We’ve recently written several useful etiquette guides describing how we work here at JOIN. Our rules for meetings guide includes how to prepare for meetings, how to write minutes, and how to follow up after a meeting. We’ve also created a separate virtual meetings and zoom etiquette guide to help you still run smooth meetings when working remotely.
Below, you can find the next etiquette guide in our series. This Slack etiquette guide has been iterated many times before its final state, but the guide we have now helps us immensely with communication and focus.
Hopefully, it’ll help within your organisation, too!
Below we’ll discuss:
- Why write a Slack etiquette guide?
- Rules for Channels
- Keeping channels to a minimum
- Rules for DMs
- Rules for tags
- General rules for writing messages
- After work hours
- Implementing your etiquette guide
Why is writing a Slack etiquette guide important?
Communication, planning, and the consideration of your entire team is essential, not only for great teamwork and clear communication during the busiest stages of your start-up journey. But also for the wellbeing of everyone throughout the organisation.
It can be a huge drain on people’s focus and concentration when there are sometimes too many notifications popping up to count. Plus, everybody’s habits are different.
Some people type several short messages out, while others naturally write longer updates. Some people are worried about explicitly tagging someone in a channel which means the message gets missed, leading to delays in projects. Other people will tag the whole channel to get their query looked at, which isn’t ideal either.
That’s why it’s great to have rules (which are actually not made to be broken). This way everyone knows what’s expected of them and they can communicate appropriately as everyone is on the same page.
Rules for channels
There are several different ways to set up your channels. The most useful way we’ve tried is having channels dedicated to different areas of work—usually split between; fun, projects, and teams. You can get a more detailed look at how we break down our channels within our article dedicated to channels and teams in Slack.
Within channels it’s fairly straightforward. It goes without saying that only messages specifically related to that topic are discussed within the channel.
Furthermore, questions, queries, and statements can be sent directly to the entire channel and you can tag the responsible people that need to take a look into it. Answers to the question in the channel should only go within the thread of that message.
So, for example, let’s say we have a project channel called #Proj-SEO for ranking improvements, which was one of our KPIs this year (that’s why we have a channel specifically for that).
So, the question goes straight in the channel—easy. We’ve tagged the relevant people here, too, so they’ll know there’s at least an FYI message waiting for them.
But there are only replies here, there is no discussion in the channel. The reason is simple. When you post a reply to a message, only the tagged people will get the notification—not every person that’s included in the channel itself.
This makes it so much nicer to communicate. There’s no more frustration about the volume of notifications someone is receiving, and it’s also so much easier to follow a subject when it’s all in one thread.
Now, if we want to come back and recap what was said later, we just need to remember a keyword from the message, like ‘SEO issues’. We can search the channel and find the thread—no more scrolling through endless messages to get a better understanding.
Keeping channels to a minimal
Hold on, didn’t we just discuss why it’s a great idea to have a channel per project?
What we mean by keeping channels to a minimum is not cluttering your space. To keep tidy you can:
- Archive channels when they’re no longer in use.
- Leave channels that are no longer relevant to you.
- Create channels only when big discussions are needed – keep creating channels to a minimum.
Rules for DMs
According to our own stats at JOIN, communicating through direct messages is still the most popular way to talk. Around 70% of all the messages sent within our organisation are sent through a direct message, as opposed to within a channel.
Having said that, we try to encourage everyone to communicate mostly within channels over DMs.
Our logic about this is pretty simple. If one person has a question about something, it’s pretty likely that other people have had the same thoughts, or maybe more than one person can give some insight on the question or problem that person is having. Two heads are better than one, after all.
Rules for tags
A lot of people find it confusing to know the appropriate way to use tags in Slack. There are several different types, let’s take a quick look:
1. @channel will send a push notification about your message to everyone in that channel, regardless of if they are online or offline.
2. @here will send a notification to everyone that’s currently online and a member of that channel.
3. Team mentions – for example @devs, @content-team. These tags will notify everybody that sits within that team.
Tagging people that are involved in a certain project or discussion is fine. Tagging people for CCs and FYIs at the end of a discussion is also great, especially if action plans have been taken or decisions have been made.
The only really hard rule we have for tagging is using the @channel prompt, which notifies each individual in the channel with a push notification.
The rule for this is only in extreme circumstances. For example, maybe the website goes down, or maybe there’s some kind of emergency like the office alarm has been set off (yes, it’s happened to us a few times). Only in these extreme cases do we use the ‘here’ tag.
We treat it like a ‘boy who cried wolf’ situation. If we use the ‘here’ tag a lot, then people become complacent. If you use it when not everyone in the channel really needs to be notified, then people will stop reacting so fast. Then, of course, when a real emergency happens, no one will act as fast as you need them to.
General rules for message formatting
Firstly, you shouldn’t write someone a greeting without any other context or message content. Usually once someone’s been pinged they’ll wait for the rest of the message, so when sending just a ‘hello’ you should assume you’re leaving the receiver hanging until you send your actual request message.
Secondly, make your messages easy to read and understand. You can use line breaks to split your points, and emoji’s to make it more fun.
We also have a dedicated article on writing and structuring messages in Slack.
After work hours
Firstly, nobody in your organisation should be expecting replies once the workday has been completed. Unless you’re the one person that can help fix an urgent problem, don’t make responses a habit.
If you’re an employee there are a few things that you should practise.
- If possible you should only use the Slack application on devices that you use for work. For example, if you have a work phone don’t also download Slack on your personal phone.
- Once you’re done with work for the day you should make a habit of muting your notifications for the evening or weekend. If the thought of this makes you anxious you can set yourself a buffer time to put your mind at ease. For example, if you finish work usually at 5, you can receive notifications until 6 (just in case).
If you’re a CEO or a team leader, you can:
- Avoid sending your team messages after hours. This will do more than stopping their phone buzzing, it will also show you respect their time and mental health.
- Communicate early on that turning off notifications after the work day is done is an expectation.
Tip: You can now set a notification schedule that will automatically pause notifications during your down time. To do this go to your profile picture, pause notifications, set a notification schedule. See the example below:
Implementing the etiquette guide
Making everyone aware of your new Slack etiquette is to let them know in a company meeting that you regularly have. It could be a ‘lunch-n-learn’ or a company update.
The problem with doing these things through email, or even Slack itself, is that people are too busy. They’ll scan your rules, but when it comes to directly using them, they’ll most likely forget.
So, firstly, introduce the rules in a company-wide setting, explain why they’re necessary and important, and give clear, concise rules—don’t over engineer this.
Secondly, make a document that outlines the rules you’ve chosen with examples. You can pin this to each channel in Slack so that people can revisit the rules whenever they need.
Lastly, make sure to explain these rules to new starters. It is much easier to get used to rules from the beginning instead of getting used to a certain way of doing things, and having to change your approach later on.
So, to recap:
- Set rules for channels and direct messages.
- Set rules for when to tag people and when to tag everyone.
- Write a document giving explicit examples of your rules, and pin this to each Slack channel.
- Introduce your rules to new starters.