in Technology, Work

Email overload is a very real problem at an organization-wide level. Slack folds together all the functionality of email, instant messaging, file sharing, and more into one system that’s actually fun to use. We use Slack for all internal and cross-team communication at PBS. We do not communicate with clients or 3rd parties on Slack.

Getting Started

Using Slack quickly improve team communication and workflow. Whether you and your team is already working in the office, or remotely, here are five directives to get you started fast and effectively.

  1. Adopt it today. Say “no” to all internal email that you are expected to read and respond to. Use this template: “I got your email. I won’t be responding to any internal-only email or texts but I am available on Slack. Let’s pick up the conversation there! Thanks!”
  2. Keep it direct. Use your first name as your username, unless there are multiple folks with the same first name. The idea is to have a one-name identifier. You can add your full name to your profile, along with your photo.
  3. Keep it tight. Only send messages relevant to the channel you are posting on. Ask yourself, does everyone on the channel need to know about my message before you post it. Conversation in Slack is about coming to decisions quickly or efficiently notifying a channel about a status or update (eg: company wide news, new client close, new tool that just came out, etc).
  4. Keep it focused. Use the channels that align with the way your business is structured (by department, group, function, etc). Adding additional channel = adding noise, unless the channel has longevity (i.e: it is evergreen). For a specific project you can add a channel, pull in Slack members and then archive the channel once the discussion is finished. Please note that inactive channels will be archived or deleted.
  5. Keep it central. Start pulling all the relevant conversations, files, action plans, and decisions into Slack. It’s all searchable so if you start using it almost exclusively, you’ll have access to most of the key elements of our business within a few clicks and taps. Make sure you integrate Google Drive into Slack via Slack’s integrations. This will allow you to share files within Google Drive directly on Slack (without needing to download and re-upload).
  6. Keep it everywhere. Download Slack to all your devices from the App Store or Google Play. You can use Slack via the browser interface if you want, but I prefer the Mac desktop app.  I also use the iOS app on my iPhone and iPad. Everything stays instantly synced between all my devices.

Download the Apps on your Desktop and your Phone

Turn off Email Notifications

Reduce duplication of messages and inbox overload by turning off email notifications.

  • In addition to sending you push notifications for activity that occurs while you’re offline, Slack can send emails to let you know of new mentions and direct messages.
  • To configure your Slack notification email preferences, go to https://my.slack.com/account/notifications and expand the Email Notifications section. You can choose to receive emails about missed messages once every 15 minutes, once an hour at most, or never.
  • Slack will send email notifications to the email address associated with your Slack account. To update your email address, go to https://my.slack.com/account/settings and expand the Email Address section.

Daily Usage

Making Decisions and Assigning Tasks

  • Use Slack channels to discuss projects, tasks, or milestones. Once you have arrived at a decision and a timeline, the #DRI (directly responsible individual) must create your task/milestone in #Teamwork.
  • If a task takes longer than 5 minutes to discuss back and forth, stop slacking and start a hangout instead. You can start a hangout by entering /hangout within Slack. If you can’t hangout, call the person you’re chatting with. Here’s a novel idea… if you’re in the same building you may actually want to walk over and have a face-to-face conversation.
  • All future conversation about that task must continue in your project collaboration tool (Basecamp, Asana, etc).
  • Don’t use email to discuss tasks/milestones/etc.

Check Recent Mentions

  • Missed that last question? Opening Recent Mentions in the Flexpane menu will give you one tidy list of every time someone has mentioned your name or one of your highlight words. Click recent ones to jump straight to the right point in the right conversation.

Easily Manage Unread Messages

  • When you want to come back to a message later, hold down the Option (Alt) key while clicking on it. That will mark it as unread and you can switch to another conversation with the peace of mind that comes from knowing Slack will keep your place. One “long press” (tap & hold) on a message in the mobile apps will give you a special menu that includes the option to mark as unread.
  • You have options when it comes to the default way Slack manages unread messages. Check the “Read State Tracking” option in your account menu:
  • And if you happen to want to mark things as read rather than unread, you can. Hit the Esc key to mark one channel as read, Shift+Esc to mark ALL as read. BOOM. DONE.

Notifications

  • Get notified only if someone wants your attention
  • We use Slack to talk about everything, which means you can get a lot of notifications out of the box. Switch notifications to “only for Highlight Words and direct messages” to avoid distractions to your work-flow.
  • In preferences, select “only for highlight words and direct messages”
  • Disable badges for jibber-jabber
  • By default, Slack shows a (•) badge if there’s new messages in any room, which is super distracting as you switch through apps on your machine. If a message doesn’t mention your highlight words, you shouldn’t be notified.

Channels

Simplify, simplify, simplify. Channels in Slack should be closely aligned to teams by function (we call our’s pods) instead of topics. This is purposefully done to minimize noise created by multiple team members being part of multiple channels. It creates a structure where we are tightly aligned but loosely coupled (i.e: If you want to know what another pod is working on, you can quickly take a look at their channel). Refrain from creating topic focused channels because this creates more noise. Instead, use *topic-title* in the relevant channel you are discussing a message on.

Sharing Links and Resources on Slack

You can add searchable topics by starting your message in the following format: {podname}-{topic}-{typeofpost}. Here are some usage examples:

  1. *seo-citations-video*: Hey @channel, I found this awesome video about citations
  2. *content-interviewing-guide*: Hey @avi, check out this guide on 1 question interviews
  3. *finance-billing-resource*: @warren, you should review this billing resource before sharing with @ren

The following are defined type of post templates to use:

  1. tool
  2. guide
  3. resource
  4. video
  5. hack

You can create a quick breakout channel if the project you are working on will be finished in 2 weeks or less. As a channel creator it is your responsibility to archive the channel after the project is finished.

Direct Messages

  • Slack allows more transparency amongst your team. We get back the respect we give to our team-mates. Try to keep your DM’s to a minimum and choose to engage in public communication on channels instead.

Shortcuts

Jump to any conversation

  • Slack’s “Quick Switcher” is the fastest way to open any conversation. Press ⌘+K, (Ctrl+K on windows; or ⌘+T as an alternative in the Mac desktop app) and the magic of autocomplete will have you flipping channels, DMs and Groups faster than you can say “:thumbsup:”

Find more shortcuts by using  ⌘+?(Ctrl+? on Windows) will reveal them all.  

Fun: EMOJI CHEAT SHEET

Bots and Automation

Bots add a new level of fun to Slack and can automate repetitive tasks. Here are the one’s we use:

  • A daily standup tracker where users can answer what they did yesterday, what they are doing today, and what their blockers were.
  • A stripe tracker that notifies our #billing channel whenever a payment fails or gets refunded.
  • A 1:1 meeting bot that lets the team know when to book in their 1:1 with me. It has a link to my calendly account where they can view my availability and book me. It works like magic.
  • A bot that announces whenever we win a deal!
  • A bot for sharing curated RSS feeds within specific channels.
  • A bot that reminds our employees to ask their clients for reviews and testimonials every month.

We’re just getting started with what we can do. Eventually, we’ll be creating business logic to feed the right email notifications to the right channels to catch the right person’s attention.

I hope this guide helps you become more productive by structuring Slack usage for peak productivity at work. Have a unique tip that works for your workplace? Tell me all about it in the comments below.

comments

Let me know what you think!

Comment

  1. Hey Dev,
    I really like this! I have a few follow up questions:

    1) How do you feel about/handle the private groups option? I wonder whether this could turn into a place for gossip, and undermining people, or if you feel that it is best to just let people vent in these spaces.

    2) How do you handle client interaction on these channels? Is it something that you have already integrated, or that you plan on doing in the future?

    Great post, thank you so much for sharing!

    • Hey Zeph! Great questions. Here’s my point of view:

      1) Prior to Slack we used to use Hangouts chat. I’ve explicitly asked my team to refrain from using private groups in the interest of transparency. Only admins are allowed to create private groups and these folks are usually pod leaders at Powered by Search. People can of course vent in direct messages and one thing I’ve found that is interesting is that the typical teams have a 90% direct message, 10% channel message usage. To me this still gets in the way of transparency and only focusing on conversation that is productive, useful, and necessary. We have a #random channel for all the funnies though which is great for keeping the mood jovial.

      2) We do not let any clients join Slack channels. It is important to enable synchronous communication with the team but to have asynchronous communication with clients. We achieve this by working with clients via Teamwork and via email as a backup channel.

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