Slack Tips for Remote Communication

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As the world is now forced into remote working due to COVID-19, I believe it’s important to make some things explicit that have been implicit for many a remote worker over the past few years with the rise of Slack in the distributed office. These tips are designed to be simple and actionable, with the goal of improving your remote working experience.

Please keep in mind: remote is hard. At times, you’ll feel disconnected from your peers and frustrated at the simple synchronous tasks that need to become asynchronous. However, there are many benefits you’ll hopefully come to appreciate, but with the lock-down becoming more and more prevalent in your daily lives, these may not become apparent until a sense of normality encroaches the world.

Emojis, empathy, and engagement

Be empathetic.

Please remember that text messages have no tone, context, or visual cues. Emojis are great at revealing the tone of your message. Assume the best in your colleagues’ messages, even if they’re terse and direct. Assume they’ve got a child on their knee and they can’t use more words for fear of dropping said child on their head (this has never happened). Use emojis to reveal context when you think you’re being funny or sarcastic.

Liberal muting

When you’re remote, Slack IS your job — in a terrible and weird sense. Remote teams are only as successful as their ability to communicate with their peers. Collaboration across teams becomes rather difficult, as it’s no longer about wheeling over to another cluster of tables.

As your company’s wealth of knowledge is primarily communicated over Slack, you’ll find yourself joining more and more channels; trying to keep abreast of the company’s objectives, projects, and progress. To do this, you will end up in more and more channels. The best advice I have for this is extremely liberal use of “/mute”. This allows you to come and go with these channels without them cluttering your notifications and sidebar. You can also mute a channel from the Slack app by right-clicking on it and choosing mute.

Liberal tagging

You should always tag someone if you want them to see a message. It doesn’t matter if it’s the message right after another message, assuming that they’re not actively following your channel (unless it’s your team channel) and tag them in the messages you want them to see.

This is increasingly important as we mute more and more channels, as it’s the only way Slack will notify us of such messages. Don’t worry about tagging team mates out of hours, we’ll cover that in “Silence Notifications”.

Silence notifications

With muted channels and liberal tagging (see, there’s a reason for the order of these tips), you’ll need to take control of your own notifications. It is not your peers’ responsibility to check what hours you prefer to work. When you’re remote, the 9-5 doesn’t exist. Regardless, which 9-5? CET? BST? PST? Believe it, or not, the world doesn’t run on SFO time! ?

  1. Set up your Slack to silence notifications outside of your working hours.
  2. Install and use the "/gone" command (/gone 15m shopping) to set yourself "AFK" and set a status at the same time.
  3. Make sure your notifications are set to "Only Mentions" (see screenshot).

Settings page for Slack that shows silencing Slack notifications unless explicitly tagged<figcaption> Limit Slack notifications</figcaption>

Value asynchronous workflows

When sending a direct message to your colleague, it may feel natural to say “Hi”. However, this moves the conversation to synchronous rather than asynchronous. This forces your colleague to acknowledge you, taking them away from their work. Instead, we should put enough context into the message to allow our colleagues to understand what we need and when we need it.

Use messages like:

"Hey, when you have a moment; I'd like to pair with you on the multi user login problem"

This message articulates what and when. What do I need? I need to pair with you on something, When do I need it? It’s not urgent, whenever you have a moment.


Remind me

Inevitably, you will check your Slack outside of your “working” hours. Using “/remind” will allow you to have Slack ping you the following hour, day, or week.

Avoid shouting

Avoid using @everyone, @channel, @here tags. If you really need to post an announcement, which is the only valid use-case, then you should probably use a dedicated channel or drop to email.

As our VP of Engineering, Ryan Betts, said @here is the equivalent of standing up in the office and yelling something to everyone”.

That must mean that @everyone is the equivalent of hiring a barber shop quartet to show-up at every employee’s home, wake them up, and sing your message.

That’s not a suggestion — it’s probably best you don’t do that.

Oversharing & communication is key

Keep conversations to public channels. There’s no such thing as “over communication” (I hope).

What seems trivial to you may be interesting and important to others. Use public channels to update on your backlog, projects, WIP, etc.

Others can decide what they wish to filter.

Be accountable & dependable

Your colleagues can’t tap you on the shoulder and ask you a question.

When you worked in an office and they did, you didn’t have the option to avoid answering their question. Being remote doesn’t give you that option either, even if it is super easy to do.

If your colleague takes time to ask you a question, be courteous and answer them. This can still be asynchronous, and you don’t need to reply right away: but you do need to reply.

If you don’t know, say you don’t know.

If you don’t have time, say you don’t have time.

Don’t leave them hanging.

We hope these tips help you in what is a rather turbulent and chaotic time.

Best of luck! David