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Alyss 💜
Alyss 💜

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Unofficial guide to Slack literacy: communication in a remote-first world

Before landing my first job in tech, I’d already been well acquainted with IRC, ventrilo, and message boards. With a career came Campfire (Basecamp) and then Slack launched in August 2013. Slack, for the purposes of this post, is used as a proxy for asynchronous chat platforms/tooling. Such software has become ubiquitous to the daily toil for knowledge workers and expands into professional, personal, and hobby communities.

Basic rules of etiquette

  1. Unless you’ve formally discussed the use of @channel or @here on your team and there’s a shared understanding of when to use it, err on the side of never using it. I’ve personally found this notification used more frequently among sales teams or within groups where most users do not have a desktop app installed and access through a browser instead.
  2. When sending a direct or private message, send a single message with your request. (e.g. Hello! Can you share any updates on the Apollo project?) There are individuals who may prefer an opening salutation or some kind of friendly watercooler banter but the point of async communication is you don’t have to sit around waiting to have a conversation to get a question answered. If you’re working across time zones, you can also consider scheduling a message to send.
  3. Set your own boundaries. Slack has a notification schedule feature and Do Not Disturb (when you may want to focus or go on vacation). notification schedule in slack profile settings
  4. Finally: Set a profile photo, pronouns, and name pronunciation*.

*Enterprise slack plans have more configurable profile fields, like name pronunciation. This may not be available in your slack experience.

Intermediate skills

Mentions

  • If an individual isn’t in the channel or private message, using their tag or handle will not notify them. For a channel in slack, a message will appear asking if you’d like to invite or notify them (or do nothing).
  • @ mentions can be disruptive. If you’d like to mention a person without notifying them, placing their name or handle in backtick/code blocks (e.g. @preciselyalyss). You can do this when you aren’t sure if they are in a channel but still want to reduce noise/distractions.
  • If you are interacting via a private message, you don’t need to tag/@ mention participants. They will be notified by default. In a private group DM, you can further configure your notification settings.

Channels

  • Read descriptions and pinned messages for a channel if you aren’t sure how to interact. Rules of engagement may be documented or the best way to engage with a particular team.
  • Organize slack channels with the sections feature

Reactji + Emoji

  • Reactji are highly cultural. We have over 10k custom slack emoji at GitHub. Sometimes these gain more traction, like Atlassian popularized chompy when HipChat shipped with the character in the default emoji set. Chompy was used when posting that lunch was available.

cartoon character chewing

  • Most platforms allow you to configure a default skin tone of the core emoji set. Please think about this. Even leaving the default to yellow should be a deliberate choice, in my opinion. More reading here and here.

Threads

There are no universally agreed rules that I’ve observed on Threads yet. They are still fairly new feature to several platforms. It can help with multi-threaded conversations but does change the notification location or reduce visibility in some cases.

Advanced

Writing styles

Chat is a highly informal medium and written communication can be fraught with opportunities to miscommunicate and misunderstand. It is possible to reduce the risks but never fully mitigate them. If you're unsure of the tone something was written in, ask.

Some rules I follow:

  • If there’s a context-loaded word, like DevOps, I try to define what usage I’m intending when discussing in chat.
  • Incorporating non-violent communication.
  • Explicit requests vs implied. “Can you do x?” instead of “X needs to get done”

Consider cultural-specific communication

  • Do I have teammates that wouldn’t understand this reference?
  • Is this a necessary reference if it does exclude people who don’t understand and should I explain it?
  • Is there potentially ambiguous or inflammatory meaning? (e.g. Gifs or images referencing Winnie the Pooh when speaking with China-based colleagues could have an unintended impact)

If you’re interested in further improving your remote-first skills, You Got This is a community event series with even more educational content to dive into.

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