Pesto Blog

Social Signals #4: Using audio channels to signal status

Vivek Nair
Vivek Nair
Feb 5, 2020 - 4 min read
Social Signals #4: Using audio channels to signal status
This is the fourth installment in a series of posts about the various social signals that we built into Pesto, a virtual office for remote teams. We measure each signal with two metrics: Clarity of Intent (COI) and Invasiveness to Privacy (ITP). More about these metrics here.

In this Social Signals installment, I describe the issues with signaling availability and presence in text channels, and how we built audio channels into Pesto to help remote workers gain more social context into the conversations that are happening in their team.

The channel presence problem

Doug and I have been using Slack text channels for our entire professional career - and they're great! I can organize people and topics semantically by:

  1. Team (#team-dev-ops, #team-sales)
  2. Project (#nux-redesign, #public-website-refresh)
  3. Interest (#basketball-ballers, #book-club).
  4. Friendship and network (#stanford-2015-squad)

But, text channels don't work well to communicate availability within a channel. I only really know if someone is "present" in a channel when my teammates start typing in the channel, which creates an anxious feeling of immediate response.

More importantly, with text channels I don't know the best time to message my teammates because I don't have enough context about their availability. If I know what channel my teammates are present in, I can better tailor when (or even if) I should send a message to them.

Audio channels in Pesto

To solve this, we created audio channels to facilitate impromptu audio/video conversations in Pesto. Users can frictionlessly enter a conversation with a single click. Participants in a channel are notified when I join the channel with a ring and notification banner.

I can also configure how I want my audio and video to turn on if I'm entering a channel. Like below, I can automatically turn on my video and unmute myself.

Clarity of Intent: What important information does this convey?

Audio channels in Pesto do a pretty great job of conveying availability. If my teammate is in a audio channel, they could be:

1. Deeply collaborating on a project: if I see that my teammate is chatting with someone in the #nux-redesign channel, I probably shouldn't disturb them. They could be deeply focusing on a technical problem.

2. Bantering about personal life: if I see that a teammate is hanging out in the water cooler alone, that's a signal that they're taking a break and looking to chat with someone else.

3. Available for conversation: Pesto users often create their own office channels to signal that they're available for a conversation if teammates have any questions. A common use case that we see is virtual office hours.

If I'm alone in the "#vivek-office" channel, that's a signal to my teammates that I'm available for a conversation.

4. Chatting with a customer or vendor: if my teammate is chatting with someone with a "Guest" tag in the channel, I probably shouldn't join the meeting. They're probably talking with someone outside of the Pesto team, who could be a customer or vendor. Dropping into their conversation uninvited would be rude.

When audio channels are used with other social signals, I can create an even more nuanced picture of my teammate's status. For example, if my teammate is alone in a channel but has a Google Calendar event for a meeting with a customer, they might be inviting a guest into their Pesto channel soon.

Invasiveness to Privacy: How invasive is this social signal?

Teammates seeing me in an audio channel doesn't inherently give away sensitive information because Pesto channels are public by default.

If I enter the #nux-redesign channel to work with a teammate, I'm implicitly letting my team know that I'm working on that project. Similarly, if I enter my office channel, I'm letting them know that I'm available for a conversation.

Since using an audio channel is so deliberate, the invasiveness of seeing someone in an audio channel is pretty low.

Final evaluation

Even though this signal is not as insightful as the Google/Outlook Calendar integration, audio channels still work well as a social signal for teammates to communicate availability and don't compromise privacy since entering them is so deliberate.

Clarity of Intent: High 🔥6/10
Invasiveness to Privacy: Low 🔥2/10

Interested in other social signals?

If this article interested you, check out the other articles in this series.

What is Pesto?

I built a virtual office for remote teams to frictionlessly chat and feel present with each other. We use various social signals like audio channels to provide remote teammates on Pesto the context and confidence to start conversations with their coworkers.

If you’re interested in using the product with your team,  sign up on our home page  or  reach out to me on Twitter.

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