*This article was written at the beginning of Corona outburst. Although a lot of the ideas may seem outdated, I found outthat a lot of teams still benefit from this ideas, so I keep the article published.
When companies adopt working from home, most people considerably improve their online working skills. But it doesn’t necessarily mean that they use the advantages of that mode to the maximum.
After a set of interviews with newly minted remote workers at a big corporate SimCorp and advising several startups, I learnt that a lot of people embraced the advantages of direct messaging, but still struggle with asynchronous collaboration and efficiently managing their communication channels. In this post, at the example of Slack, we’re going to take a look at the checklist for the most important aspects of efficient online workspace.
N.B. You can use this checklist as an inspiration to try out with your teams, not a strict set of rules. Every company evolves at their own pace, and with their own priorities. If you have even more creative ways than listed below, please share them in the comments!
Instead of setting up several channels within one tool, a lot of teams found the workarounds by using several messenging tools: Slack, Teams, Skype, Telegram or more. It causes a lot confusion and waste, and therefore much important information gets eventually lost. However, if you research the ways of working of experienced remote companies, you’ll learn they usually use only one, but a very well established one. Less is more.
If you use more than one messenger tool at work, it means you can and should set up your Slack channels better: just transfer the rules of communication for each tool to respective slack channels. If you are already a part of a lot of channels and you anyways don’t track them well, the first step can be muting them all and unmuting as soon as the need emerges.
If you’re just building up your Slack Workspace, you can prevent the issues by co-creating agreements on what channels are muted, constantly tracked or notified by mentions. Naturally, these rules should be dynamic and change together with your workload.
Make sure that the bots are running in separate channels: it’s very confusing when you see unread messages and you don’t know if it’s a bot or a colleague.
Set up your snooze notification schedule so you get notifications only in your working time. E.g. I get notifications only from 8 am till 8 pm, and only for high priority channels. It helps to separate the leisure from work much more efficiently. When you are deep into work, play tennis, drink beers or drive, always snooze notifications.
1 topic = 1 thread. 1 love = 1 thread. 1 bug = one thread unless they grow into a feature :)
There’s only one notification if a new topic is started, and if you are not interested, you just skip it. If the thread grows big, it means it’s time to make a separate channel, or a document, or set up a meeting.
With com/ctrl + space, merge your messages in one whenever it’s possible: one reason why people start snoozing all the time is that they get 10 messages instead of 1. Annoying, right?
When there’s no/yes question in a channel, it’s convenient to add reactions instead of full answers. Point to a message, in the upper right corner you have an icon for reaction and thread. When people are not used to it yet, it makes sense to add the reaction options when you write a message and decode them to the team.
If you worked out your own reaction language, congratulations, you are pretty far with your online culture! If you haven’t yet, even more exciting road is before you! Read more about the ones you can experiment with under these Slack Tips.
My favourite function is “remind me about…”. Remember the time when you read the message about someone asking for help. You can easily help, but not now, so you set a reminder to get back to it when you have time. This will save a lot of time of other people remembering that they await the reaction from you and pinging you in a convenient time for them, not for you.
You can also set a custom reminder for channels you are in: e.g. if you agreed to schedule a team building in 10 days, set up the reminder for the channel with this easy command.
Experiment and find your most convenient way, for example:
You can easily set up a custom status and schedule it to clear away:
It’s also important to mind the statuses of others: if they’re busy or at the meetings, you wouldn’t expect them to answer soon, but it’s still fine to send a message if you have a solid culture to snooze notifications when unavailable. Or, schedule its sending if you know when they’re likely to be back.
I guess you have at least one favorite shortcut, but I can’t help pointing out that there are more shortcuts appearing as the tools functionality grows. For example, there are already much more advanced shortcuts than a simple ⌘/ctrl+K — to search for a channel/person. E.g. ⌘/ctrl+J can be used to search most recent unread message. You can read more about Slack shortcuts here.
I haven’t come across any calendars that has no integration with Slack. It’s extremely convenient as you can have an overview of your meetings early morning when you decide to prolong enjoying your favourite croissant far from PC. Custom reminders about meetings saved me from a lot of embarrassing moments in busy days at gatherings. As you remember, when working online we can’t rely on our colleagues “waking us up”, we need to make our own backups that will remind us about meetings. Save “I forgot about the meeting” for the ones you really want to skip ;)
In addition, you can set up automatic status change for the time you’re at the meeting or out of the home office.
If your team still uses emails on a regular basis, you can advise to tune their notifications, so that every X amount of time you got a summary of the messages they received. It will ease up the transition period from email to interactive messangers. It also helps a lot for those who need to communicate externally on a regular basis and can’t have Slack or similar app as one central communication place.
Let me share some tips that can help you to make the transition to the new online culture smoother:
You can also share (or make a quiz about) the Example Cases:
Hopefully, we’re all soon getting there: to the remote nirvana, where we are all the true masters of our time. Where everything is extremely efficient and smooth. Meanwhile, let’s do our best to introduce and iterate with the high standards step by step at our own companies. Let’s also remember to be consistent and open to the teams’ own explorations about their ways of working efficiently. Good luck to us!)