It’s been two years since “Slacklash” became the go-to portmanteau for people suffering from information overload at work. But so far, all signs suggest Slack isn’t going anywhere, and lots of people actually like it. So instead of looking for ways to wean ourselves off of group chat platforms altogether, maybe it’s time instead to figure out a few ways to better deal with this brave, plaid world we’ve opted into.
For starters, Slack knows it has a notification problem and has a dedicated help page offering tips for cutting the noise, and another one for teams with hundreds or thousands of members. But many of the problems that plague large teams are too big for any one person to solve alone. Here are the most common things that make Slack an intolerable hellscape for people who just want to get work done–and what it takes to fix them.
The Firehose Effect
Ryan Osborn, VP of innovation and strategic integration at NBCUniversal, advises team leaders to think hard about their goals before indiscriminately launching new Slack channels. “I find that if you’re creating a channel without a clear purpose, it’s doomed to fail from the start,” he says. Setting a new channel’s topic and purpose in Slack helps set expectations, cut down on duplicates, and stem the general flood of information.
The key is just to be more deliberate about how channels fit together, and who needs to follow each one. One way to do that? Split out channels with prefixes that fall into some broad-based categories. Here are some common ones:
- #team-: for discussion among members of each team
- #proj-: for project-related conversations like status updates or feature brainstorming
- #links-: for sharing links (#links-talent and #links-tools are usually pretty helpful)
- #help-: for help requests (more on this in a bit)
- #fun-: for affinity groups, these channels help keep off-topic chitchat out of the main work channels
- #local-: if your team doesn’t have a physical office, these are useful for local events or meet-ups
Finally, kill #general. Rename it #announcements, restrict posting permissions to administrators, and use it to give high-fives to new hires instead.
There’s nothing quite like waking up to a @channel mention sent from a different time zone. And while it’s easy to drag less savvy users for committing the cardinal sin, who among us has never sent a DM without stopping to consider its urgency?
Slack has improved how it handles notifications a lot since launch, but it still defaults to “go ahead and interrupt me anytime.” If you’re not already turning off notifications outside work hours, start today. Encourage others to use public channels over direct messages, and do the same yourself. And practice some self-love by turning off push notifications entirely when you’re on vacation.
But if updating your own settings is half the battle, revising leaderships’ expectations is the other half. If your phone buzzes at 6 a.m. with a text from your boss and you feel obligated to reply, chances are you’ll react similarly if the same thing happens on Slack instead. If you’re really serious about changing an always-on culture, leadership needs to set the example, and it can’t just apply to Slack. Once you have you have your whole team’s buy-in, announce the new no-interruptions policy and get your Slack administrator to set default “Do Not Disturb” hours for everyone.
Who’s Even Listening?
Luckily for all of us, Slack doesn’t have read receipts. (If it did, I’m betting we’d see a sharp uptick in workplace homicide stats.) So how do you stay sane when you’re waiting on an urgent request sandwiched between a bunch of reaction GIFs?
The secret is to open up specific channels for any messages that are time-sensitive and require action (e.g. #help-benefits or #plz-edit), then assign someone to keep eyes on them. Each channel should have a clear owner who’s responsible for monitoring it and is clearly identified in the channel topic. As new messages come in, that channel owner can use emoji reactions to signal when they’ve seen () or finished (✅) addressing a request.
Benjamin Jackson is the founder of For the Win, a consulting firm that helps startups with traction adapt to support new hires. Previously, he worked at VICE as director of mobile and as a lead app developer at the New York Times. He tweets at @benjaminjackson.