How to Slack
I spent some time and effort in my last job making Slack more enjoyable and less annoying. Here I have summed up my setup and my learnings.
Before we start, let's have a chat about Slack in your company. Because, well, communication matters.
The meta stuff
Talk about expectations
When do you expect someone to reply to you when you send a message? Five minutes, ten minutes, 24 hours?
Even calling it instant messaging, I would never expect an instant reply. People have to focus on their work. Every "short response" interrupts the flow.
To avoid this, it helps to set expectations, like when you are expected to reply.
For me, 24 hours works great. This doesn't mean that I only respond after 24 hours. This means I will definitely get back to you within 24 hours with a proper, thoughtful answer.
Later I will dive into how and why to use status. This helps set expectations as well. You should also clarify when not to expect an answer. When I am in a 1on1 meeting, I won't respond. The same goes for interviews and other meetings that require focus. If you can see time blocked in my calendar, don't expect an answer.
What goes into Slack – what not
Another discussion to have is where to store which information. Slack is a messaging tool and not a documentation tool. Linking to Slack conversations from (Jira) tickets is lousy practice. This information belongs into the ticket itself or into something like Confluence.
Don’t copy your sloppy email behavior
This also carries another point. Don't copy lousy email behavior into Slack. Don't write long message threads back and forth that carry on over days or even weeks. Slack may not always be a suitable medium. Maybe it is a quick call, or it has a better home in a documentation tool. No one is willing to read your 50 message email thread, and no one is willing to do that in Slack either.
Keep it short
Less is more. Don't write essays. Take time to communicate. Value the reader's time more than your own.
It is my ambition to say in ten sentences what others say in a whole book. — Friedrich Nietzsche
Reread what you are about to send out in the open. Even more important in channels.
Be disciplined with threads
Without posting permissions, channels can get messy. Therefore, it’s essential to be disciplined and use threads to reply.
Remember: Slack settings are always per workspace. If you use more than one workspace, you must configure it for every workspace.
Enable 'All Unreads' and 'All DMs'
Depending on your organization and role, it can be hard to keep up with all the channels and messages. To stay on top of things, you should enable 'All Unreads' and 'All DMs' in the section 'Sidebar.'
You can get there by clicking on the workspace name in the top-left corner and then Preferences. Or by hitting
⌘ + ,.
Turn Off Notifications
You can find this setting in Preferences, Notifications.
I am hard to reach on purpose. I like to spend a lot of time in my day uninterrupted to work on things that matter. The first thing that I always do with Slack is turning off notifications.
It depends on your role and your company how often you need to check Slack. I would claim you can get away with every hour or less.
This one depends on your style of work. For example, I have enabled the notifications on my phone. Only a banner, no sound or vibration. So, whenever I leave my desk, I check my phone and see any message that I would have missed.
Use highlight words
Highlight words can be excellent. Project names, team names, insider terms, your name, you name it.
Slack will show a badge for messages containing your highlight words. Plus, they will appear in All Unread.
Use the status
I like to work in a calm environment. And I trust people to get their work done on their terms.
It's still good to know where someone is or what someone is doing. Mainly to get a sense of if it's the right time to annoy your coworkers.
I like to use the status feature. It's great to let people know that you are on PTO, sick leave, or whatever. You can even configure default statuses to choose from to implement a kind of standard in your organization.
People can even see if you are currently in a meeting with a calendar plugin. That's my favorite use case of the plugin.
I am a massive fan of time blocking. So deep-work sessions, my lunch break, and other routines are on my calendar. Through the calendar integration, my coworkers are always aware if I am free.
The Outlook Calendar integration even shows if you marked yourself as busy or out of the office.
Sections for DMs and Channels
In an ideal world, or a two-pizza world, we wouldn't need to sections in Slack. In most realities, it still makes sense.
I like to set up sections for different areas of my work. There is one for my team, so all direct reports and team channels. One for information and read-only communication, like announcements, and many more.
Again, this is dependent on your style. Here is some inspiration.
- Once a day – You guessed it, those I look into once a day
- Community – Several community-oriented channels
- High – Channels of significant importance
- 1on1 – Channels for my 1on1 meetings to collect topics or write short reports
And this is what my actual setup looks like right now:
The great thing is you can order them, to put the more important groups on top. Plus, you can collapse groups to hide channels when you don't need them.
Create sections by clicking on the three dots next to Channels or Direct Messages. And don't forget to add a nice emoji 🥳.
Even though I discussed guidelines and setting expectations at the top, I want to mention it again. It's essential to understand the following two points.
Make sure everybody has the same understanding of how to use Slack. Innately, Slack is not a project management tool, not a to-do list, and not a note-taking tool.
But, Slack can remind you of work that you have to do or, better said, of communication that you have to act on. That's where reminders shine.
You can find them in the three-dot menu when hovering over a message. When you add a reminder for a message, Slack will annoy you at the configured time. You can either snooze the activity or complete it.
There is even more to reminders. But that I will let you figure out on your own. Hint: Type
/remind into any chat to learn more.
Mention with Attention
Depending on the size of your organization, channels can grow. So please be aware of how many people will get your notification when using @here or @channel.
I warned you. Use it with caution.
Talk to yourself
Details matter. Words matter. Format matters. Tone matters.
Teams get more distributed. They often act in different countries and timezones. Text becomes the preferred way of communication.
To get it right, I typically use the direct message with myself. I can see how a letter looks and sounds before sending it to a bigger audience.
I write it, reread it, edit it, reread it. And when it sounds right, I will copy it to the right channel.
Moreover, when you are not sure where something goes, you can use the DM with yourself to make a quick note and remind yourself.
Are you often working at strange times, like in the middle of the night? Then it's a good practice to schedule the messages to be delivered during working hours.
You are not only looking less insane. You are not raising any expectations in people to answer at those late hours.
Plus, I use it when I don't want to disturb someone. When people are giving a workshop or moderating a meeting, I will schedule messages to arrive later.
Use Another Theme
This one is pretty new for me. I got stressed out by tons of mentions from more than a dozen channels in my former job.
Of course, the number of messages stressed me out. But the default colors of Slack also did. More red badges than time look alarming.
It may be only a detail, but the Ochin theme feels way calmer. You can change it in Preferences, Themes.
I stole this tip from Rands(thanks to Kahlil 😁). Before, I had a 1on1 document for each direct report.
The problem is evident. There is a lot of friction to open the document and type something in there. With increasing direct reports, the situation gets even more apparent.
Kahlil introduced me to the idea of having a 1on1 channel with every direct report. As we all "live" in Slack anyways, there is no friction to drop a quick note into a channel for the next 1on1.
This does not only work with reports. It works for everyone you regularly talk to.
By using a separate channel, the messages are always at hand. Plus, they don't add to the usual noise of direct messages, and you can even mute them.
Post one topic per line, then you can use threads to discuss. With reactions, you can mark them as done ✅.
Use Huddles instead of Video calls
Of course, when I talk to someone, I like to see their face. But we are over this discussion, right? Occasionally you just want to have a conversation and leave the camera off. Maybe even in the office days, where you chat with someone while working.
Here the voice is enough. Slack implemented a low-friction tool called huddles. Basically, it's like the regular Slack call, just without the video option.
Give it a try. You can find it at the bottom left.
Make quick calls with slash commands
If Slack is your main communication tool, you probably know this warning.
It appears anytime you want to start a call in a channel. Before that, you have to choose between starting a Huddle or a Video Meeting. That can be annoying.
Recently, I discovered the quickest way to start a group call. Simply type
/call into the message box and hit enter twice. The first enter is to initiate the call, and the second is to confirm the warning above.
It doesn’t sound like much, but the hardcore Slack users will feel my relief.
As we are here already, take some time to figure out what other functions are hidden behind the
/ command. It can do more than post GIFs (
Use the search
The day will come where you are looking for that one message. And Slack has your back.
It has a mighty search that you can ask anything.
Everything starts with a search term, for example,
danielhauck.net. And that you can modify with commands.
@daniel.haucklooks into conversations with the user
daniel.hauck- the same works with channels
is:threadgives you only results from threads
during:augustwill give you only results from August
has::poop:gives you only results that have the 💩 emoji as a reaction
And you can combine all of them, which is extremely powerful.
There is a lot more about the search. More than I could cover here. If that’s interesting for you, check Slack’s knowledge base.
For channels with dozens of members, it can make sense to change the posting permissions. Or if it’s the channel for the management to announce stuff. Or something like a “blog” channel.
As soon as you limit it, you can allow people to only answer in threads. This keeps the channel focused and clean.
If you want to learn more, check the knowledge base article.
Slack has tons of apps for every use case. It also has a great app called polly, to handle polls.
While it is feature rich, often it is just too much. Regularly you intend to know when a group of people has time.
You can send separate messages with your suggestions and ask people to react to it. I always use an asterisk(*) in front of it, to give it a list character.
You can also use different reactions to mark different options, like I did here:
I wanted to know from my reports how they felt after a massive change. I gave them different reactions to describe their mood about it.
Save your most important links as channel bookmarks
Channels are a great way to separate contexts. In different contexts, you may need different tools and links.
And to have those handy, Slack has the option to pin them on the top of the channel to find them easily.
You can add them by clicking on the “Add a bookmark” button.
Set your availability
Depending on your schedule, it can make lots of sense to set a timeframe when you allow notifications.
Remember again: This is workspace-specific and you have to do it for every workspace separately.
Use reactions as lightweight task management
This one goes into the same direction as the quick poll.
Let’s say you have a big channel where customer feedback comes in, including bugs. You want to know if someone is taking care of a bug already, to not have three people working on the same bug.
With Slack you can implement an easy ruleset that you document in the channel description.
👀 - looking into it
✅ - took care of it
🤷♂️ - not a bug / user mistake
The cool thing about reactions is, that you can easily see who reacted to it.
You can get really creative here. Just keep in mind that Slack cannot replace a real bug tracker.
These are the shortcuts I use every single day. I am a Mac user, so usually on Win/Linux you would just hit
Ctrl instead of
⌘ + K - Open up a quick switcher to search for conversations and channels.
⌘ + ← or → - Go back and forth in the history of opened conversations.
⌘ + G - Opens the search.
⌘ + N - New conversation.
And finally, slash commands like
/call to start call and quickly reach features that are otherwise hidden from the UI.
Slack is a powerful tool. And with every tool that you use multiple hours a day, it makes sense to learn it.
I hope these tips help you to make your Slack experience more enjoyable. If you have any tips, or want to tell me your secret stuff about Slack, kindly let me know on Twitter.