How to Optimize Slack for Remote Work

05/26/2020 Posted by Liz

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While everyone’s been talking about Zoom video conferencing of late, business communication tool Slack has also been adding millions of new users in the past few months. These tools have smoothed the transition from the office to Work From Home, but your remote communication woes aren’t going to be magically solved by simply hopping on a Zoom call or shooting a Slack message into the ether.

When trying to facilitate the successful collaboration of a distributed workforce, there are right ways and…less than right ways to do it. Here are some tips and tricks we’ve implemented at Knack to optimize our use of Slack. 

Synchronous vs. Asynchronous

Slack is a great tool for facilitating instantaneous communication, but it can come at the cost of sustained productivity. The steady drumbeat of messages can quickly become a distraction. Between homeschooling, dog walking, and grocery shopping for grandma, COVID life is already distracting enough. As such, leveraging Slack as a synchronous (real-time) versus an asynchronous (time-delayed) communication tool should be given careful consideration. 

Photo by JEshoots

You may want to commit to one type of use, or you may want to set guidelines for when Slack should be used in either fashion. For example, your company may want to treat Slack as an asynchronous tool for the first half of the day where folks aren’t expected to respond to Slack notifications right away. This will allow your team some dedicated heads down time and/or time to juggle other life happenings. Then, in the afternoon, you may transition to synchronous use where team members are expected to quickly respond to notifications in order to more instantaneously remove blockers and facilitate collaboration. 

Here at Knack (a totally awesome no-code development platform), we default to asynchronous use. Although this approach minimizes distractions, it can mean a delay between asking a question and receiving a response. However, since this expectation is explicitly set, team members can work and plan accordingly. Additionally, because we recognize the value of intentional synchronous use, we encourage Knackleheads to explicitly request synchronous Slack availability if/when needed. (Knacktale hour, our virtual happy hour, being one such example.)

Public Posting vs. Private Posting

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Photo by Jennifer Nonauer

Slack is also great at facilitating both private and public messages. This is another facet of Slack use that merits careful consideration. 

At Knack, we default to public posts (visible to all employees) for a number of reasons. Public posts…

  • Foster transparency
  • Give more folks a chance to provide buy-in or feedback
  • Eliminate the duplication of work or additional messaging
  • Allow team leads to remove blockers or redirect focus as needed
  • Give cross-departmental insight
  • Foster broader collaboration

That said, we recognize that there are appropriate and necessary uses for private messaging. As such, private messaging isn’t prohibited, we just ask folks to default to public channels as much as possible. 

Using Mentions (aka @s)

Slack gives you the ability to leverage mentions to send explicit notifications to different individuals or groups. Mentions allow users to: 

  • @[name] to get the attention of a specific person
  • @[team] to get the attention of everyone associated with a specific team
  • @here to get the attention of everyone online within a specific channel
  • @channel to notify everyone in a specific channel regardless of whether or not they’re online

Setting explicit expectations for how to properly use mentions in Slack can also go a long way in minimizing distractions. 

At Knack, we only mention an individual if their action or buy-in/feedback is needed. If we don’t need them to actively participate in the conversation or be aware of the exchanged information, then they aren’t mentioned. This allows the person in question to continue about their day without getting a distracting notification for a conversation they aren’t needed for. We take the same approach when deciding to mention everyone online or in a specific channel. The only time we mention everyone in a channel is for emergencies or for  broad company policy changes or updates that folks need to be immediately aware of.

Collaboration Beyond Work

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Not only is Slack a great way to stay in touch for business collaboration purposes, but it’s also a great way to foster rapport and community.The interactions that these channels foster are invaluable, especially in light of current social distancing circumstances.   

At Knack, we have many “fun” community channels including: 

  • Book-Club: Where we talk about what we’re reading, and where we facilitate our optional company book club participation
  • Entertainment: Where we talk about movies, music, and TV
  • Homebrew: Where we share recipes, pics of home renovations, and new beer brews
  • Pets/Kids: Where we share pics and anecdotes of our extended families
  • Quaranteam: Where we share stories or pictures of the activities that are keeping us sane, and where we support each other during the COVID-19 craze

Setting Personal Boundaries

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Photo by Beth J

Setting healthy boundaries between work and home life can be difficult; they’re even more difficult to establish when literally working from home. Slack can play a crucial role in helping to either preserve or erode those boundaries. Slack’s mobile app makes it an ideal tool for staying on top of work when you’re on the go, but it can also mean that you’re staying on top of work when you should be eating dinner with your family. 

To ensure Knackleheads are unplugging and maintaining personal boundaries, we encourage every team member to leverage Slack’s notifications settings. Teammates can select when and how they receive notifications, set up Do Not Disturb windows, mute channels, etc. Not only does this maintain the health of a Knacklehead who may have just hopped off for the night, but it also affords others on the team to work in ways and at times that are best for them. With proper notification settings in place, our dev night owls can shoot off a mention to a success team member without concern that the recipient will feel inclined to hop on during their off hours.

Leveraging Slack Your Way

There is no denying that the world is a little hard to navigate at the moment. The way we think about and approach nearly every aspect of our lives has had to change. That said, current circumstances have afforded us the ability to reassess work communications. Taking the time to set expectations for use and to configure Slack’s settings accordingly will ensure that you’re using Slack in a way that caters to your team’s specific needs. If we carefully optimize remote communication tools, not only can our businesses continue to operate, but we can also build a sense of community that so many of us desperately need at this time.