I spend a lot of time advocating for Air Force units to use the communication/ collaboration tool Slack, because it’s currently the best one out there, and as a result, I find myself in a lot of strained exchanges on the subject of Operational Security (OPSEC) (see my rant “OPSEC is bad” for what I think about the current approach to OPSEC). It has only just occurred to me that a number of these people think the only reason to be in contact with team-members is to discuss specific mission details (thus we should only ever use FOUO-approved comms). I have failed to realize how many people don’t actually recognize the importance of “bringing our whole selves to work”. They think when I’m advocating for unit-wide use of Slack that I’m suggesting we put FOUO, sensitive, or critical information on a system not approved for it, because they think work-related comms are basically just mission details. It struck me suddenly that they don’t see what I see- that most of the things that we should be saying to one another don’t actually contain any of that stuff.
I learned long ago about the importance of connecting with those I work with on a human level, how that connection can powerfully influence our effectiveness in collaboration. The best teams I have ever been on were connected by far more than just the details of our work, but by expressions of our humanity, relationships, sense of humor, passions, and interests. Whenever I’m on a team, mission-specific details that would rise to the level of FOUO are in the minority by a significant margin. Substantially more communications center around general process-related discussion, logistical coordination, concept and theory conversations about publicly available materials, and a significant majority are focused on that personal connection. These non-mission-specific aspects of communication are so important that I don’t actually consider the recent rollout of MS Teams on Air Force enclaves to be an effective replacement for the function of Slack in my teams. If I can’t access it on my phone, at home, work, and anywhere else I’m going to be, then an enormous amount of hugely important coordination and collaboration is being excluded from our ‘official communication tool’. If I don’t have something like Slack, all of those other communication functions are relegated to email, phone, or band-aid solutions like flight-specific group chats, and that is simply unacceptable.
At this juncture, and for the foreseeable future, we need to get everybody familiar with the importance of having a non-FOUO communication method in addition to those platforms which can safely secure our sensitive mission-related and sensitive data. That starts with getting everybody on the same page about the kind of mission-agnostic, publicly safe communication that is incredibly important to how our teams function.
Those who push back against adoption of a tool like Slack, by suggesting that we can have it all on one platform right now or anytime soon, are presenting a false choice. Single-platform collaboration isn’t an option for us right now. Choosing to stick to only FOUO-approved platforms for team collaboration is choosing to have a less effective, less connected team, and none of us should be ok with that.