HABITAT

BOARD OPERATIONS

An App Called Slack Can Organize Board Conversations

Kathryn Farrell in Board Operations on September 11, 2017

Prospect Heights, Brooklyn

Slack Attack
Sept. 11, 2017

Mark Levine, the principal at EBMG Management, remembers a few years ago when communications between board members and property managers were sprawling, with different conversations occurring in phone calls, texts, and of course, emails. Since EBMG handles dozens of buildings, the amount of email Levine received was overwhelming. Then he heard about Slack

“Once I started using it,” he recalls, “I saw that this would be great for some of the clients that speak our language in terms of technology.” 

Currently, the fastest way to reach a property manager or other board members is by texting or emailing. But as anyone with a functioning email address knows, it can be nearly impossible to keep up with every single email that lands in your inbox. Tracking who’s in the loop on a lengthy email chain can be even more daunting. 

Slack, which over the last three years has worked its way into everything from giant shipping conglomerates to editorial boards, is a web- and app-based messaging platform that allows users to separate conversations by topic, enabling fast and focused communication between users (called “team members”). Through email, users are invited into chat rooms, called “channels,” created to organize different issues and topics of conversation. Users also have the option of sending direct messages to other users, as well as sharing files and documents within channels. 

An email chain can balloon into a Hydra-headed conversation covering six or seven topics, but Slack and other dedicated messaging apps can corral different conversations into specific topic areas, keeping information focused and reducing the chance of an important point being lost. “For those buildings that use it, [Slack] is a place to go where you can have targeted conversations,” says Levine. “If you put that sort of information in the channels where they belong, it’s not overwhelming. You can handle all the topics. You can figure them out one by one.” 

Slack has made a difference at Sterling Place, a 32-unit property built in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, in 1910 and converted to a co-op in the 1980s. Max Orenstein, the board president, works for the Clinton Foundation, where he first encountered Slack about two years ago. His co-op switched to EBMG Management earlier this year, and Slack became an integral part of the transition. 

“During that transition month we were using Slack with Mark almost by the hour,” says Orenstein. “It was such a great way to get all of the things done that we needed to get done.” 

Slack is proving to be an extremely useful tool for Sterling Place. The board members have channels for discussing everything from the annual meeting to the state of the sidewalks. 

“Max’s building is probably a good representation of one that’s working out,” says Levine. “As discussions or topics come up, we create channels for those. That’s helpful for the board. They can also have a private or locked channel.” 

That’s not to say that the transition has been seamless. Months after the changeover began, there are still some on the seven-member board who are not using Slack. On a daily basis, Orenstein notes, he and the treasurer are the most frequent users of the system. “I don’t think that the entire board is necessarily comfortable and ready to use Slack,” says Orenstein. “It’s new to us, working with management on Slack. I would say we’re probably a year away or so from expanding how we use Slack. I think we should. I just don’t know that we’re necessarily there.”

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