10 Slack Commandments to Minimize Distraction and Maximize Good Communication

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Love it or hate it, the reality is most of us will have to learn to use Slack at work. Slack is a super effective communication tool if used properly. But, with all of the notifications and message threads, the slack workspace can also cause distraction, frustration, and anxiety about always being “on.” (The seamless  app that makes Slacking so portable and easy that you can take it anywhere adds to the challenge.)

Decent’s founder, Nick Soman, observed this among our teams and decided to take to LinkedIn to ask, “Has anyone found or seen a good approach to using Slack productively?”

He read and analyzed the answers, looking for ways to use Slack wisely to help employees stay on track versus getting sidetracked. Based on the suggestions and some of his own experience, Soman came up with these 10 Slack Commandments (and some bonus tips).

What problems are we trying to solve?

The way we use Slack today…

  • Creates distraction and makes it harder to do deep work
  • Creates pressure to always be on and to read everything
  • Doesn’t make it clear when to use Slack vs. email or other mediums, so all communication defaults to Slack even when it shouldn’t

How will we know if we solved the problems?

The way we will use Slack in the future will…

  • Minimize distraction and make it easier to do deep work
  • Minimize pressure to always be on and to read everything
  • Make it clear when to send Slack messages vs. email or other mediums

What problems are we NOT trying to solve?

  • We are not trying to make everyone use Slack exactly the same way.
  • We are not trying to move all possibly useful information out of Slack.
  • We are not trying to eliminate every possible advantage from reading and engaging in Slack.

Teamwork makes the dream work, so we don’t want to get in the way of team member collaboration.

The 10 Slack Commandments

These are all about how we communicate with each other.

1. Choose which medium to use based on the level of urgency and importance. Ask yourself...

  • If I need something now or outside of work hours: text or call
  • If I need something quickly: Slack DM or @ mention with timeline
  • If I need something on your time: Slack DM or @ mention with no timeline
  • If I need something formally: email.  
  • Also, consider importance. Slack is NOT the right forum for communicating or codifying important decisions that everyone should see. Send an email instead.

2. Leave Slack open during your working hours so you can see notifications come in. Use Slack Preferences or channel-specific settings to get notified about all new messages, or only when you get direct messages (DMs) and @  mentions. Keep your Slack status up to date so people know when you’re available, and sync your status with your calendar so people can see when you’re in meetings. See this page on how to set your Slack status and availability. Only use Pause Notifications / Do Not Disturb (DND) for up to two hours at a time, to make sure you’re not missing something important. Try to respect colleagues’ DND, but if someone has notifications paused during their local work hours and you really need to reach them, it’s okay to send them a DM and override DND.

3. Don’t expect work responses outside of colleagues’ local work hours. If you have an important message and absolutely need something now, text or call - but do this as sparingly as possible. When possible, use “Send later” in email and in Slack (which doesn’t support it in threads, unfortunately) so your requests come in during colleagues’ local work hours.

4. If you need someone to read something, DM them, or @ mention them (even in an active conversation).
Don’t feel you need to read anything unless you are DMed or @ mentioned. @ mentioning someone in a DM isn’t necessary and doesn’t do anything (we checked). Use group @ bullhorns sparingly, if at all:

  • @everyone notifies every person in the #general channel,
  • @channel notifies all members of a channel, and
  • @here notifies only the active members of a channel.

5. If you need something on a specific timeline, state when you need it. When possible, explain why you need it then. If no timeline is stated, assume anyone @ mentioned will reply on their time. It’s nice but optional to reply within a few hours when you’re @ mentioned with no timeline during work hours.

6. Use threads to make conversations easier to follow. Use the “Also send to #channel” checkbox sparingly - if you want specific people to read your message, @ mention them in the thread instead. See this page on how to use threads in Slack.

7. Less (slack messages) is more, especially in group threads and channels. Re-read your message before you hit Send. Each message should be a full thought, even when you’re excited. When you have a question or request, write it all out before sending (no “Hi” sneak attacks). Consider using reaction emojis to respond when no message is needed.

8. Don’t start a new channel when an existing channel will do, and don’t start a private channel when a public channel will do. It’s better to have fewer inboxes than more inboxes, and it’s better for information to be transparent than hidden. If you are starting a group DM, consider creating a channel instead. It will allow you to add additional people to the conversation later if needed.

9. If you think Slack is the wrong medium, always speak up. “This conversation seems like it will take more than 5 minutes, should we have a call?” “I need some time to think about this, can you send me an email and I’ll get back to you tomorrow?” “Next time you need something urgent, can you text or call me?” “Now that we’ve decided, where should we document it outside of Slack?” Clear communication is good communication.

10. Have fun! Slack is great for gifs, memes, and celebratory news. Read anything you’re interested in. In channels like #random and #memes and #music, do what you like. But stay away from #teeth. You’ve been warned.

Slack Best Practice Bonus Suggestions

These are all about how to make Slack better for you.

Consider updating your slack notification settings (globally or in certain channels) to only alert you for DMs and @ mentions. Configuring notifications is better than muting channels, because if you get @ mentioned in a channel you’ve muted, the red badge for @ mentions still appears but you don’t get notified. See this page for help on configuring notifications.

Leave channels you don’t care about. If no one is using a channel you created, archive it. You can always bring it back.

Pause notifications for up to 2 hours when you need to focus. You can use “Notification schedule” in Slack Preferences to set regular times in advance.

If you aren’t sure who to ask, post questions and requests in public channels. Make sure to @ mention anyone you need to read them.

Consider batch-reading Slack channels once or twice a day outside of your DMs and @ mentions. If you see a question you have the time and ability to answer, go for it. One team, one dream.

Make sure to also set up your preferences in the slack app. Real-time notifications on your phone can be just as distracting.

These are the best Slack tips that Nick Soman rounded up. Bottomline — real-time communication doesn’t need to distract your workflow. Slack can improve team communications, particularly for remote teams and but you’ll need to take proactive steps to prevent it from taking over. Heed the slack commandments and take control of the communication tool (rather than letting it control you).

A few more useful links:

  • Slack integrations - There are so many apps and integrations to add to your slack workspace it might make your head spin. Choose wisely.
  • Slack shortcuts - Did you know you can sent a reminder with just two steps? We didn’t either until writing this article. Click the plus icon (+) then this format this format: /remind [@someone or #channel] [what] [when]
  • Slack gifs - Because every company culture needs some humor and fun...but use gifs sparingly.

Decent makes it possible for small businesses to afford health insurance. We also help with payroll, HR, and all the other headache-inducing back-office stuff that eats up time and money. Articles like this are about helping our small business community work more effectively and efficiently. That’s Decent.  

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