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10.01.2022 Organisation & Processes

Writing and structuring messages with Slack

Writing and structuring messages with Slack

It’s no surprise that all of your colleagues work vastly differently from each other. Some really don’t mind all the noise that Slack brings. But others will feel continuously interrupted, like each notification sends them two steps backwards. 

It’s important to know how to help support your team in the individual ways they need, and give the best advice on how they should set up their working environment. After all, a happy team is a hardworking team. 

We’ve been using Slack for a long time here at JOIN, and feel confident that we’ve built up some great guidelines and best practices. Especially since more and more people are working from remote locations, instant messaging tools are essential to the smooth running of teams. 

In this article, you’ll find discussions on how we think it’s best to set up your notifications, how to properly communicate online, as well as some ‘Slack hacks’ that we use everyday. 

Check out: 

Less distractions

No matter what your company size is, notifications can drag someone away from their flow with ease. Writing less messages, and composing the messages you do write with a little bit more grace, will save you and all your colleagues time and frustration. 

Of course, it’s a no-brainer that sending less messages will result in less notifications, but that doesn’t have to mean less communication. 

Instead of sending several small messages, you can send all the information you need to in one longer message with breaks.

Tip: To make breaks in a message simply do ‘shift-return’.

To make messages even easier to read you can also use bolding and italics for the most important parts. 

Tip: Don’t send a message that just says ‘hey’. Even if you’re following up with your main message, people often get stuck waiting for you to finish.

If the subject is complex and you think it will take someone a little while to understand, it can be considerate to ask if that person has the time to properly read and reply to your message. You can also open an in-depth message with a precursor like ‘not urgent’. This takes away the pressure of them replying straight away. 

Even though Slack is a useful communication tool, sometimes it’s still better to set up a short meeting or send a follow up email to keep better track of larger projects. Then you can send the meeting minutes and action plans as a follow up through Slack.

Say no to spam

Maybe the amount of messages you receive isn’t overwhelming, but you’re still distracted and pulled out of your flow with all the little noises and banner notifications.

You can tell Slack how often you’d like to receive notifications. For example, you may want an update once an hour, or twice a day.

To do this go to your profile picture in the top right corner, and into notifications – notification schedule. You can then customise the times and frequency you’ll receive notifications.

image of preferences settings in Slack

Of course, you can also turn notifications off completely and control when you’re ready to read messages. If you choose to do this Slack will add a snooze indicator in your Slack profile so people know you won’t receive a message notification. If it’s important, they have the option of forcing a notification to you. 

Get cool threads 

Let’s say you’ve noticed that there are a specific group of landing pages on your website that could be easily optimised for better rankings. Of course, you’d like to work on this, and share which URLs you found, along with some opinions on how they could be improved.

To structure this, you can use the Code button (it looks like this: </>) in the formatting bar to give yourself something like this:

Example of how threads look within Slack.

Then you can use a thread for all the replies and discussions. This only notifies the channel once – when you send the code message – but not every time someone replies (unless you’re tagged), keeping interruptions to a minimum.

There’s a dedicated section in the left hand side of Slack to take you to all your threads so you can navigate quickly and catch up on all the discussions. You can also use the search bar for a thread if you remember the subject. 

Using pins

Way back when we were using physical paper to keep notes and reminders, there was always a point that you just couldn’t find that really great idea you had in your notebook. 

Now we’re doing everything digitally, this problem is still around. Luckily there’s a really simple way to eradicate that frustration forever. 

If you, or someone in your team, sends a message that includes important information, or something that you would like to review later, then you can pin the message for really easy access.

To pin a message, click on the three dots to the right of the message and then select ‘pin message’. You will notice that the message itself will change colour to be easily recognisable. 

Example of how to pin a message in Slack

You will also see a pinned counter at the top of the channel displaying how many messages in that channel have been pinned. You can click there to go to all pinned messages.

Scheduling messages 

People are busy bees. It’s quite often difficult to win someone’s attention during the workday – unless you have cake or a new office dog.

And I’m sure you’ve woken up in the middle of the night with the next big idea to improve employee retention. Or maybe you’re working on a product and the perfect feature release has just dawned on you. 

Whatever the situation, it’s important to be mindful of your team’s time in these moments. After all, it’s not pleasant to wake up to threads of messages or brain-dumps, so schedule them instead. 

Slack will send your message at the time you chose (at the moment these can only be in 30 minute intervals). So then when people arrive at the office, or log in from home, they’ll receive all your great ideas at the start of their day, giving everyone a chance to organise the kick-off meeting or next steps, without already being bogged down in the day-to-day. 

To schedule a message go to the channel or person that you want to speak to, write your message and then click the down arrow next to the paper plane ‘send’ icon. You can then select to send a message for either the next working day or the coming Monday at 9am. There’s also a custom option, so you can choose the best hour to send your message. 

Once you’ve scheduled your messages, you can see all the upcoming outgoing messages that you’ve scheduled in the sidebar.

Formatting

Formatting basically makes you less boring (which we all need help with, let’s face it). 

Slack has just given us a nice update to clean up this formatting bar, so let’s explore:

  • Using the formatting bar in the text box we can do several things that you can see below; bolding, italics and strikethroughs are all aesthetic styling and makes your longer update messages read a lot easier, giving your readers the opportunity to scan your message and get the most important information from it. 
  • Code and Code Block are great for either using threads with a particular topic, or gives developers the opportunity to edit and check code with someone else over Slack. 
  • Block Quotes are great if you need to copy and paste a message from someone else, so that it’s clear the message wasn’t written by yourself originally. 
  • Bullet points and numbered lists are pretty self explanatory and can be used daily to communicate tasks to people, or give a short summary. 
  • Link’s are great to go to external sources and get more information on a subject. 

examples of formatting in Slack

As well as formatting written messages, Slack now allows video and audio recording, particularly useful when trying to explain how to use a new tool or a more complex task without the need for extra meetings. 

To tag, or not to tag

Here’s a good example of how you can tag people, while keeping the subject matter short and being clear with next steps. 

Each team has their own line, it’s easy to skim read, and has all the relevant tags. People even replied with emojis to convey the message was received and understood.

Tip: Review your messages before you send them out, especially when tagging people, so they only get one push notification, instead of several once you realise there’s more to say.

example of using tags in Slack

TL;DR (updates)

Sometimes you’ll have to send a long update, or details on a project that needs a little more than a few sentences of explanation. After all, you want the whole team to fully grasp the scope of your update, and give all appropriate credits to the people involved in your deployment. 

When a quick chat isn’t really enough, you will need to write much longer update messages in your #product-updates, or #team channels. 

At the end of your explanation you can add a ‘TL;DR’. You might be familiar with this from social media posts, but if not it stands for ‘too long; didn’t read’. It’s basically the shorter version of your extensive update. 

If someone doesn’t have time to go through all the information then this gives them the opportunity to quickly get the low down on the awesome things you’ve released. Later, once they have more time, they can go back and take a look through your full explanation. 

Message templates

We’ve spent a lot of time here at JOIN perfecting our Slack communication rules and guidelines. In addition to the points above, we also find it really helpful to keep a spreadsheet of handy message templates that we found ourselves rewriting over and over again – work smart, not hard.

Keep a note of all the messages you send on a regular basis in a spreadsheet. It could be weekly updates, retrospectives, or stand up notes. Then you can easily copy and paste the messages when they’re needed and make the necessary changes.  

No matter how much we enjoy using Slack and all its formatting and structuring, it’s sometimes not the ideal form of communication to use within an organisation, sometimes it’s better to set up a meeting, or follow up with an email.

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