When working in distributed companies and teams it is even more important that you communicate more often and more efficiently. And it is not always an easy task but there are plenty of tools to support you. One of them is Slack that has changed the way we work a lot — even in co-located teams.
But with every feature added to Slack, it also adds up the risk that Slack becomes the new email in your company: Another application with an unorganized pile of messages and information that you can't handle anymore and that does not only not support you but even makes you less productive.
Here, in this article, I am going to share with you a few tips and tricks that I have collected over the years that will make distributed teams working better together using the power of Slack.
While this article focusses on Slack, you can apply most of the ideas to other communication channels as well such as Microsoft Teams.
As mentioned above, it is really important that you communicate often. It is better that you post in Slack too much than too little.
At the same time, keep in mind that Slack is a place for short-lived communication. While the search functionality of Slack is pretty good and you can find things back really easily, you still need to know what you have to search for. You as the author might know but what about the others? Or even newbies?
So make sure that you separate the information that has a long-term value from your day-to-day communication. Make sure that everything that you might need later is organized in a knowledge base. Tools like Notion or Slite might help you with that (or even Confluence if you like to do it the painful way).
Everything else can be communicated via Slack.
Your own Slack etiquette
Slack is easy to use since it is just another messenger just like for example the Facebook Messenger. But can you, therefore, behave the same way? It is important that your work out a few rules and guidelines in your company. These guidelines will make sure that, while you have that team spirit and camaraderie, things do not get out of hands.
Make sure that you keep the guidelines in the knowledge base. This will be a good place to start for newbies that enter your Slack. Even if they are only contractors or single-channel guests.
The Slack etiquette is something that looks different in every company here are a few guidelines that I really enjoyed so far.
If you receive a message from someone else with a task or request, make sure that you do not just ignore it. Even if you want to pick up the task only at a later time. Make sure that you acknowledge that you got the message and that you will pick it up soon.
Tell them if you leave
If you are in a discussion but you are about to leave, make sure that you tell them. Nothing is worse than wondering why someone just stopped replying.
Do not spam your colleague
If someone is not responding to you immediately, it does not mean that they are ignoring you. They might be busy with another task, be in a meeting or just went to the kitchen to grab a coffee. So be patient and wait until they are back.
Don't @channel/@here just because you can
It is tempting to push a notification to everybody just to make sure that everybody you want to reach is getting the notification. But most of the time you will send a notification more to people that are actually not interested.
Respect the channel's purpose
If you have a piece of exciting news to share, you might be triggered to share that in a channel that is actually dedicated to something else because you know that the people you want to reach are in there. This will to a long train of messages that do not belong in the channel and people actually working there will have a hard time finding the things they need.
Try to avoid this. Instead, take your time to think about the appropriate channel and post it in there. Or if that channel does not exist, why not open a new one?
When someone posts something in a team channel and everybody starts responding to it you will definitely miss the question that someone else has asked on the same channel. To keep those conversations organized to keep the chat about one topic in threads. Slack has a wonderful feature to share messages from the thread also into the channel if you think that the message might be interesting for others as well.
Answer with emojis
Instead of posting "I agree" or "Done" all the time, use an appropriate emoji for that. That will save you a lot of mess.
Respect time zones and DNDs
In distributed teams, it is pretty likely that your team member will in another time zone that you are. Make sure that you keep that in mind when you send a message to people and trigger a notification. 10 am at your place can be in the middle of the night for someone else.
Same for DNDs (Do Not Disturb). If someone has snoozed notifications, just let them be off for that time.
Slack offers a small but very useful feature: Setting your status. You should use that feature to let people see if you are available or not. Being off for a lunch break, or being offline because you are going to the doc all these things can be shown with beautiful emojis. While you might also have a check-in/check-out channel (see below), having the status set makes it a lot easier for your colleague to know what you are at.
Have a face
Working in distributed teams also means that you won't see your colleagues that often. In teams spread over multiple time zones even less. That makes it important that you help your colleagues to remember you. If possible try to keep the video on when having calls. And even more important make sure that you have set up a profile picture. Nothing feels more awkward than chatting to someone not remembering who they are. Or meeting your colleague that you work with super closely at a team event and not recognizing them.
In addition to introducing an etiquette, it is also important that you organize the Slack workspace in a way that your employees can communicate in a structured way.
Slack works in channels, so use that feature to organize your channels. Every new Slack workspace is created with the
#random channels but you will need way more than those two.
One of the first things you might want to add is team channels. Depending on how your company is organized you will have channels for each department, such as
#team-sales. If your teams are larger, you can even have more granular team channels:
It might even be interesting to have separate channels for teams of one. In a company, no-one will work entirely on their own so people taking over different roles can join those channels as well.
Make sure that you establish a naming convention for your channels. This will make sure that anybody can channels themselves instead of having to ask around all the time.
Topic based channels
In the team channels, you will most likely discuss day to day topics but for some projects just having a chat in threads won't be enough anymore. At that point, you might want to move that conversation its own channel:
Make sure that after the topic or project is done, the long-term value is moved to the knowledge base and the channel is archived accordingly.
You should have at least one channel that is set to read-only for most of the people and is going to be used as a notification channel. This is going to replace the email that will be sent to everyone and everyone replying to everyone. Normally, the
#general is a good place for this since everybody new to a workspace will be added to this channel anyway. But if you need other specific announcement channels, do add them.
The Daily channel
In many distributed teams there is also a daily channel that is mostly used to check-in and check-out. Whenever someone starts to work and signs off for the day, they will post in there. That way everybody will be aware of who is available and who not. This channel is also a good place to say if you are off for running an errand.
Knowledge sharing channels
If you are working from an office. you will have those conversations in which you learn about that new blog post or a video that will help you with the thing that you are currently working on. Or you just want to share some new insights from the last experiment that you wrote up in the knowledge base.
Even in a remote company working should be fun. In the office, you will have those silly conversations and all the fun. You should have them in a distributed team as well. Have channels (yes more than one) for all these random things.
But you can and should also have channels to share some love. What about sharing customer success stories or appreciate your colleagues' work?
Productivity tricks and tips
You see there are some things to consider when you set up Slack. But all of them are worth it. The earlier you work on to get the Slack workspace organized the easier it will be and the more productive your company will be.
Apart from the organization being well-structured within Slack, the app also offers you features that will make you more efficient.
Once you are used to Slack you might want to look at the keyboard shortcuts. They will make you navigate through the channels and messages a lot faster. Find the shortcuts here:
Read more about Slack keyboard shortcuts
Slack comes with a handy feature called slash commands. Just start typing a slash (
/) and a few commands will pop up.
My favorite one is the
/remind command that you can use to set reminders within Slack.
/remind me to write the blog post tomorrow morning at 10 am
Read more about how to use built-in slash commands
Type in your own inbox
Slack does not only let you DM your colleagues, but they also offer an inbox to send messages to yourself. Use that inbox to write down notes, prepare messages before posting them into the channels or (what I like to do) share links between devices.
One last tip: Slack alone won't be enough to work in distributed teams, you will for sure need some other tools as well. Good thing is that Slack comes with a lot of integrations that you can use to connect your tools with Slack.
My favorite one is the Google Calendar integration. It does not only shows the meetings and reminds me early enough. It also set my status to "In a meeting" automatically and even shows me the hangouts like to join.
As you see, Slack offers a lot and having lots of possibilities can not only be overwhelming it can also lead to chaos and the benefit of Slack over other communication tools such as emails will be gone.
That is why it is important that you have an organized workspace that even when your team grows, communication will never become an issue.