Goodbye Slack. Hey Twist!

We are a remote team currently spread across 4 countries. Aside from communication being key, our choice of communication tools is vital. Here's why we moved away from Slack and opted to start using Twist.
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Slack has been somewhat dominating the instant messaging scene for a while now. Be it a remote team around the world or one spread across a few offices next door to each other, many seem to prefer communicating via chat rather than in-person or on video calls.

For our team, this made sense. We’re a remote company spread across 4 countries. Apart from communication being key to our success, our choice of communication tools is also vital. We opted for Slack back in September 2014. It was great to start off with, but over time it started taking over.

With Slack open the entire time we were online, you always felt like your office door is open to distractions. Be it someone asking a question about product development or another person asking about a support ticket, something was always around the corner.

Granted, we may have needed to improve our situation by setting certain guidelines. For example, we could have turned Slack notifications off when we wanted to focus on a specific task. More self-discipline could have helped improve the situation.

But the way we saw it, the communication tool itself should be the one guiding us to do the right thing from the get-go. With Slack, each team member had to make a conscious decision every time they wanted to share something or stay away from the chat.

Should I send a message and expect an answer right away? Why not? It’s instant messaging after all. At the end of the day, this caused our anxiety levels to rise. As a consequence of that, our work also suffered as we were never able to cut off enough to focus on the task at hand.

So we switched to Twist

Twist is brought to us by the team who buitlt Todoist. It is similar to Slack in that it uses instant messaging, but it focuses on asynchronous communication through channels, with individual threads. Here’s a comparison by Twist themselves.

It doesn’t constantly show who’s online and who’s not, so you don’t feel like anyone can pop in and distract you. In order for us to know when our colleagues are going to be online, we simply introduced a chat channel called #availability. Here we post when we come online in the morning, if we take a long break and when we leave for the day. This keeps everyone aware of when they can expect some sort of a reply. It’s still not an ideal solution, so this could change in the weeks and months to come.

We use our availability channel to say “Good morning” and keep in touch.

We have also felt less inclined to expect an instant reply. Once a message is sent in a particular thread, it’s left there until our colleague has the time to reply. This allows everyone to remain focused on the task at hand while keeping our communication organised.

For instance…

  • Every new version of our new EDD Bookings plugin has its own channel created.
  • Within that channel, every issue being worked on can have its own thread (if needed).
  • Once a release candidate is ready, a thread is created for it within that channel.
  • That thread contains the build version of the plugin which can be tested internally.
  • Once tested, feedback is sent within that same thread.
A thread with the RC1 build for version 0.3.1, ready for testing by the team.

All these discussions aren’t lost in a single chat and each channel can be archived once the new version has been released. It no longer appears in our Twist app, but if we need to look back at something we did, it can be easily found in our archives using the search tool.

Twist’s search tool being used to find a previous RC build from version 0.2.

All of this has resulted in a calmer relationship between the team members. Work is progressing at a faster pace since we can better focus on the task at hand. Replying to someone a few hours later hasn’t hindered our progress. Deep discussions are scheduled and usually held via Skype, but only when needed.

Of course, as with every piece of tech, it’s not all fine and dandy. Twist still has some quirks that can have gotten annoying pretty quickly. For instance, when you’re viewing a thread or a message, clicking within its window does not automatically allow you to start typing. You need to click in the text area below to do that. (UPDATE: In January 2019, the Twist team informed us that they are working on improving this soon.)

We have been in touch with the Twist team to share our feedback. So far, their response has been positive and I was glad to see that they had an active and helpful support team on hand.

This has been our experience with Slack and Twist, and why we made the switch. It may be different for others and Slack may be the better option. There’s no single perfect tool. It all comes down to what you need to prioritise for yourselves.

Have you used either Slack or Twist? Which do you prefer? Share your thoughts in the comments below. If you found an even better solution for yourself, we’d love to hear about it too.

Mark Zahra
Mark Zahra
CEO at RebelCode, the team behind WP Mayor, Spotlight, WP RSS Aggregator, and the Mastermind.fm podcast. Follow me on Twitter @markzahra.

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8 Responses

    1. Hi Mt Divo, why so? The benefit of Twist is that it keeps our email-like discussions (threads) organized in channels, while we can still have normal chats when we need to.

  1. >It doesn’t constantly show who’s online and who’s not, so you don’t feel like anyone can pop in and distract you. In order for us to know when our colleagues are online, we simply introduced a chat called #availability. Here we post when we come online, when we take a break and when we leave for the day.

    Uhhh, wouldn’t it be simpler to just have online availability symbols like… Slack does?

    1. Hey Captain Obvious, that would be good if you want to constantly see who’s online. In our case, we found that this was encouraging people to distract someone else from their work when they need something, expecting an instant reply just because the other person was online. Even if you train yourself not to do that, the nature of the online symbol does that to you. With Twist, we have an availability channel for everyone to post when they’re away for a long period of time. Otherwise, we message and the other person replies when they can. It is, and should be, very rare that urgent conversations need to be had. In those cases, we Skype, because talking in person is better than chat in those situations.

    1. Thanks for the feedback, Haris. They work in different ways for different people. Could you explain your reasoning behind preferring Slack and for what kind of team you’d make that choice?

  2. Sounds like a really convoluted solution to an imaginary problem you created in your head, instead of just using slack’s notification mute as you mentioned yourself. Twist seems like just a prettier UI for email, which is what many teams want to cut down on.

    1. Hi Borki, why convoluted? To us, it has simplified and organised our processes and discussions over the past few weeks. The notifications are not the only aspect we took into consideration.

      I’ve heard a few people say that many are cutting down (or want to cut down) on email, yet it remains one of the most widely used methods of communication and I don’t see that going anywhere any time soon.

      Do you currently use Slack yourself? If so, I’d love to hear how you’re making the best use of it and why you chose it. It could give both myself and other readers another perspective.

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