When you join a new job, there’s a lot you need to learn beyond the official orientation. You need to figure out your unspoken responsibilities, the relationships between people and departments, and a little of the office gossip. If your workplace uses the chat app Slack, you can pick up a lot of that info by searching the archives. You don’t have time to read everything everyone wrote, so here’s how to find the most important (and juicy) stuff.
You don’t need to go as far as the aggressive new employee described in the New York Times:
There was the guy who told of an ambitious new employee at his firm who spent his first weeks scouring thousands of Slack logs dating back years before his arrival. “He has an encyclopedic knowledge of why certain decisions were made and every personnel thing that ever happened,” the employee said. “Every little interpersonal tiff. Every interview we ever conducted!”
Just a couple hours of searching, spread throughout your first week or two, can help you get the lay of the land. You can either keep your research to Slack, or use it to hit the ground running when you talk to your new co-workers face to face: “Hey, I saw everyone was discussing a Florida retreat last month. No one mentioned that to me. Should I know?”
How to Search
You can start a search in the top-right corner of the Slack window, or with the Ctrl-F keyboard shortcut (Cmd-F on Mac). Slack will suggest some autocompleted terms as you type.
After you hit enter, your results page will include a right-hand column with powerful filter options. You can select specific channels to search, or messages from specific people. You can also search only the channels you’re a member of, or all public channels too. You can include or exclude automatic messages form apps and bots, and you can specify a date range. You can combine any and all of these filters, such as everything your boss said about “invoices” in a specific channel in 2018.
You can’t see other people’s direct messages or private channels where you’re not a member — but you can learn a little about how much people are talking in private, as you’ll learn below.
Search These Three Most Important People
The very first thing to do is search your own name, in case anyone discussed you before you joined. You’re about to get mentioned much more often, so search this now before the results are cluttered up.
Second, search the name of the person you’re replacing. See which channels they spent time in, and which other channels talked about them. Unless you work with idiots, you won’t find a lot of gossip. But if the right channels are public, you’ll see if another department handled your predecessor’s internal requests a lot, or if their work was discussed throughout the organisation. This can help you understand the privileges and responsibilities of your role.
Third, search your boss’s name and your boss’s messages. Search for your boss’s boss too, particularly what messages they send—it’s good to know what the higher-ups care about, or if they even use the Slack.
Research Your Actual Job
Search any keywords related to your job responsibilities. You’ll see differences between how your job was described in the on-boarding process, and how it actually shakes out. And if you don’t trust a part of your orientation or on-boarding documentation to be up-to-date, search Slack for that too.
Search for your department’s name to get a better sense of how your department interacts with others—or whether it’s even mentioned often. If you see a lot of results from certain channels or from certain people, zero in by filtering for just those channels.
Browse Important Channels and Messages
You’ll read the recent archive of your department’s main channels, of course. Also read back a bit in the office-wide chat. Your organisation might use default channels like #random and #announcements, or it might have custom channels. These can change over time, so make sure someone invites you to the current channels that everyone’s using.
Read the archives of any announcement-type channels that have infrequent messages. This is an efficient way to find the biggest milestones and turning points. You can choose some to research further.
In your most important channels, check chat logs from a year ago to see if there are any annual issues that will crop up again soon, like conferences or holiday schedules or tax time. You can enter dates in the search bar—“after:2018-06-23 before:2018-07-01 in:#sales_dept”—or use the calendar picker in the filter menu.
And read the pinned messages in every channel you join. When you have a channel open, click the (i) icon in the top right, which will open the channel’s “About” sidebar. In that sidebar, there’s a “Pinned Items” section, for messages that someone has intentionally highlighted.
The “About” sidebar also has a “Highlights” section, for messages that Slack thinks might be important (because they got a lot of replies, or because they include an “@here” or “@channel”).
Search all of your main channels for the words @here and @channel, plus “remember to” or “everybody.”
If you have more time, these searches will help you understand some benefits, warnings, corporate culture, and common problems. Look for words like:
“broken” or “can’t find” or “I can never” or “still haven’t” or “days ago” (for problems to anticipate—or solve)
“login” or “our account” or “access” or “username” and “password” (to find your company’s account information and see what services it hooks into, like Salesforce, MailChimp, Google Analytics, or LexisNexis)
“I hate” or “I love” (filter for just the more serious work-related channels)
“shitshow” or “disaster” or “debacle”
“benefit” or “bonus” or “holiday” or “day off”
“layoffs” or “terminated” or “quit”
Search for Channels to Join
In the main chat interface, click on “Channels” (in the channel list on the left-hand menu) to see all the public channels on your organisation’s Slack. Sort by “Members (most to fewest)” to quickly join the most popular channels. Sort by “Creation Date (newest first)” to see rooms that people have recently added.
You should also ask a couple of co-workers if there are any popular private channels. For example, at Lifehacker’s parent company G/O Media, only certain people can create public Slack channels, but we can all create private channels. So the channels for tea lovers, cat lovers, ghost stories, bad tweets, worse tweets, puns, and The Good Place spoilers are all private.
Or go to https://YOURSLACKNAME.slack.com/stats#channels to sort channels by a few more metrics, including how many people have posted, either in the last 30 days or since the channel was created. Sort by “Change in members who posted” to see which channels recently got a lot more active. That will include popular channels, and mostly dead ones that someone recently posted in.
Spy on the Entire Team
You can see who’s Slacking the most on your team, if your Slack admins haven’t messed with the default. Go to https://YOURSLACKNAME.slack.com/stats#members to see a list of members—which you can then sort by “Messages posted.” It’s a little wild that Slack lets anyone see this! Remember that this is isn’t a word count, and it’s affected by someone’s chatting style: if your boss likes to hit enter after every couple of words, they’ll show up higher on this list.
You can see a graph of Slack activity over time, and how much of it is happening in private, at https://YOURSLACKNAME.slack.com/stats. You might see that all the real conversation (or time-killing banter) is going on somewhere that you can’t see. Better get invited to some private chats.
Thanks to Lifehacker’s health editor Beth Skwarecki and tech editor David Murphy for helping me compile these research tips.