As a fully distributed team, Slack is our main tool for real-time communication with each other. Keeping up with dozens of messages a day can be daunting, and distractions abound. Here are just a few ways I’ve seen remote teams of all sizes use Slack effectively to cut through the noise and keep the communication flowing.

Also known as the Ten Slack Commandments:

  1. Say Hello and Goodbye to your team when you start and end your day.

    We can’t see each other arriving or leaving an office. When you arrive to start your shift or are heading out, let your team’s channel know with a quick “Howdy” or “Later all!”. It’s a small thing, but it really helps your team and leads know what your status is and avoids questions like “Is Josh in today?”.

  2. Make sure you check Slack regularly during your shift.

    This one should be obvious – you need to keep up on your messages in important channels/DMs during your working hours. Everyone will have times they’re distracted by meetings or emergencies, but generally, you should be able to respond to someone within 5-10 minutes. When you need help, you’ll want a quick response, too, so you should always try to do the same.

  3. Use Statuses/DND/Away if you aren’t available.

    If you’re stepping away from lunch or going to an important meeting where Slack is going to be an interruption, throw up a status (🍕Lunch) or enable DND. The rest of us can see these and they’re a great way to let people know you’re not available at the moment. If you’re away on an extended break or not working, mark yourself Away so the rest of us know you’re gone. Installing the Google Calendar App for Slack will automatically throw up a (🗓Meeting) status whenever you have a calendar event. One other pro tip: if you’re leaving on extended PTO, change your display name to something like “Josh Priddle (PTO through Feb 20th)”. Everyone will see this if they try messaging you and will know immediately that they shouldn’t expect a response (or should email you).

  4. Respect others’ Statuses/DND.

    If someone else has put up a Status indicating they’re busy, or enabled DND, try to respect that unless it is absolutely unavoidable. If you need to let your lead know about an emergency, by all means, interrupt them. But, if it is something that can wait, people will appreciate you not interrupting their work, or at least letting them know it is not a pressing issue and it can wait until they’re available.

  5. Provide as many details as possible when asking someone for help.

    When you need to DM someone, you’re almost certain to be interrupting something that they’re doing. Kicking off with “Hi are you busy?” only makes it more difficult for them to help quickly. Instead, in your first message, let the person know what you need, any troubleshooting steps you might have tried, links to relevant tickets and/or WHMCS pages, or what the specific question you have is. Example: “Howdy, ___! I’m looking into a VPS provisioning issue for a client - [WHMCS LINK]. I’ve confirmed the WHMCS settings appear to be correct on the VPS service, but I’m seeing the following error ‘Could not connect to server’. The customer has been waiting for a day already, could you take a look soon or point me toward someone who can?” The more information you can provide up front the better.

  6. Use Threads to avoid too much noise in group chats.

    Often your team’s Slack channel is the first place you’ll report an issue or reach out for help. If you are responding to such messages, Slack’s Threads are a fantastic way to continue the conversation without adding additional noise to the main channel. However, do keep in mind that Threads can reduce visibility of messages. If you think a message in a thread needs to be more visible, you can check the “Also send to CHANNELNAME” checkbox when replying to a thread.

  7. Prefer group chats over Direct Messages when it makes sense.

    If you’re asking a general question or sharing a piece of knowledge that might be useful for the rest of your team, it can be a good idea to post it in a group chat instead of a DM. Often, there are others on the team with the same question as you, or someone you weren’t considering Direct Messaging has the answer. We want to remain collaborative whenever we can!

  8. Avoid Slack for important announcements that people must read.

    If you’re sharing something important that your entire team needs to know about, Slack is NOT the place to do it. These should happen in emails (you’re checking your Inbox throughout the day, right?). Feel free to mention it in Slack as well (though try to avoid overuse of @here or @channel, especially in large cross-team channels). Slack should never be the only place important communications are sent though.

  9. Know when to move to voice chat.

    Often a question or issue can result in many people trying to share their ideas or insights. As mentioned above, threads are a great way to cut down on noise in channels. However, sometimes text is difficult or slow to really convey your thoughts. If you’ve spent 10 minutes discussing something and don’t feel like the conversation is moving, switch to voice and talk it out. Bonus points if you provide an update in Slack after you’ve come to an agreement.

  10. Text is hard. Always assume the best in people.

    It can be hard to convey ideas, emotion, and tone via text. You might read someone else’s message and think they’re being short or curt with you, when in fact, they’re buried in work and had to quickly respond. Try to be self aware of how you’re presenting yourself in Slack, and if you think you’ve come across the wrong way, try to understand why and correct it if possible. Reread your messages and try to determine if you’ve been clear. I do this sometimes and it’s always helpful to say something like “That wasn’t super clear, let me elaborate more” or “Sorry, that didn’t come out the right way, what I mean to say is ___”. Emojis can help here, but keep in mind that some people hate them and don’t display them, so you should try to avoid overusing them.

I hope some of these tips help you make better use of Slack!

I wrote this post for the internal blog at A2 Hosting in Feb 2020. Posting it here for future reference.