Whether you’ve been working from home for a decade or have been thrust into the remote office for the first time, navigating the minefield of text-only communication can be dense, difficult, and draining. Slack is the go-to communication program for many remote offices, but used improperly, you could end up unintentionally annoying all your coworkers.
“Digital communication is much more challenging than physical communication, because it lacks the ability to really transfer tone well,” explains Elaine Swann, etiquette expert and founder of the Swann School of Protocol. “The inflections in our voice get lost, and we’re not able to hear or emphasize body language that sometimes speaks louder than words.” Couple that with notification overload and water cooler talk spamming your work channels, and you’re bound to get a little frustrated with your colleague’s Slack usage—or vice versa.
If you’re new to an organization, it helps to go through the Slack history to see what the style is—do people joke around a lot? Do casual conversations mix with work, or do people use a lot of emoji? That’ll get you a long way to feeling like part of the in crowd. But above all else, there are a few best practices you should follow to avoid driving people nuts.
Reply in Threads When Possible, and Turn On Notifications If Necessary
When the creative juices are flowing, you’ll likely have multiple conversations happening at once in a given channel. The Threads feature in Slack allows you to organize the chaos. “As someone who has a love/hate relationship with the red notification bubble, when colleagues properly use the Thread feature it reduces notifications for conversations that don’t need my attention,” says Natalie Schoen, a senior media strategist at BAM Communications. “Should my attention end up being needed in a specific thread, simply @ me in.” (This also cuts down on @here and @channel, one of the most oft-scorned tools in the Slack arsenal.) To start a thread, just hover over a message and click the Reply as Thread button.
Threads allow the conversation to continue without intermingling with other ongoing discussions, especially if only a few people are involved—or if some are in different time zones. Plus, they’re more searchable, since you can find the entire conversation attached to a keyword instead of just a single message. I find, however, that I often forget a thread exists if I don’t get notifications when new messages were posted in it. So head to Preferences > Notifications and check Notify Me About Replies to Threads if you find yourself falling behind.
One Long DM Is Better Than Many Short DMs
Speaking of notification spam, consider your direct messages (DMs) more carefully. “We have a tendency, digitally, to speak in a more clipped manner,” says Swann. “Rather than sending five short messages back to back, take a moment, collect your thoughts, and say what you’re going to say in one longer statement.” It’s easy to type as you think, but your recipient’s phone is going to start dinging off the hook, which is really distracting. Try to treat those initial DMs a bit more like you would an email—and be patient for your response, in case your coworker is busy.
Let Everyone Know Your Status With an Icon
On the surface, Slack seems like a synchronous communication tool, like the chat rooms and IM programs of old. But you can’t always expect a reply right away—if someone’s in a meeting or out of the office, you’ll end up distracting them with notifications and waiting for an answer that may not come.