By Paola Pascual on Sep 24, 2021 4:44:29 AM
Whether you’ve been working remotely for ages or were shoved into working from home as the pandemic started, navigating digital communication can be tricky. Slack is a messaging app for businesses that aims to streamline internal communications. It is dethroning emails –if it hasn’t done so yet–, and we love it. It is easy to use, communication is fast, and collaboration is streamlined. However, you must be aware of all the unique unwritten rules about written communication, as misusing Slack could result in decreased productivity and miscommunication.
In this article, you will learn some important Slack best practices that will help you and your team improve internal communication. We will look at how to craft the message itself, with a heavy focus on language, and how to interact with others. In the last section, we will provide some easy tips and tricks to make the most of this tool. Enjoy the ride!
Crafting the message
Writing Slack messages is not the same as writing emails. And it’s not the same as texting. Slack might be something in between –more casual than emails but more professional than other Instant Messaging (IM) tools. The following recommendations will help you craft a message that is polite, professional, and clear. You can also download this guide as PDF for reference.
#1 Get familiar with your colleagues’ communication styles
When you join a new Slack group, it takes some time to adjust. Each company has its own internal rules, and each individual has their own communication style. You can always ask straight away, but sometimes we don’t really know how to describe unwritten rules and habits. An effective way to find out is to go back and read through previous messages to get a sense of how people interact. This will allow you to adapt faster and tailor your messages to your team’s preferences.
#2 Keep it professional at all times
This might be stating the obvious, but remember to keep your messages professional at all times. You are interacting in a professional setting, and although your managers might not be monitoring every single thing you say, they could. Or someone could take a screenshot of what you said and spread it around.
Regardless of how angry or emotional you feel, refrain from discussing delicate topics in Slack. Without seeing body language or hearing tone of voice, things can be taken the wrong way and it can complicate the situation even more. If you need to discuss something touchy or want to make a remark outside of your professional scope, have a video call or take it offline. Needless to say, do not complain about colleagues or engage in gossiping. You could get in legal trouble.
#3 Write fewer messages
In pursuit of keeping your colleagues happy –and avoid multiple unnecessary notifications– combine everything you have to say in one message. One longer message is better than multiple short ones. If you still prefer to send separate messages about the same topic in a channel, at least add them as a thread discussion.
- Quick tip: To draft a message with multiple paragraphs, press Shift+Return to create line breaks.
#4 Greet the other person briefly
At the beginning of every conversation, it is customary to start with a brief “Hi” or “Hey”. “Hi” is friendly and professional for Slack messages, so when in doubt, I’d recommend using this greeting. If you are slacking a colleague you know well, you can use the more informal “Hey.”
- Quick tip: Do not send people “Hi” or “Hey” without including the rest of your message! It will keep them waiting for your answer.
Unlike with emails, in this tool, you can drop any other introductory phrases (like “I hope you’re doing well). It is totally OK to say “I hope you had a nice weekend” to a colleague, but don’t feel that you have to.
#5 Be direct and concise
Skip the formalities and get straight to the point. Being concise is generally good advice, but even more so when using Slack or any other IM tool.
Many of us are prone to include all sorts of details and information, but we (aka I) have learned that less is more, and when we add lots of details, people are more likely to miss the point. If you can use fewer words to express the same message, do it. Short is usually better. For example:
- Wordy: There were three documents that I personally would like to proofread.
- Concise: I would like to proofread these three documents.
#6 Always provide context
Now, being concise does not mean communicating in hieroglyphics. One of the major challenges of written communication stems from the lack of context. The reason that misinterpreting a written message is fairly easy is that we tend to understand reality based on our own frame of mind. To avoid free interpretations, formulate your message so that other people can understand what you’re referring to.
If the topic hasn’t been discussed in Slack, provide a brief introduction or add a short summary. If it has, reply to that previous message in a thread and share it in the channel. That way, everyone will be able to see it and they can click in the thread for more context.
#7 Use message prefixes
I must say I don’t do this very often myself, but I do find it extremely useful. Especially when a channel gets quite noisy, your team needs to find ways to organize the messages. By asking people to add prefixes to all messages in the channel, the participants will be able to understand if that message requires action [CTA], if they are asking for help [HELP], or if this is just some (potentially) useful information [FYI]. Talk to your team about what prefixes make sense for your organization and start using them.
#8 Write properly… At least kind of
Although we tend to use more casual language in Slack, you still need to stay professional, so make sure you use correct grammar and spelling. If you spot a mistake in one of your messages, edit the actual message (instead of writing a new line with the correct spelling/grammar).
As a rule of thumb, don’t abbreviate words, unless you are using a business abbreviation that everyone understands.
- OK abbreviation: BTW the customer called today
- (Generally) not OK abbreviation: tbh i dunno.. they prolly just need a quote tho
Using clear, proper English will help you get your point across, but you don’t need to write perfect sentences. Aim for good English, but don’t stress about dropping an article or not starting every sentence with a capital letter.
#9 Drop your periods
Here’s a clear example of not needing to write perfect sentences. When writing in Slack, you can drop the period at the end of your message. In fact, some might argue that you should not use them at the end of your message, as some people (especially younger ones) see them as a signal that you are angry or annoyed. In a 2016 study, researchers found that university students rated texts that ended with periods as less sincere than those that ended without one.
You can also do without ellipsis (...) at the end of a sentence. It often implies that you are being negative or condescending. Others might understand that you’re not saying what you really want to say.
- Example: We can go over this again…
#10 Set response expectations
State how quickly you need a reply. For most people, Slack involves being as responsive as possible, and unless you have activated “Do Not Disturb”, you might be expected to reply within 15-20 minutes. This Slack culture can easily lead to an unhealthy relationship with work, and your work-life balance will consequently suffer. To avoid this inconvenience, get into the habit of specifying how fast you need your colleagues to respond. The more specific, the better!
- Quick tip: At Talaera, we have implemented a code to take the pressure off when something is not urgent. When we message outside of business hours, we write NFN, which stands for “Not For Now”. This is our way of telling each other, “Please do not reply to this message now; it’s not urgent. Reply whenever you’re working and available.”
If your team is located in different time zones, you will appreciate Timezone Butler. The tool automatically translates the time you typed into your colleagues’ individual time zone. So next time you need to specify a time (for a deadline or an upcoming meeting) to your overseas peers, use this Slack app to save time.
#11 Use the right level of (in)formality
Before reading what we have to say about the level of formality in Slack, first find out how people usually communicate within your company (check tip #1).
In general, your Slack messages should be professional, but you can still keep a friendly tone. Oftentimes people add optimism with exclamation points and smiley faces. However, if your team has a generational mix, misinterpretations are easy to arise. While millennials and younger team members tend to text more informally, older generations usually follow grammar and punctuation rules more strictly. If a millennial uses more formal language, they might be keeping you at arms’ length. There’s no easy solution, but setting some expectations together can go a long way.
#12 Avoid passive sentences
In general, try to avoid passive sentences. Passive voice means that the subject of the sentence is not the one doing the action but receiving it. It is grammatically correct, but it doesn’t make it clear who should do the action. Active voice and imperatives, on the other hand, add more accountability and clarity.
- Passive voice: The document should be downloaded.
- Active voice: Users should download the document.
#13 Use consistent words or terms
Make your messages more searchable by using consistent words or terms across the different channels. If you are considering offering English training to your employees, for example, it will make your life easier down the line if you always use “English training” to refer to this specific idea, instead of mixing it up with “English classes” or “English course.”
You can also use codes for the different projects or campaigns you’re working on and add them to your message every time you mention something relevant to it.
- Example: Hey team, I’ve just uploaded the slides for our Brand Awareness campaign (BA2021), please check them out!
#14 Avoid sarcasm
Humor is all fun and games... Until it’s not. It depends heavily on culture (and age, and a number of other factors), and jokes don’t always translate well. While humor can lighten up a conversation and help you get through a dense Monday, our recommendation is to avoid it in Slack unless you are certain that the other people will understand and enjoy it. The same goes for sarcasm. Especially in written English, people might not be able to distinguish between a serious message and a sarcastic one. If you are slacking across cultures or if your channels include people you don’t know well, avoid humor in your Slack messages.
GIFs - Yay or nay?
I would say the same rule applies. If you have the slightest doubt, avoiding GIFs is a good rule of thumb. Only use them if you are certain that the other people will understand and appreciate them. Remember that some channels are more informal than others –you wouldn’t communicate with close colleagues the same way you would communicate with the CEO of your company. The same applies to Slack.
#15 Be mindful of idioms
Idioms are phrases or expressions that usually convey a figurative, non-literal meaning. For example, if I tell my friend “Break a leg!” before a performance on stage, I am only wishing her good luck –I am obviously not wishing her to literally break a leg.
We love idioms, but if you are interacting with a multicultural, international group of people, you should try to be as literal as possible. This will help you communicate more effectively and avoid having to clarify.
- Example with idioms: It seems we now have the upper hand
- Example without idioms: It seems we are now in a position of power
#16 Format your messages - especially longer ones
Make your longer messages easier to read by formatting them. Don’t write a wall of text. Instead, separate your text with blank line breaks. Use bold and italic, bulleted lists, and emojis to make your message skim-friendly.
#17 Avoid all caps
STOP USING CAP LETTERS TO EMPHASIZE A POINT! Sorry, I didn't mean to yell. Do not use all caps to highlight important information; use bold instead or add emojis to draw attention.
#18 Common mistakes
As we mentioned previously, don’t stress too much about writing grammatically perfect sentences. It is more important to be mindful of your team’s cultural differences and communication styles than to focus on writing the perfect message. However, we have spotted some common mistakes coming from non-native speakers in typical Slack phrases. You can download this guide in PDF, read through the common mistakes, and check if you are making any of them.
Like with any other form of communication, it is not only about sending a message. Interacting with others is an essential part of Slack communication, and its rules are different from what we learned at school or what we might be used to.
#19 Use threads. ALWAYS.
Threads are your friend. Use them. Always. By replying to a message in a thread you will make your conversations easier to follow and you will reduce noise in the channel.
- Quick tip: When an important message is sent in a discussion thread, click the Also send to #channel checkbox below your message. This will share it in the channel so that others who aren’t following the thread can see it.
#20 Use @tags
Tag people when you message them in a public channel. This will notify the specific person and make it always clear who you are speaking to.
- Example: @Anna thanks for deploying
It is also polite to tag people when you mention them in a public channel, even if you don’t expect an answer from them.
- Example: Hi team, we’re opening an issue for website access issues. @Max received user feedback this morning and it’s our top priority to fix
How to use @channel and @here
@channel notifies everyone in the channel, regardless of them being active or not. If there is a problematic bug and you need to notify engineering or the roof is on fire, this tag can come in handy.
@here only notifies those people in the channel who are active when you send the message. Those who are not active will not be instantly notified. You can use this tag for announcements that are not time-sensitive. Or if you would like to get feedback from your team and it is not urgent.
#21 Acknowledge receipt of messages
There are few things more dreaded than sending a message in a public channel and hearing crickets. Don’t do this to your colleagues and acknowledge that you have read the message. If you don’t have an immediate response, tell them (with words or with an emoji, like the checkmark ✅).
#23 Praise publicly, criticize privately
If you would like to congratulate a colleague or pass on good feedback, you can do it in a public channel and mention them. However, if the remark is negative, we always recommend doing it in a private conversation. Just like you would do in person.
#22 Use emojis... Or not 🙂
If you asked us a few years ago, we might have provided a different answer. However, times are changing and so are our communication habits. Emojis were saved for our private life, and we used to use them only with friends and family. However, they have been sneaking into our workplaces and most people would consider them totally acceptable for Slack interactions.
Emojis are more frequent among younger professionals, but it is increasingly common to see colleagues of all ages and backgrounds use them in Slack these days. In the absence of body language, they provide useful aids to make your language clearer, particularly emotions. They also add friendliness and help you soften the message.
Always think of the members of a channel before deciding whether an emoji is a good idea or not. If the VP of your company is in the channel and you don’t know them very well, you may want to refrain from using emojis –unless they are well established in your organization.
One thing to bear in mind! When it comes to communication, culture always plays a role, and emojis aren’t exempt. Some emojis might change meaning from one country to another. Pinching fingers, for example, is a sign of annoyance in Italy, while in Israel it means “wait”. You may also see that your German colleagues use the tongue out emoji more because "tongue in cheek" is more prevalent in their society.
#24 Follow up once
If they haven’t replied and it is an urgent matter, you can either follow up with them in a thread (for example, “@Elina, following up on my last message,” or “@Jonas, any updates here?”) or pick up the phone. Following up multiple times in Slack if they aren’t responding will only add tension to the situation.
#25 Use Slack Huddles
“That thread could’ve been a huddle” is the new “that meeting could’ve been an email.” Slack Huddles are audio calls that aim to mimic on-the-fly, in-person conversations at the office, where you just pop in and ask a question or discuss something quickly. It allows you to talk and share your screen (among other features) keeping your cameras off.
Slack Huddles are particularly helpful when you need to discuss something spontaneously without needing to have your camera on. If you need to quickly discuss a complex topic or give quick feedback, click on the “Start huddle with” in the bottom left corner and spare the unnecessary back-and-forth messages.
General Slack Best Practices
Now that you know how to craft a message and know the ins and outs of Slack interactions, we have a few additional Slack best practices to make your life and work easier.
#26 Pause notifications with Do Not Disturb
If you have a meeting, need time to focus, or will be away from work, you can pause your notifications on Slack with Do Not Disturb. You turn it on manually or set up a schedule for the times you will be off. This means that you will not receive notifications (including @mentions) and other members will see a Do Not Disturb next to your avatar. Once you turn it off, you will be able to see all the messages you received while you were away.
- Quick tip: During a presentation, a demo, or an important meeting where you will need to share your screen, close Slack altogether. It’s the safest way to make sure that you will not receive any distractions while you’re busy.
Feel free to personalize your status so people actually respect it. If you are in an important demo or you are in hyper-focus, dare to give it a little personal touch.
#27 Create separate channels for socialization
Talking about reducing noise… Create separate channels for socialization. If you are working remotely, you will also appreciate some jokes, the occasional puppy pic, or just sharing random facts with your colleagues throughout the day. Avoid this kind of casual conversation in professional channels, as they will add noise and hinder communication. Having separate channels for these interactions will make it all smoother and more organized.
Casual channel inspiration: #bookclub, #interesting-podcasts, #random-thoughts, or #virtualcoffee
Photo that might or might have not been shared in an internal Talaera channel
#28 Star, save, and important channels and conversations
Star a channel. Click on the star next to the name of an important channel and it will appear sorted at the top of your sidebar.
Save a message (for yourself). Saving a message for yourself is similar to a bookmark. Your saved messages are private and you can see them by clicking on “Saved items” on your sidebar.
Pin a message (for the whole channel). Pin specific messages and files to a conversation or channel to make it easier for members to access them in the future.
#29 See all your unread messages
Coming back to work and finding lots of unread messages is not something most of us look forward to, but you can organize all your unread messages on your sidebar. With this feature, you won’t need to sieve through all the channels to find them. To stack all your unread messages on your sidebar, you only need to go to Preferences > Sidebar > Show All Unread.
#30 Get reminders from Slackbot
If you work with teams across different time zones –like me–, you can’t help checking Slack during work hours –also like me–, and your short-term memory is that of a goldfish –sniff, that’s me, too–, you need to start using this feature. Slackbot reminders are extremely helpful when you read a message but cannot reply immediately –perhaps because you are in an important meeting or working on something else.
To schedule a Slackbot reminder, click on the three dots next to a message > Remind me about this in > and select when you would like to get the reminder.
I work from Europe and part of the Talaera team lives in the United States. When I –”accidentally”– read a message at 9 pm from my phone, I either mark it as Unread or set a Slackbot reminder. Otherwise, that message will disappear from my mind forever and beyond.
#31 Organize channels with channel prefixes
Your company can create a set of standard prefixes to keep your channels organized. Slack offers three default channel prefixes –#help, #proj, and #team, but you can personalize them to suit your company’s needs.
#32 Build healthy relationships with Slack
Slack might not be as addictive as TikTok or Instagram, but it’s still feeding you with dopamine hits as emojis roll in, and it can get distracting. Even though it’s considered an instant messaging tool, you don’t need to reply instantly to every message, any day of the week. It’s okay to turn off Slack notifications every once in a while (work-life balance stuff, you know?).
Talk to your team and set healthy boundaries. For example, you can default to a phone or WhatsApp call if something is urgent outside of business hours. We strongly recommend setting up your Slack schedule so your notifications are automatically off when you are not working. Oh, and also important –make sure you do not check for new messages every other minute.
Help your teams build stronger internal communication skills
Share this guide with your teams and encourage them to adopt healthy Slack communication habits. Get in touch if you would like to know more about our business communications training. We can tell you how other companies are bringing their international teams closer together in a virtual environment.
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