At Optix we use Slack alongside email for internal communications. While no communication platform is perfect, we’ve found Slack useful, particularly during the last year or so, to keep us connected.
Like any communication method, Slack works better when used with care. It can be easy to use Slack badly and to prioritise your own communication needs over those of others. Below are some tips for getting the best out of Slack and avoiding its pitfalls.
You can use @channel to send everyone in the channel a notification, even if their availability is set to ‘away’. Use this only for really important messages, particularly in channels with lots of members.
Use @here to notify everyone in the channel who is online. Use this if you need to reach people who are available, for example if you need a quick response from a specific team, in their channel.
If you want to ask someone a question, or get their attention, but don’t want to use a DM as others will need to see the response, use @user in the appropriate channel.
The number one criticism of Slack is that it is more distracting and time consuming than email. In order to minimise unnecessary distractions you need to be careful about what notifications you get. When in a channel, click on the channel name at the top and use the Notifications drop down to set your notification settings for that channel. If it’s not an important channel make sure to turn the notification off.
You can set notifications for specific words under Preferences > Notifications. This is a good way to ensure you’re notified if someone mentions you by name (without using the @) or if someone posts that there is cake in the kitchen!
Slack marks you as away after 10 minutes of inactivity on desktop or when you close the app on your mobile. You can also manually set your availability. You can also set your status using an emoji. For example my colleague Jack adds a popcorn emoji when he is busy filming videos for our Digital Academy.
If you use Outlook you can set Slack to show when you are in a meeting using the Outlook Calendar Slack app. This will show a calendar emoji next to your name during the duration of any accepted meetings in your calendar.
DMs & Channels
Direct Messages are great but if you find yourself DMing a group of people consistently you may be better off creating a specific channel.
It’s super important that all channels have a clear channel name and a topic. This will prevent (or, let’s be realistic, minimise) people posting in the wrong channel.
Use Dash to create channels with an expiry date. This is useful for something short term, for example to discuss a specific issue which will only last a few days. It’s easier to find channels like this than a DM with a load of people in it. Type /dash project name @participant-1 @participant-2 etc. to set one up.
At the top left of the Slack menu there are shortcuts to only see certain types of messages: ‘All unreads’, ‘Threads’, ‘All DMs’, ‘Mentions & reactions’ and ‘Saved items’.
I often see a message but then get distracted by something else and forget to respond. If you fall into this trap too you can save a message by hovering over it and selecting the flag icon. When you have finished being distracted you can go to ‘Saved items’ and respond to each message. Once you’ve done so don’t forget to unsave the message.
It is best to Star channels which you use most often so that they appear at the top of your channels list. You can also now move channels into sections by clicking on the three dots which appear when you hover over ‘Channels’ in the menu sidebar.
When responding to a message you can start a thread in order to not take over the overall flow of the channel. This prevents you from clogging up the main discussion with any side discussions.
If you find that you are often communicating simple bits of information is manual or complicated ways, you might be able to use Slack to simplify the process.
At Optix we’re currently running a blending work from home / office approach at Optix. In order to see who will be in the office each day we have setup a very simple Workflow which posts a message each morning for people to add a reaction to:
And So Much More…
This post has only scratched the surface of the ways in which you can optimise and customise your Slack activity. There are loads of ways in which you can use integrations to connect Slack with other apps or platforms. You can send emails into channels, connect to task management systems, setup workflows, run polls and much more. Hopefully these tips will help you to communicate in way which works better for you and your team.