How to Use Slack In a Way That Won't Totally Annoy Your Coworkers


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Ah, the lilting trill of Slack notifications. As a member of the 21st-century workforce, odds are pretty high that you’re using Slack on a daily basis to communicate with colleagues (you can hear the notifications in your sleep, too). Possessing both the functionality of an email address with everything that made AOL Instant Messenger so great, Slack has changed work for the better… Or has it?
First, let's learn how Slack even works. And, if you’re still sitting here wondering what Slack is, the company website says it best: "Slack is a platform for team communication: everything in one place, instantly searchable, available wherever you go."
You can either join through an email invite with a special link, create your own Slack team or join a team whose name you know. And, once you're in, "Slack combines the core benefits of email, the reactive speed of text messaging, the accessibility of social networks, and the responsiveness of mobile to deliver a solution that looks simple on the surface while packing a powerful punch under the hood," according to The Huffington Post, which put together a handy Slack 101 guide.
In short, real-time messaging communication within Slack is organized into three main categories:
  1. Channels (a public channel and private ones)
  2. Direct messages and private groups
  3. Channels are the main streams of communication
Let's dive into some of the main slack channels and some tips for using the platform.

Slack Channels

Some basic channels all teams should use, according to the guide, include the following:

1. Resources

"This serves as a repository for links, documents, photos, books, tools or whatever content can serve as a resource for helping your team get the work done well."

2. Random

"If anyone on your team likes Dilbert, cat gifs, The Daily Show, or baby memes, this is the place to drop that stuff. A little humor goes a long way."

3. Brainstorm

"Teams are rich with ideas. Provide an easy place to pitch ideas and ask for feedback. They won’t all be gems, but you’ll never find a diamond if you don’t start digging."

4. HighLow

"Remember your team is made up of human beings, not machines. This channel gives people the chance to be vulnerable and highlight a weekly/daily win as well as share a struggle. We all need hugs and high fives."

5. Water Cooler

"We can’t upload or download cold beverages just yet, but casual conversation and shooting the breeze improves team cohesion and can lead to new ideas. Give your team a place where everyone can relax and chat about weekend plans or favorite bands."

6. Questions

"A team is a collective genius, but each individual is not an Einstein or Edison. No one knows everything and there are plenty of questions. Provide a safe place to ask questions without feeling dumb and praise people for taking the initiative to find answers and help each other."
The other two forms of communication, direct messages and private groups, allow employees to communicate between two team members or within a somewhat exclusive channel through which the only visible to those included by the admin.
Basically, if you're looking to chat with just one person to discuss a specific matter that the rest of your team doesn't need to be involved in, you can send them a direct message. On the “+” sign by Direct Message on the middle column, just search for that person's name in the drop-down menu and click start. This will open a window within the last column with just that person so you can start your chat. Or you can create direct message groups, too, where you can add up to eight people from the drop-down menu without having to set a purpose.
Photo via Slack
Photo via Slack

Different @'s

Also, there are four different types of @s.
  • @username will alert the person you have mentioned, specifically.
  • @here will send alert everyone currently active on the channel.
  • @channel will send a notification to everyone in the channel, regardless of whether or not they’re online and available.
  • @everyone is one you can only use in the general channel, and it will literally tell everyone.
Lastly, these should all be in your Slack toolbox, according to Work Zone:
  • #hashtag. "Just like Twitter, use hashtags within comments to tag a channel or specific topic. This helps organize search results and allows users to find relevant details easily. This comes in handy if a particular item has implications for multiple channels. Instead of posting the same content in 4 different places, just add the desired hashtag."
  • @mention. "Most social media platforms allow you to @mention (or tag) someone in a post or photo. Within a Slack channel you can @mention a specific team member (@individual), the entire channel (@channel), or the whole team associated with a particular Slack account (@everyone). Using the @mention feature will specifically ping the applicable user via their personal notification settings (via email, mobile, or desktop)."
  • star. "Much like a “favorite” on Twitter (“like” on Facebook, “+1” on Google+), Slack allows you to “star” comments. This can simply be a method of showing support or agreement with a comment or you can use it to mark something for reference later. Just like hashtags, stars are integrated with the search function."
  • upload. "If you can attach it to an email, you can upload it to Slack. Graphics, images, spreadsheets, documents, etc. With dozens of app integrations you can even link Slack to your Google Drive or Dropbox folders for easy sharing and file management."
  • links. "Whether sharing a resource, requesting feedback, or looking at a preview of a new website, you can post a link and Slack will load a preview (just like Facebook)."
  • search. "Data is only useful if you can find it. The same goes for communication. Looking for a file? Trying to remember what Bob said about that one proposal? Pop some simple terms in the native search bar at the top and the answers are at your fingertips."
  • archive. "All projects eventually come to an end. Slack enables users to archive channels and private groups. This allows teams to keep communication clear of clutter while still having the content available for later reference."
  • cloud. "Ever spilled coffee on your laptop? How about dropped your iPhone in the toilet? Or lost your iPad at the airport? No worries. Everything in Slack sits safely and securely in the cloud. You can access it from any platform or web browser."
And here are some tips to get you started:
  • You can edit messages after the fact if you had a typo (or you can even delete the message if you made a really cringeworthy mistake), and you can also use shortcuts. For example, to emphasize words or phrases, surround your text with *asterisks* to create bold text, or _underscores_ for italic text. Keyboard shortcuts save a lot of time in the long run.
  • Yes! You can send a custom emoji. (But maybe keep those relegated to the private channel you're in... Definitely keep those in the private channel if your workplace is strict.)
  • When you are caught up in other work on your to-do list, you can set yourself to away on Slack to let your teammates know that you’re not currently available or that you are away from your desk. It will put a small empty circle by your name instead of the regular green circle, which should discourage your teammates from chatting you while you’re busy. But it will not stop you from receiving notifications so you can always check just in case something urgent is being shared with you.
  • If you want to go completely offline and not receive notifications, you'll want to use the little bell by your username and snooze notifications. This should, in theory anyway, deter anyone from pinging you on Slack while you're in meetings or buried in work.
Photo via Slack
Photo via Slack

Slack Tips

Now that you understand how Slack works, here are seven tips for how to make the best use of Slack without inspiring your colleagues to plot your untimely demise (or order the crap cupcakes for your office birthday party):

1. Go All in on Slack. Or don’t

Everyone must use Slack, or no one is allowed to. It’s that simple. Otherwise, you run the risk of having some of your teammates use it while others are kept in the dark. I’ve heard horror stories of Slack conversations being emailed to those who don’t use it, which, to be honest, is horribly inefficient and annoying for everyone involved. And that’s literally the opposite point of using Slack.

2. Get Your Notifications in Check

Real-time messaging with your team members about your to-do list is super helpful. But notifications can get to be a lot. Settings are your friend. Use them to only receive notifications in certain instances (i.e., if someone @’s you, and not every time a message is sent to any channel you might belong to.) The only thing more annoying than receiving Incessant Slack notifications is being the sender of incessant messages

3. Don't Abuse the @Channel Function

Don't use the @channel tool that'll notify everyone — even those with their notifications turned off — unless it's absolutely necessary that you need every single person's attention.

4. Respond to Messages in Threads

Instead of responding to a message in a channel by starting a new thread, click reply so you and your teammates can follow all of the responses to that query in one place.

5. Keep the Chatter to a Minimum in Public Channels

Yes, you and everyone else in the company belongs to #general. But that doesn’t mean #general is the best place for an ongoing celebration of the Eagles’ Super Bowl win, or discussing at length why millennials are eating Tide Pods. Make group chats for only those participating in these sidebars. And get to your point in one message when DM-ing a colleague. Don’t just say “Hey...” and then wait for the other party to respond. This’ll speed up your communication and make you work faster. Win-win!

6. Don’t Bother People with Repeat Requests

Use the search function built into Slack. That way you can reference how Jessica wanted the report delivered when you chatted about it days ago, instead of pinging her an hour before it’s due because you can’t remember. This has the added bonus of making you look like you’re on top of your stuff. Who’s got two thumbs and is up for a promotion? (The answer is “you”, in case that wasn’t clear.)

7. Your Business Has Business Hours. So Should Slack.

Companies should clarify their availability policies for Slack, just as they have (or should have) set expectations for email after-hours for better work-life balance. A lot of unnecessary stress can be heaped upon teams who think they need to be available 24/7 on Slack. Once you’ve clarified Slack availability, make good use of the snooze function so you can concentrate on making dinner, helping the kids with homework, or even (gasp) some self-care time.
By implementing these tips and tricks, you — and your colleagues — will communicate better, more efficiently, and overall, more enjoyable.
Slack is an important tool that a lot of companies use in place of instant messaging. And employees love it because it has custom emojis, it's own instant messaging so you don't have to worry about remembering every team member's email address, you can use it for effective team communication with keyboard shortcuts.
Go forth and Slack!

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