10 Keys to a Successful Slack

06/03/2022 by Jason Atwood
Are you starting to use Slack or struggling to get the most out of it? These are the keys to a great Slack experience.

We have been using Slack for over five years at Arkus (remember this post), and we love it. It went from a simple replacement for instant messaging to a key part of our workflow. 95% of our internal communications now happen over Slack and we have built out many processes and business workflows that start and end in Slack. We use forms, channels, huddles, reactions, and rely heavily on threads to keep things sane. A few months ago, we got the greatest compliment, that we have deployed Slack better than Salesforce has.

Slow Your Slack

One of the reasons we have implemented Slack so well is that we treated it like any other tool in our arsenal. We started with a pilot and a small group, learned from that experience, documenting as we went.

When we rolled it out, we trained the employees, provided feedback and thorough documentation for easy reference. As the years passed we updated and added to our policies around Slack, building standards and best practices. Finally, we built it into our onboarding where everyone gets trained on Slack, just like email, Salesforce, or calendars. 

Here are some things we learned along the way… 

10 Keys to a Successful Slack

1. Build Standards

The first key to a great Slack experience is to make sure you treat it like any other communication channel and create standards. Standards outline what should and should not be done in Slack. Politics? Religion? Inappropriate images? Just like you don’t want those in your corporate email, you don’t want them in Slack either. Document when people should use Slack and when they shouldn’t. 

2. Turn Off Notifications 

Like all applications that come out of the box, they want our attention. Constantly. Unless your organization is using it for emergency responses, encourage employees to turn off all notifications in Slack both on the desktop and mobile. Once everything is off, use the very granular Slack settings to turn on certain types of notifications that make sense for either an important channel or process. 

3. Slack in Sprints 

Just like email, Slack shouldn’t be the main focus of work all day. It is just a way of communicating about work. So like email, shut it down when you are not communicating to create easier and better times of focus. Run Slack in sprints, which is to open it up, go through important Slack messages, and close it down. No, you don’t have to see that latest meme in the social channel right now. Leave that for later.

4. Ask to Change the Channel

Long before Slack was invented we used this technique for phones and email, which is to be cognizant of when that channel of communication isn’t working and change it. Many times in a Slack I will ask someone to send me an email or to start up a document to ping me in. Having a hard conversation? Pick up the phone. Going back and forth in a thread, jump on a quick meeting. 

5. Less is More

When it comes to channels, less is way more. Document what channels are mandatory and which are for fun. The #human-resource channel is something that everyone should be paying attention to but #cats-are-great and #new-york-jets-superfans can be ignored. Make sure every channel has a description and points to real documentation on the use of that channel. Another tip is to make sure every channel has an owner that is responsible for the content, upkeep, and documentation around that channel. Make sure to have a catch all channel for everything else and encourage everyone to use it. Ours is #social which started off as a place for tweets, but now is just for all things personal or that don’t fit in another channel. 

6. Mute Channels

While you can try to slow down the Kudzu-like spread of channels, it is almost impossible to keep them under control. That is where muting becomes a key to success. Mute channels that you are in, but are not important for work. Sure, I love #nfl-football, but I mute that channel so it is not distracting while I get things done throughout the day. If Monday Night Football is on, I might jump in and join the fun.

7. Encourage Threads (JHT)

If you are not using threads in your Slack channels, you are probably hating life. Not only should you train people on how to use threads when they get Slack, but encourage people to use them. At Arkus, if fictional Sally were to slip out of the thread, sometimes, just maybe, she would get a threaded reply with “SHT” which stands for “Sally Hates Threads” followed by a smile emoji to keep it all playful and fun.

8. Rearrange Work in Sidebar

A great feature of Slack allows you to create custom sections in the sidebar for grouping of things. This is a nice place to put current project channels or people that you are working with on a daily basis. I have sections for my direct reports, clients I am engaged with, and social things, where I put all the fun channels to check into when I have time. 

9. Capture Next Actions

There are a lot of drawbacks on Slack such as long term storage, searchability, and read state, but a big one is that it is not a good tool for your “next actions.” Someone Slacks you with a work request? Capture that somewhere else. While there is a feature to remind you of things, it is not a list manager, and certainly doesn’t excel at tasking and lighter project management. 

10. Don’t Use Slack 

Slack is just a tool and like all shiny new tools the urge is to use it for everything. Daily meetings? Use Slack! Performance reviews? Use Slack! Interviews? Use Slack! While I am sure Salesforce would be happy with the #use-slack-for-everything channel other tools still have better functions and purposes. Email is still the best external communication tool and calendars with conferencing software is still the king of meetings. This isn’t Lord of the Rings, you don’t need one tool to rule them all. 

Are you starting to use Slack or struggling to get the most out of it? Start up a conversation with me on Twitter @JasonMAtwood