Hotline, or how to stop worrying about what's happening on slack.

It's a pretty common sight - the lonely query in a team channel from someone outside the team, asking for help.

There's several things that might happen.

First - crickets. Everyone's busy, the query sits there and is only replied to much later, or is missed completely. That's such a poor experience for the person asking for help, and it feels horrible to see questions being "ignored". This is especially sad, as it's clearly not malicious - it fell through the cracks.

Secondly, and usually after this first case has happened a few times, a query will have >90% of the team instantly jumping on it. A simple question can have the entire team distracted. Again, this is probably the wrong message to send to colleagues who are probably looking for a casual discussion before getting on with their day. Also, aren't we .. supposed to be doing something else? ;)

Thirdly, you may have that "one person" who takes care of trying to make sure people don't go away disappointed, and suddenly it's become culture that they are the person who replies, and no one else bothers. The person who performs this role never sees anyone else replying, and the self reinforcing process fubar is complete.

I'd argue that all the above are antipatterns, and there's a better way.

A pattern I introduced at Pitch was to have a rotating "hotline" position, whose responsibility it is to be the frontdesk / hotline, and make sure that people outside the usual team channels know who they can ping to get an answer.

In our case it looked a little like this:

"Example of the first hotline"

The benefits are manifold - that person frees up the rest of the team from having to worry about keeping an eye on slack - this responsibility of communication is visible and discussed, and everyone takes a turn, which helps break people out of their bubbles. There's only really an upside.

If you have an on-call function, then there are even more benefits. In an incident, if the duty engineer needs assistance, then there is a name in the topic of someone they can ping, who is expecting it. No more "@here", no more lonely questions, no more interrupting the entire team, or other responding anxiety.

It's worth noting that other teams when adopting this, changed the name to be "concierge". It's much less dramatic. Personally, I enjoy a bit of the urgency and drama of the "hotline" name (make of that what you will), but I get that it might be a bit much. More five-star hotel, and less fire station. I guess you know best what kind of establishment you run, and can figure out your own name.

That is, after all, part of the fun. 🛎

Tags: slack processes teamwork on-call remote-work

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