Effectively using Slack for Remote Work

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Slack has changed the game for team communication, but when it comes to remote work, it has some crucial design flaws. Notifications are disrupting and create a sense of urgency. Even though threads got added, it's way too easy to just type a few short messages after each other and clutter a channel up and lastly, it's just so easy to misunderstand sentiments.

After all, Slack would be an incredible product. Everyone uses it anyways, so it's easy to get started. The workspace and channel structure makes a lot of sense, it has tons of integrations, is easily extandable and has a range of other nice features. Using it just makes sense.

In this article, we are exploring how we can use Slack for efficient remote work. In it's core, this has three main parts:

  • Creating a more async environment, free from disruptive notifications
  • Coming up with a few communication rules, so that everything works smoother
  • Adding sentiment and emotions to chats

Getting rid of disruptions

For co-located teams, communicating via Slack has always been a game changer. No more need to walk across the office and disrupt everyone by doing small talk. Doing so on Slack is way easier. If you're in deep work, just silence the notifications for a while. After you leave the office, the work stays there. Nobody is going to bother you after-hours, unless it's urgent.

That's not the case in remote work. You'll get disrupted by the characteristic Slack tone at any time. Your manager may decide to set off an @channel call when it's 2AM in the morning for you. The Slack icon on your phone will be all-present.

As a manager, you should create a set of settings you require your new employees to set upfront and that count for your whole workspace. This should include:

  • No @channel, @everyone calls
  • Full Disable of Notifications after local workhours
  • Encourage use of "Do not disturb" when in deep work
  • Possibly allow sending of notifications in Direct Mentions, but limited the use of @-mentions in that case
  • Create a priority channel (e.g. #announcements) which only admins can post to. Allow notifications on there. Be cautious.

The goal is to make it possible for everyone to work and reply on their own schedules.

Some Rules Upfront

Not everything can be ruled with settings. In some cases, there's a need for some ground rules. Before you let your employees even touch your workspace, make sure they understand these rules and act on them.

  • Short Messages should be reduced to a limit. Encourage long-form messages with as much information as possible.
  • Punctuation and Grammar is key. Switching a full stop to a question mark can make a lot of difference. If you see recurring grammar issues, don't hesitate to deploy a Grammar Bot. It seems like overkill, but it can save a lot of time.
  • Threads are very important. A root-level message should only be used to start a discussion. Anything that relates to this message should be discussed in a thread, so it can be browsed and reconstructed later on. Again, if you see recurring issues with this, deploy a Thread Bot.
  • Make use of channels and not Group Direct Messages. It's important to stay in the loop, so discussions should be public if possible.

The goal here is to make communication as thoughtful and precise as possible, while keeping distractions and messages to a limit. Long-form chat messages can feel like a lot, but it helps other workers to read them, think about them, and reply on their own schedule (might be hours later!)

Creating sentiment and feelings

Not a lot of emotions can be transmitted through chat, so it's important to artificially create them. A lot of Slack communities have figured out how to do so, but if you haven't:

  • No matter how silly you think it is, use and encourage to use Emojis (lots of them)
  • Create an environment where it's okay to publicly share successes, and use reactions and comments to congratulate!
  • Even though it can be a time sink, create a separate channel for silly ideas, jokes, GIFs and memes. It keeps the silly stuff out of other areas, makes it mute-able, but creates a great watercooler space.
  • For some extra fun, add Bitmoji, Giphy etc. to your workspace. Leave it out of the serious channels, but go wild in the silly area.

People can get distant, lonely and demotivated in a remote setting. Make it feel like everyone is part of the office shenanigans.

Slack is a great product, but at least in it's pure form not a good match for remote settings. If you can, go for an asynchronous alternative upfront. If you can't (as many teams do), at least make sure to follow these basic tips to reduce distractions, remove ambiguity from conversation and make everyone more productive

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