them are being actively used. It happens either because participants don't know about the rest of the channels or because they don't find them valuable.
- I prefer to create “opt-out” channels (members join them automatically) rather than “opt-in” channels (members should find them in the list and join). There are some exceptions like cause area channels which are better to keep "opt-in". You can edit the list of “opt-out” channels by clicking Slack Settings & Administration → Workspace Settings → Default Channels.
- A set of recommended default channels: #announcements, #introductions, #general, #random, #all-questions-welcome, #opportunities, #celebrating-success (or #progress).
- Experiment with creating new channels but be ready to kill them quickly if they didn't get used. Set reminders to check how it’s going after 2-3 weeks.
- Create a temporary channel whenever you have a large event, or project for a sub-group of people to work on like a conference or retreat. Archive this channel past the events.
Use purpose as your bouncer
- It's easy to get lost in maximizing activity and the number of members of a workspace instead of maximizing the value created for them. It's the same pitfall as when local organizers optimize for a number of events and audiences instead of focusing on the impact. Ideally, members should spend minimum time on Slack while gaining maximum value from it. That's where the purpose can be your guiding star.
- Design the environment to maximize value for participants, not just to increase the activity for its own sake. Look at the list above of how group members might benefit from virtual workspaces and think of your own meaningful reasons for running the workspace.
Create a channel for #celebrating-success, no matter how small or big it is
- It helps members to know each other better and works as a source of inspiration and support.
- It provides a lot of examples of what it means to take action based on the EA principles.
- It worked really great for multiple groups I organized. Examples of actions that people shared in the channel: "wrote my first comment on EA Forum", "received a free copy of the Precipice", "gave a lightning talk on the event", "learned how to wake up on time", "finished online course", etc.
Promote consistent ways to use emojis
- Emojis can help quickly communicate nuances in tone, show empathy and gratitude. They can help to grow group culture in a positive direction. But they are open to interpretations and can become a source of uncertainty, not a deeper connection.
- That's why it might be a good idea to encourage members to use emojis in a consistent way. For example, the EA Corner Discord channel included a list of the server's emojis and their meaning in the welcoming message.
Set up integrations that add value
- It's beneficial to keep your group members updated on ways to get involved in the EA. You can set up a bot that would notify your group about new EA jobs or remind you about upcoming events.
- I find Zapier especially valuable to automate routine actions like sending reminders or reposting announcements from Facebook.
- Keep in mind your target audience to avoid the promotion of irrelevant jobs and events. And as not every opportunity appears on the 80,000 Hours Job Board you would need to promote some of them manually anyway.
Reasons why you shouldn’t create a separate workspace
Whether you should start a workplace/professional group is a separate question and the decision should be made after thoughtful considerations. But imagine you decided to start one. Should you create a Slack workspace for your group? It depends. So, what could go wrong?
- If you don’t have committed group members who are ready to contribute to the workspace, it becomes inactive pretty quickly. People need a reason to check yet another communication tool in addition to Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. And if they are not getting any value from it, they will stop checking the workspace. Because of that, they can build an impression that Slack workspaces are useless in general and stop them from engaging with other more active groups in the future.
- People have limited capacity to take action. If they’ve chosen to engage with an EA group, we want to make sure that the group is active and welcoming. If their first interaction will be through inactive Slack workspace, it can be their last interaction with the EA.
- People usually think only of the costs of setting up a virtual workspace and underestimate how much time it actually takes to run and maintain it. You should be ready to commit at least several hours of your time per week to help others navigate through the workspace, set up integrations, answer comments, evaluate channels, greet newcomers, etc.
- You need to commit to creating good culture and norms within the ecosystem. And make sure you have a good understanding of EA. People can be pushed away with bad norms.
How to avoid that?
- If you are thinking of creating a Slack workspace for a professional or affiliation group and are unsure whether you have enough committed participants, start by creating a channel within an existing large EA Slack workspace like EA Anywhere. If the channel remains active for a while and grows bigger, you could think of moving to a separate workspace.
- Make sure that you have at least several engaged members who are ready to commit at least 30 mins of their time weekly on contributing to Slack.
Collaboration and sharing best practices
EA Anywhere’s Slack workspace can be a starting place for your group to kick off. We can help with setting up virtual events too. Previously we hosted events for the Improving Institutional Decision-Making working group, EAGx Prague, and others. Feel free to reach me via Calendly or email to discuss the details.
I hope my advice is helpful. I would love to hear about your best tips and practices on making Slack workspaces welcoming and valuable in the comments. I’d appreciate feedback and criticism on the suggestions above.
Many thanks to Marisa Jurczyk and Brian Tan for the feedback on this post!