All Articles

6 tips to be more productive using Slack in remote work.

Slack is one of the most popular communication tools used in companies. A chart showing Slack, Microsoft Teams and Workplace apps downloads’ numbers according to AppMagic. In the first quarter of 2019 Teams overtook Slack and took a lead. source: https://gopractice.io/blog/slack-vs-teams-vs-workplace/

It’s particularly useful in companies that hire many people remotely. It makes it very easy to discuss things with one person as well as taking a part in a discussion. In other words, it simplifies the work a lot for people who don’t have direct contact with each other. They even have their marketing slogan “Slack - where work happens”.

Google search result showing Slack as a first result. The title says: “Slack: Where work happens”.

And this is true. Partially. This can be a double-edged sword. When used thoughtlessly can be an obstacle to do any productive work. In this article I would like to present tips that I use to stay productive and take the best out of using Slack.

Table of contents

Disable notifications

First thing, turn off all notifications. Even a small two second distraction can ruin dozens of minutes spent building a deep level of focus. Cal Newport in his book Deep work said: If you service low-impact activities, therefore, you’re taking away time you could be spending on higher-impact activities. It’s a zero-sum game [1]. Most likely we would like to do higher impact activities therefore, we need to make a space for it. If we’re using the Slack desktop app, go to “Preferences” and select Notifications tab.
Here we can find a couple of interesting settings. In the “Notify me about” it’s good to select “Nothing”.

Slack preferences screen showing “Notify me about” section with “Nothing” option selected.

This will stop showing little popups with messages. (remember that you need to set this for each workspace you joined) To improve this even more we can go to the “Sound & appearance” section and select “Mute all sounds from Slack” and unselect “Show a badge (red dot) on Slack’s icon to indicate new activity”.

Slack preferences screen showing “Sound & appearance” section with “Mute all sounds from Slack” option selected.

Finally you can adjust (most likely it is turned on by default) the Do not disturb mode to avoid getting messages outside your working hours.

Slack preferences screen showing “Do not disturb” section.

With this we can achieve some freedom from distraction. Now it’s on us to read the messages when we finished what was to do, instead of switching the context all the time.

Use threads

When we are in a channel with many people working on different things, sometimes they want to discuss something or ask a question. After a couple of minutes (because we turned off notifications and were busy being productive :) ) the original question will go high up and chances are we’ll never see it. If we use threads instead, firstly the original question stays visible in a channel, secondly we don’t get message notification unless we are involved in the conversation. As an addition we can use an emoji to mark the topic as resolved so others don’t need to even read it.

Slack thread showed with a green check mark emoji added to the message

Use stars to show only most important conversations

When we work in a bigger organization, it is probable that we won’t chat with everybody. There is a limited number of people we talk to regularly. Most likely the team members. We can adjust our sidebar to display only the people we talk to most often, therefore reducing the time we need to spend each time scanning for a person or a channel. (shortcut tip here: CMD+T/CTRL+T and we can easily jump to the specific conversation).

Slack preferences screen showing “Show” section with “Unread conversations, plus your Starred section” option selected.

If our organization uses paid Slack we also create sections to manage conversations even better.

Mute noisy channels

Some channels that we would like to mark with a star can be noisy. For example a general channel for general announcement or a channel for our office if the company has multiple. It’s good to be up to date with company news but being a part of the channel can be annoying if anyone using it adds @here, or @channel before each message. Fortunately, we can easily mute them.

Mute channel option displayed

Use My keywords

However if we mute the channel we miss something that we are interested in (for example, in the company I work for there is a channel for a local office and it used to have a daily message that a sandwich guy came - with a @here obviously - which annoyed people not interested in buying a sandwich), or we would like to know when someone mentions us in the conversation. Especially in a thread discussion where we don’t see the discussion at the first glance. We can have both, we can mute the channel and get notifications, by using “My keywords”.

Slack preferences screen showing “My keywords” section.

and this is how it looks in a discussion (it’s highlighted):

Slack message with a highlighted word.

Use public channels instead of private

Last thing that maybe is not a personal tip, but rather an organizational decision, but I like this idea very much and we can always encourage our company to follow this approach.

public channels encourage collaboration

If anyone can join, they can have interesting input to the discussion. If we don’t let people in, we may miss it. Obviously, there are cases when we want to keep the conversation private, like salary discussion, but other than that it’s good to default to public.

ad hoc conversations introduce a mess

It’s better to manage specific topics by keeping a channel focused on that topic. It could be a team channel, event channel (like company party) or a topic channel (like news). When we use conversations with specific people we can quickly get lost which conversation to use next. For example we can have a discussion between 2 software developers and a project manager. After some time they come across a design issue so they involve a designer. Later on a configuration issue happens so they involve an administrator. The last discussion becomes very technical so they create another conversation without the project manager and the designer. So we end up with 4 conversations:

  • software dev 1, software dev 2, project manager,
  • software dev 1, software dev 2, project manager, designer
  • software dev 1, software dev 2, project manager, designer, administrator,
  • software dev 1, software dev 2, administrator.

everyone can manage the channels they belong to

If we used public channels with the example above and combine this with threads we can firstly discuss things in threads not involving the project manager for example, or the designer could leave then the channel if he or she is no longer needed. If we have private conversations, people don’t want to leave the channel because they cannot rejoin, but they don’t also need to get all the notifications.

Summary

Slack is a tool that helps us make remote communication easier. But it also can introduce a lot of distraction into our work. We can fight with that by disabling notifications, muting all the sounds to avoid switching context. We can also limit the amount of conversations displayed in the app to find the correct one quicker. We can mute noisy channels and select only the information that we care about using My keywords. Finally we can encourage using public channels in our company to avoid a mess of ad hoc conversations and promote collaboration.

References

[1]: Newport, Cal. Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World. Grand Central Publishing; 1 edition, 2016. Print.