Is Slack starting to distract? 5 steps to avoid communication overload

Are you constantly distracted by Slack notifications? Here's a step-by-step plan to combat Slack overwhelm and make internal team messaging more zen.

February 17, 2021

When people find out that The Remote Company is a team that works from 30+ countries in 14 timezones, they often immediately ask: “What apps do you use to communicate?”

The truth is, it doesn’t really matter what apps you use. What you really need is a mutual understanding of how you all communicate.

Like many other companies, we use Slack for our internal communication. Though the tool is meant to optimize team messaging, we often find ourselves feeling overwhelmed whenever we enter the Slackosphere.

To prevent our team from working efficiently and focused because they’re constantly notified (and distracted) by incoming messages, we came up with a step-by-step plan to combat Slack overwhelm.

“Let me quickly check this notification”

When Slack was acquired by Salesforce, journalist Casey Newton tweeted: ”Salesforce is paying $28 billion for an app that people shut down when they need to get things done.”

Ha! It’s funny because it’s true!

With our team working from different time zones, we’re constantly open for business. As you can imagine, our Slack channels are non-stop. Support messages, online brainstorms, private chats, random messages, creative day recaps, birthday greetings, funny GIFs, Netflix recommendations… and then we didn’t even get to the important announcements.

If you’re like me, you constantly feel the urge to check every notification. Just so you’re not “missing out on anything.” Which is truly exhausting.

That’s why one day I sat down and crafted our internal Slack rules for a happier team!

Step 1: Organize Slack

A set of clear rules is the main indicator of how successful your virtual communication will be. When writing down your guidelines, make sure you think about how you can involve the team.

These are the five Slack rules each team member follows: 

  1. Star (⭐ ) the channels that you use the most, and/or those connected to your team.

  2. Mute the channels that are not essential right now.

  3. Leave the channels that are no longer relevant.

  4. Get specific. It’s better to have more dedicated channels than combining several topics in one channel. This helps people search for information more easily.

  5. Everyone can create channels. They should be announced in the #general channel (and for us, added to a channel list on Notion as well).

Step 2: Update Slack statuses

We’re not in an office where we can quickly pass by someone’s desk to see if they’re available. To keep people up-to-date on our whereabouts, we use our statuses.

When do we update our Slack status?

  • By default, people add the flag from the country they’re currently at, so others can easily see the timezone (🇮🇩 Indonesia GMT+7)

  • We encourage everyone to do focused work throughout the day. During these time blocks we set our status to Do not disturb, with the time that we’ll be available again (🚫 back at 4 PM LT time)

  • When we step away from our laptop, we’ll update our status accordingly (🍒 Lunch, 🧘 Yoga)

  • If we are on holidays, we mention that we're not in the office and add the return date (🌴 Vacationing until Aug 3rd)

Whenever we have a focus-work status, other team members know that they should probably not bother you and either save their question or ask someone else. 

However, if someone has the Do Not Disturb mode on (look for the sleepy Z sign), you can shoot your shot since the person won’t receive notifications anyway.

Apart from our statuses, we also add our email addresses in our Slack profiles, as well as a phone number that can be used for emergencies.

Step 3: Introduce asynchronous communication

While Slack enables real-time messaging, we’re big fans of asynchronous communication.To prevent our team from working inefficiently or losing focus because they’re constantly notified (and distracted) by incoming messages, we came up with a step-by-step plan to combat Slack overwhelm.

Working in different time zones means we can’t expect real-time answers from everyone. But even if we could have real-time conversations, it’s better to not stimulate this within your team. This way, people know that they can reply whenever they have the time, and not feel pressured to answer all incoming messages immediately.

Step 4: Message with intent

Though we are in favor of over-communicating on Slack (so everyone is involved and informed), we do use mentions very sparingly.

For example, did you know that on Slack:

If your message is not relevant for the entire channel, simply @mention the people to whom it may concern. 

Or, if your message isn’t urgent, skip the mention altogether and just post your content in the channel without the @. We also reply in one thread (less scrolling, cleaner overview).

Furthermore, we encourage members to ask their questions in the right channels. 

For example, at The Remote Company, a message like ‘The app isn’t loading, can someone have a look?’ is not posted in our general chat.

Instead, we have www channels for each business (mailerlite-www, ycode-www, etc.) where information like this can be shared.

When people share a technical issue (a merge request, issue, commit, webpage, comment, etc.), it’s best to include a link, screenshot and/or any other relevant information.

The person responsible can then reply. But instead of a simple ‘I’ll take a look at it’, we encourage team members to write their action plan, give an estimated timeframe and if needed, a message to write to our customers. The people involved should post updates afterward, so everyone stays in the loop.

Step 5: Create as many channels as you need

We have over 250 channels on Slack. It sounds like a lot, but the thing is, they’re all very specific.

Every team has channels for different topics. If we see too many discussions in one channel, we move the conversation into a new dedicated one.

For example, after realizing that one big chat was a little too hectic, our content team created three content channels that each have a different purpose:

  • #marketing_content, where writers post texts to proofread and discuss grammar and style things with each other

  • #text_edits, where everyone in the company can ask for proofreading help and inform writers about mistypes they found in our products or websites

  • #new-content-releases, where the entire team is informed about newly published content

All of our Slack channels are organized in a few different categories:

  • Entire team: Including channels like #recordings (team meeting replays), #birthday-wishes, #holidays (integrated with LeaveDates), #kudos and #like-share-care (for our social media posts)

  • Dedicated channels: With channels like #beer-night (to discuss a staycation event), #creative_day, #data-requests and #cool-customers (to spotlight customer creations that rock)

  • Social groups: Everything from #questionaday to #goodtunes, #travel-advice, #ufc, #garden, #dadjokes, #spanish and #personalfinance (about stonks, F.I.R.E., ETFs, etc.)

  • Customer support: A mix of channels for different shifts (e.g. #day-shift), technical channels like #deliverability and uplifting words in #proud-moments

  • Design and developers: A total of eleven channels, such as #development, #github-notifications and #dev-frontend

  • Marketing: Channels for SEO (#seo-optimization), paid ads (#marketing-ads), marketing (#marketing-projects) and video (#video_content)

  • MailerLite: With channels like #academy (for all things MailerLite Academy), #mailerlite-www (website development) and #mailerlite-app

  • MailerCheck: Including a #mailercheck general channel, #mailercheck-releases, #mailercheck-development, etc.

  • MailerSend: With channels like #marketing_mailersend, #mailersend-sales and #mailersend-support-team.

  • Ycode: Including a general #ycode channel, but also #ycode-support, #ycode-www, #ycode-release-notes and more.

On to you! Creating your own zen Slackosphere

Before you create your own rules, first take inventory of what is already working really well in your team. Then, think about the things that disturb and overwhelm you personally. Why does it happen and how can you change it?

You might find that you’re getting too many messages, and the solution is to introduce clearer ways to communicate.

Or, maybe the information is too cluttered? This can be solved by having more dedicated channels.

If you find yourself constantly distracted by Slack, the problem could lie in not having enough muted channels and focus-work time blocks.

In short, we love Slack as an inclusive virtual communication tool. But just like with any other tool, there should be clear instructions (not assumptions) on how to use it. Only then you can get the most out of it.

Does your team have communication rules for Slack? Share them below!

Ilma

I’m Ilma, COO at The Remote Company. I love seeing our customers succeed. When they win, we win.

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