Improving companywide usage of Slack

Published on 15 March 2020

The Corona virus outbreak is here and is changing the way companies work, including Evident my current company. Truth is that many workers are now at home and posts about remote work are being published every day especially in our industry.

A quick aside, it's really a shame to see that it takes a pandemic to happen for companies to start allowing people to work from home and noticing that their productivity can even increase.

Slack has always been one of the most, if not the most, used communication channel at my company. But with great use comes greater misuse and it's very easy to abuse some features while overlooking others, which ultimately can affect the way we communicate and our productivity.

I've published some tips regarding Slack usage in my company's Confluence space and I now would like to share this with all of you.

Hope some of these advices can help and I gladly welcome constructive feedback or other tips you might find useful. After all, productivity and improving tools usage is never enough!

Use threads for a better organization

Imagine a channel with dozens of members and everyone suddenly starts to write messages in simultaneous and not all messages are around the same topics. Now imagine you’ve been inactive for quite a while on that channel and when you are back you have hundreds of messages to read. Can you easily identify this in your daily work?

Threads are one of the greatest features of modern instant messaging platforms and allows for a better organization and reduces the number of unwanted notifications since you’ll only be notified of what happens inside a thread if you’re part of it (started it yourself or replied inside) or if you opt to follow it explicitly. And even so, you can always stop following it afterwards if you think your participation on that discussion is not relevant anymore.

So do use threads and use it often. Keep all discussion around a topic in the scope that is appropriate, and you can always come back and continue again later, since you’ll also find information about all threads you follow across all channels using the Threads shortcut.

Voice and video calls also have their advantages

Knowing when to call another Slack member instead of spending too much time trying to make your point using only text is something you must be able to differentiate so to increase effectiveness and productivity.

If you feel that words are not enough or that using only text messages is confusing the people involved, switch immediately to video-conference mode where it’s easier to discuss around something with more clarity and leveraging the power that video, voice and screen-sharing can offer you.

Please consider the following tips:

  • Don’t be afraid to suggest switching to call mode when you feel it’ll improve a discussion;
  • Restrain from adding people that won’t be adding value to the discussion. Sometimes is better to discuss something with less people and then put the rest up to speed when a decision is made;
  • Prior to making the call, make sure that all the required people are available and ready. Even for a one on one, send first a message instead of making the call without asking;
  • Make sure you have all the equipment and conditions to make or accept a call. Lack of voice and video quality or trying to see a screen share on a 4” mobile screen can really affect the desired result.

Know when to use @here and @channel

The @here command lets you grab the attention of team members in a channel who are currently active. The @channel command, on the other hand, will send a message to all team members of the channel, whether they are currently signed in and active or not.

@channel should only be used for emergencies or channel-wide announcements that have you want everyone to get, no matter what, while @here should be used for non-urgent announcements.

Emoticons can also have context

Using emojis can help you set the tone of a message. It’s a very effective and easy way to minimize confusion and that clarifies your current state of mind when writing a message to your colleagues. They also serve to help minimizing unwanted notifications and back-and-forth of “thank you” messages and alike, and to better transpire the right kind of acknowledgement, for example:

  • A check mark (✅) can be used to acknowledge receipt of a message;
  • A thumbs up (👍) is a clear sign of approval of a message, while a thumbs down indicates otherwise (👎)

Put the right emoticon on your status

Next to your status you can also had an emoticon to help your colleagues know your state of mind or any other relevant information. For example:

  • Are you currently working from home (🏘) or at the office (🏢)?
  • Available only via mobile (📱)? Maybe you’re at your lunch hour (🍲)?
  • Need more focus and you prefer to be interrupted only for emergencies (⛔)?

These are just some examples but there’s a great diversity of emojis that can be used to better express yourself. So, what are you waiting for to start using those?

Slack is for ephemeral discussion

Any discussion using this tool is to be considered an ephemeral one. Other tools are better to keep long lasting information around a certain topic. In that sense, if you want to make sure your communication is always available for your colleagues then use tools such as Confluence to make sure they don’t get “lost in time” and its easier to search in the future.

This can be applied to announcements, file sharing, etc.

All kind of conversations have their place, and their rules

If you want to share an article, a joke, have some random talk, or invite the whole office to eat some of your birthday cake, there are appropriate channels for that, such as the #random, #general and specific office ones. Regardless of the topic of the conversation, and the channel is in, some guidelines must be met:

  • Make sure you’re using the right channel to share something before sending it;
  • Be respectful to everyone and ask yourself if what you’re sharing is appropriate;
  • Any kind of discriminatory behavior shall not be tolerated;
  • Sharing links to illegal resources such as piracy software is obviously not permitted;
  • Be professional always, after all this is always our workplace, even when having fun.
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