Working with an international team and using Slack

In this blog we explain the reason why we use Slack, and give some tips and best practices on how you can start using Slack with your team as well.

News

06 april 2021

At Toomba we work with customers and developers from all around the world. We have teams in The Netherlands, Spain and Vietnam. Our daily standup is always a fun mix of languages and cultures. To make this all work with the time difference and not being able to walk to the person in the office we use 2 applications. Google Meet for all of our meetings and Slack for our daily communication about projects and the planning.

In this blog we’ll give you a few tips of how you can get the best out of the use of Slack.

What is Slack?

Slack is a channel-based messaging platform, imagine WhatsApp but with a lot more options to organize, with lots of useful options like muting, using threads, pinning files and messages, reminders and workflows. With Slack you can connect all your software tools and services. It lets you work more efficiently. If you start with Slack and want a very basic guide you can start here: Start guide Slack and check this cheat sheet for all the shortcuts.

Tips and best practices

If you know the basics of Slack let’s move on to how to get the best experience out of Slack. We’ve combined some best practices, what not to do and some useful tips.

  1. Use threads for different topics!
    Don’t turn Slack channels into a regular messaging app. Slack is not meant to be used as one, and it will become very distracting. You’ll end up with countless messages for your whole team to read to make sure they didn’t miss anything important. Instead, you want your team to use the conversations in channels as message threads. This allows everyone to reply to specific messages, creating a new thread without interrupting and distracting everyone. You can always tag the person via @name that needs to know about it as well, giving them a notification. To easily catch up on your threads, go to the left menu and click ‘Threads’. There you will find all the latest replies.
  2. Timezone
    When you talk with customers or coworkers in another timezone it's useful to setup your timezone and work hours. You can set this up by going to Preferences -> Notifications > Notification schedule (put in your working hours). And check if you have set up your timezone correctly at Preferences -> Language & region > Timezone. When everything is setup correctly, people that message you can click on the sidebar in the chat and see your timezone. They will also get a warning if they want to send you a message after working hours.
  3. Star important channels, people or groups.
    Want to find an important channel, group or person you discuss with a lot back fast? You can use the star function. Star that important channel and mute channels you rarely visit and don’t need to check regularly. You can also star a person or group.
  4. Categorize channels with sections
    Use sections, you can categorize your channels! (right-click on a channel and click on additional options). This way you can categorize marketing channels, your own projects etc.
  5. Pin or save important messages/files
    Slack offers multiple ways to organize messages and channels. If a file or message has important information for the channel, you can pin it for everyone. They will get a quick access link on the info bar of the channel. This is very useful for project channels, you can pin all the important files, messages and links. Another feature is saving a file or message, this however is only added to your own saved items.
  6. Saving messages for yourself:
    You can save messages you’ve sent or received in Slack, locate them in your saved messages by clicking Saved Items in the left column of the screen. You can also start a chat with yourself to save your notes. It's a great way to always have access to something you need to remember.
  7. Slack channels seem to multiply.
    Don’t let your workspace become cluttered with channels and group chats that you don’t actually use. The problem with channel clutter is that you waste a lot of time trying to find where something was added or where you have to post a specific link or ask a question etc. Was that file or link shared in #marketing, #marketing-team, or #marketing-ideas? To stay productive, clean up every once in a while. Archive channels when they are not used and keep conversations organized in a few key places. When people get off-topic, remind them to move the conversation to the right channel or use a thread, so other people aren’t distracted. Otherwise, the notification spam will be distracting.
    • Be focused when creating new channels but also not too specific. For example, instead of creating 3 channels for marketing, you can probably use fewer and use threads in the channel when discussing something specific.
    • Consider making certain channels private. That way, only those who have a need to be in a specific channel will be able to access it.
    • Don’t create additional channels for quick discussions. Instead, create one-off group chats by inviting the applicable team members into a single direct message. If you do create temporary channels, don’t forget to delete or archive them after.
    • Take advantage of Slack’s built-in prefixes when naming channels to keep them organized. Slack gives you the suggestion for help-, proj- and team-. You can also add your own custom prefixes by going to Settings & Administration > Workspace Settings > Menu > Customize > Channel Prefixes.

       

  8. Notifications
    Make sure you don’t get too distracted by all the notifications. For example, you can go to Preferences -> Notifications. And change the settings to ‘Direct messages, mentions and keywords’. You can also mute an entire channel in the channel options. Another helpful feature is setting up work hours, however it’s only a start-end time to get notifications instead of several times to not getting them (therefor you have to change your available status manually if you want to make it clear your having lunch or are in a weekly meeting etc.). You can also choose what to receive on your devices, this way you can set up only receiving the most important notifications on your phone.
  9. Use the Do Not Disturb mode
    This is a great feature to help you focus. Click on your profile photo in the top right corner and select Pause notifications. Choose how long you want the DND mode to last. Coworkers will see a “do not disturb” icon next to your name, and they’ll be presented with a message asking whether to notify you when they mention/message you. You can use this for lunch, meetings and focus time. Easy shortcut to setup your DND: /dnd [time] – Starts Do Not Disturb mode (e.g., /dnd for 30 minutes)
  10. Set reminders
    You can use Slack to remind yourself or your coworkers to do something. If you want to set a reminder for yourself, type /remind me followed by the reminder. /remind [@someone or #channel] [what] [when].

     

     

  11. Install a calendar for Slack
    The app Google Calendar will give you a nice overview of your day, and you can click to join the meeting video link from within the Slack’s notification. If you use Microsoft products, check out these Slack apps.
  12. Share code with snippets
    Snippets are an easy way for developers to share their code, discuss a bug fix or suggest improvements. When you want to create a snippet, click the lightning bolt icon under the main message box and select Create a text snippet. Give your snippet a name, choose the programming language and add the code. If you want, you can add a message
  13. Connect other apps that you use to slack
    For example, you can connect a tool like Asana, and it will keep you updated in slack about tasks that are due soon. Check out all the apps that you can connect.
  14. Use work flows
    Workflows are processes that repeat a lot and can be created in an automatic workflow. Check out this webinar or try some of these examples:
    • Get your daily standup reminder template: You can have everyone post their update of what they did and will do today in the channel.
    • Get your status update template: Or you can create a workflow to automatically ask the team where they are working from, what they are working on and let it automatically send it to you.
    • Requests: Workflow with some standard questions like an access request, holiday days requests etc.
    • FAQ: For questions you get often: To set up a custom response, click on your workspace’s name in the upper left corner of the screen, and then go to Administration > Customize. This will lead you to the ‘Customize your Workspace’ screen. Click on the Slackbot tab and then on + Add New Response.Type in the trigger words or phrases in the ‘What someone says’ box, and the automated response in the Slackbot responds box. Your response can include text, images, links, and emojis. Be careful when setting up trigger phrases. If you use a generic phrase that comes up often in regular conversations, you risk flooding your channels with Slackbot responses.
If you use Slack, think about connecting other apps you use often. When there is no standard solution Toomba can help you with Apiify, want to know more? Read about Apiify and the solution in connecting your applications here.

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