While teams have been using Slack for communication and collaboration since long before COVID-19, the platform became a good substitute for watercooler talk when working arrangements went remote. Quick conversations in the office can promote team bonding, and instant messaging can too. But the written word removes context, and always-on technology can feel intrusive. As a result, Slack can lead to misunderstandings. To get the most out of the tool, it helps to follow these rules of etiquette.
1. Establish expectations in your profile
To prevent constant Slack overflow into personal time, take a few minutes to set your profile with key information, suggests Sara Teare, cofounder of the password manager platform 1Password. “Things like their work schedule, time zone, department, focus at work, preferred pronouns, and contact information,” she says. “This is vital to set expectations around when a team member is available for a quick Slack DM, and when a less-likely-to-get-lost email is more appropriate.”
You can also update your status to alert members of your availability, adds Vicki Salemi, career expert for the job site Monster. “In turn, be respectful of colleagues’ status such as ‘working on a deadline—DND,'” she says.
2. Separate topics
“Too many conversations started unrelated to the goal of a channel means people start to tune out and ignore the channel, meaning important messages get missed,” says Teare. “Having a number of different channels with specific topics/focuses makes it easier to keep things relevant—and include channels for fun stuff, too. That way people can share cat pictures, weekend plans, and Baby Yoda memes in a place where everyone expects to see them.”
Remind employees to create clear channel descriptions, adds Salemi. “This can help reiterate the purpose of the channel in case conversations go off-track,” she says.
To boost morale, employers may encourage workers to create a #random or #bookclub channel to encourage teammates to share nonwork conversations. “This can also help steer work-related topics specifically for work as workers can turn to these nonwork channels to connect,” says Salemi.
3. Be cautious about divisive topics
Having nonwork channels helps employees bring their authentic selves to work, says Fernando Matzkin, chief business officer of North America for the software development company Globant. However, talking about politics or sports could present the opportunity to be divisive.
“Any company’s mission should be facilitating diverse spaces that allow both personal and work conversations,” he says. “To best mitigate uncomfortable or combative situations, including ones on chat, it’s crucial for organizations to take a stance on what they believe is the social norm for their organization. Some examples could be to remain respectful, act with kindness, and be inclusive. This way, everyone is equally committed to build a respectful and inclusive place, where everyone can participate and be the best version of themselves.”
4. Set norms
Once you establish the team norms, publish them and make sure they’re adopted by senior leaders, says Dan Pontefract, author of Lead. Care. Win. How to Become a Leader Who Matters.
“Many employees look up the hierarchy to model behaviors exhibited by senior leaders,” he says. “If they refrain from being civil, there is a next to zero chance employees will be civil.”
Pontefract recommends including Slack etiquette norms in onboarding or new hire orientation programs. And recognize those who demonstrate them.
Companies empower employees by leading by example, adds Salemi. “Leadership using Slack can set the bar in terms of tone and interaction as well as encouraging their employees to provide feedback to colleagues if they’re misusing it,” she says. “If inappropriate language is used, for instance, it should be addressed privately with the employee.”
5. Know when it’s not the right tool
Since Slack is easy, it’s also easy to be misused. “You wouldn’t walk into a room and yell when you just want to talk to one person, so why use Slack that way?” asks Teare. In many cases, direct messages or other tools could be more appropriate.
“Make sure that you are keeping the goal of your messages in line with how it’s being communicated,” says Teare. “Is it something everyone needs to instantly know? Slack is exactly what you need. Looking for advice on a sticky issue? Starting a thread in the right channel is the way to go. Wanting to update your address with HR? Nope, not Slack. Keep that one to email.”