Slack Etiquette For Business

Health IS Technology Blog

Slack Etiquette For Business

Slack logos

A good majority of businesses have incorporated Slack in their everyday in an effort to improve communication and transparency between their employees. In an age of instant gratification, (see: Amazon Prime, Netflix, etc.) things like email and phone calls don’t always cut it when it comes to communicating professionally. Especially with coworkers, we all want the answers to our questions as soon as possible. That’s where Slack comes in. But with any social media platform (which we can all loosely agree Slack is) comes certain risk - especially in terms of misinterpretation. That’s why it’s helpful to know a few basic etiquette tips for the messaging platform.

*All Slack scenarios and screenshots are fabricated. Any resemblance to your own Slack correspondence is purely coincidental.

Channel Etiquette

Slack gives users the ability to create channels - private or public spaces with specific topic purposes for groups of more than 2. According to Slack, there are three kinds of channels:

"Public Channels
They’re used for conversations open to all members. Anything posted to a public channel is browsable and searchable by all members, except for Guests of your Slack workspace.
Private Channels
They're for discussions that shouldn't be open to your entire workspace. You have to be invited to join a private channel to view it in Slack. A private channel has a lock icon next to its name.
Shared Channels (beta)
They're a bridge connecting a channel in your workspace with another company’s Slack workspace. Shared channels, public or private, are a great place to communicate with external contacts. A shared channel has a double diamond icon next to its name.”

Basic etiquette when creating a channel on Slack is to name it clearly, and to assign a brief and clear purpose for anyone joining.

Be Aware of What You’re Saying and Where You’re Saying It

When you’re in a private channel with, say, your close coworkers, the way you conduct yourself is going to be much different from how you do so in a public channel. For instance, if you’re having a group lunch and want to invite the members of a public channel, you might say something like:

Screenshot of Slack message announcing team lunch in a public channel

Whereas in a private channel, you’d likely be a bit more casual:

Screenshot of Slack message in a private channel

This “rule” is certainly a common sense one: be aware of what you’re saying and where. When it comes to a work forum, you should be hyper aware of the things you’re saying and how and by whom they will be received. If you’re apprehensive about sending something in a public channel, then it’s probably best not to send it at all. While your Slack messages may not be implicitly monitored at all times, remember that your employers likely do have access to them (even the ‘private’ ones) should the need for them arise. If it helps, lean into the following cliche: If you wouldn’t want it read in a courtroom, don’t say it.This being said, you shouldn’t get trigger happy with the ‘delete’ button either. Unless you’re spreading misinformation or perhaps posted something in the wrong location, deleting Slack messages can come off as highly suspicious. It’s best to just not say whatever you regret in the first place (not to mention, if you delete the beginning of the thread, the replies remain, so the fact that the original question/statement was deleted is pronounced).
Another thing to keep in mind in terms of your tone is that Slack is very different from email. Don’t type up a longform email for a simple Slack correspondence. Instant messengers are named that way for a reason - you want your message to be instantly available and instantly understandable.

To Lessen Confusion, Utilize Threads and Private Messages for Replies

Another great feature of Slack is the ability to create threads. These are essential in channel communications. Let’s say you’re having an issue uploading a file on a cloud software, so you decide to post it in your department’s public channel to see if others are having the same problem. Those responding to you have the choice to either reply in a thread, reply directly to the channel, or reply privately to you. In this instance, replying in a thread is absolutely the best option as threads don’t interrupt the normal workings of the channel (if for instance a separate conversation is happening simultaneously), they don’t notify those in the channel not participating in the thread, but they are still available to all in the channel if that information needs to be referenced. Responding privately to a bug or issue isn’t helpful to those who might also be experiencing the same issue, especially if your response is to say that the issue has been fixed.

Screenshot of a successful thread communication on Slack

It’s also vital to remember the purpose of each channel and thread. If you’re in a channel whose purpose is to discuss important projects and customer communication, don’t use that space to discuss personal topics with your coworkers - that’s what private messages are for. And always stay on topic, especially within a thread.

Screenshot of an unsuccessful thread communication on Slack

Just remember that in a work setting the last thing you want to do is frustrate anyone, especially when it comes to important correspondence. Message your buddy privately to ask about closing on his house - don’t litter a work channel with small talk. Even if you have a work-related question that is specific only to one person, keep it in a private message.

Try to Use @channel and @here Sparingly

In a channel, you have the ability to notify every member within it by putting “@channel” or “@here” before your message. While this feature can be extremely helpful, it can also become annoying really fast. There are certain scenarios where notifying an entire channel would be important - like a fire drill, or free food. When you use @channel, Slack will remind you how many users you are notifying and how many time zones they’re in. @here does not do this, so be weary.

Screenshot of @channel warning on Slack

And of course, don’t notify an entire channel to let them know what you’re having for lunch. No matter how delicious it is.

General Slack Etiquette

Outside of the listed “rules” for communication etiquette, there are a few general things about Slack that you should keep in mind.

Fill Out Your Full Profile

Have you ever gotten a friend request on Facebook from a name you didn’t recognize, only to investigate deeper and find that the person’s profile picture was of their car? It’s confusing and frustrating. When it comes to Slack in your business, it’s even more frustrating to get a message from a stranger with no clear identifying information.

Screenshot of Rachel Green Slack profile

Your profile picture doesn’t need to be a stuffy headshot - but it shouldn’t be a Myspace selfie either. You want your face to be visible and clear so that someone could recognize you if they saw you in the hall. You also want to make sure you have your job title and/or team clearly stated. Filling out your profile is especially helpful when you’re new to a job as it’ll make it easier for your coworkers to get to know you.

Be Courteous of People’s Time

We’ve all been frustrated by delayed responses before - it’s even worse when your work is contingent on a reply from someone else. Even so, you should try not to bombard someone’s notifications with incessant “hello?” or “are you getting this?” messages. Not only does it interfere with their work and yours, but it could possibly affect their respect for you. Even though it can be really frustrating, try and wait it out!

Screenshot of incessant messaging on Slack

Although if you’ve sent one message and you’re still waiting on a reply after a few hours or a day, then I would send one more respectable “did you get a chance to address this?”

Another thing to keep in mind when it comes to being courteous of other Slack users is the status feature. For instance, you might not want to message someone a time sensitive question if their status is:

Screenshot of status on Slack reading "in a very important meeting"Chances are you’re not going to get a response anytime soon!

Slack Can Be Fun, But You’re Still At Work

All in all, the most important thing to remember when it comes to conducting yourself on Slack is simple: you’re still at work. It can be fun to post memes and inside jokes with your coworkers, but there comes a point when it can be seen as inappropriate by someone else. Remember that “respect” should be a big part of everything you do, especially at work. So, try to keep any religion, politics, or controversy off the public channels. Try your best not to antagonize, one-up, or call coworkers out. React kindly to posts when it’s appropriate, and still have fun! Just not too much.

Although speaking of fun, here are a few Slack “hacks” you can play around with:

Giphy  - Type in /giphy to send a randomized gif on Slack. Be careful, though, since it is random!

Giphy plugin on Slack

Edit - If you do find yourself in a situation where you need to edit something you’ve said, hit the up arrow key and you’ll be able to edit the last message you sent on the platform. If you’re looking to edit a message from an hour ago, though, you won’t be able to modify it.

Edit feature on Slack

Customize Your Theme - Need a change in scenery every once in a while? Try changing your Slack theme! Go to “Preferences” > “Sidebar” > “Theme”, and play around with the options there. Like rearranging the furniture in your bedroom, you’ll be surprised what tweaking the look of a UI you look at everyday will do for you! Also, for those with color blindness, this is extremely helpful! (yay for accessibility!)

Customizable theme feature in Slack

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Bekah Witten
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Bekah is the content writer for the University of South Florida department of Information Technology.