Managing distributed teams using Slack

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Slack has brought text-based collaboration to the mass market. While this type of communication has been around for decades using IRC, Slack adds a neat layer of tools and workflows on top of this communication to maximize productivity. While Slack is where communication happens, it’s not where all of the work happens. As a manager, it is important to spend only the absolutely necessary amount of time in Slack, and to move on to doing the work in the tools you use to manage your team.

Below are several tips and tricks for managing your communication and your distributed team, using Slack.

Live in “Unreads”

As a manager, you’re likely in far more channels beyond your specific team and your DMs. Some of these channels are for monitoring of other tools, some for alerts, and some for keeping track of conversations which may directly impact your day to day.

Using the “Unreads” section in Slack enables a wide view of all of the conversations. It’s possible to expand and collapse each, to “Mark as Read” if no action is required, or to offer an emoji reaction if no direct response is necessary.

Once all passive communication (read and “Mark as Read”, offer emoji reaction) are attended to, what remains are areas which require your direct active response.

Effective use of threads

Threads can streamline conversations in a channel. That said, they can also be tricky to keep track of, as threads are automatically marked as “read” when scrolling through “Threads”.

If your team is involved in a conversation, click the dots to the right of the message and select “Get notified of new replies”. This enables you to follow conversations your team are involved in, add any particularly useful responses to the feedback you’d like to offer your team (kudos, and direct feedback in 1:1s), and to follow your team’s activity outside of their channel.

Scroll through your threads daily. Respond where necessary, follow conversations you’re interested in keeping an eye on, and chime in where necessary.

Threads don’t have a usable design today, and can quickly get out of hand. The “unread” number next to “Threads” in Slack’s sidebar is a representation of the number of mentions in your threads, not actually the number of unread threads. Be aware of this, and be sure to clear your threads daily to prevent them from piling up.

Useful emoji reactions

Slack has an option to specify three emojis as quick reactions, available on hover of each message. By default, these are “complete”, “taking a look”, and “well done/raise hands”. These reactions, when baked into any workflows your team has, are particularly useful to offer a quick response without additional words. If your team has tasks quick are shared as Slack messages, “complete” and “taking a look” prove particularly useful.

Slackbot reminders

Often times, a message requires a response from your team, and you want to pause to open space for someone on the team to respond, instead of yourself. Before reaching out to the team directly, I’ve found Slackbot reminders particularly useful for reminding me to follow up on a request. Much like threads, Slackbot reminders can get out of hand quickly. Be mindful to go through these daily, either responding to them or moving them to a slightly later time. Be very careful about shifting reminders to “remind me next week”. It’s likely you won’t retain the context of the message, making the response take longer for you to attend to in the future.

Reminders in channels

For recurring tasks or meetings, it’s useful to add Slackbot reminders to a channel. For example, asking Slackbot to /remind #channel-name "Our team meeting is coming up soon, please add your items to the agenda" every Tuesday at 9am UTC is a useful way of repeating a recurring message.

Carefully selected integrations

For your team’s day to day routine, ask yourself which tasks are being repeated. These tasks can be outsourced to Slackbot, or to an integration. Common integrations for engineering teams are GitHub and Jira. Be sure the messages from any integrations you add are useful to the team, and remain actionable. If not useful, the notifications will be ignored by the team, even when they are important.

I’ve found these tips to be particularly useful for running my day to day communications in Slack, and keeping an eye on what is happening in my and my team’s orbit. If you have other tips you’d like to share, please add them in the comments section below.

One response to “Managing distributed teams using Slack”

  1. […] via written word for most of our communication. Messaging platforms like WhatsApp and Telegram, and managing teams and day to day work via Slack further extend how much of our communication is written. For many of us, there is fear that what we […]

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