How to Get the Most out of Slack in Your Agency Day-to-Day Business
9 Best Practices for Using Slack to Stay on Track with Client Projects
This article is also available in German.
Within a very short period of time, Slack has established itself as the de facto standard tool for communication in agencies and the tech sector, freeing us from overflowing e-mail inboxes and offering a great user experience. Nevertheless, there are still certain rules that need to be followed to ensure effective communication when using Slack.
After two and a half years of using Slack, these are our tips that will make you a Slack pro in no time:
1. Use the apps
Slack’s functionality is already great in the browser, but its true power is only unlocked when using the Slack apps.
The fact that the app automatically runs in the background and sends notifications for incoming messages is an advantage in itself. In comparison to the browser version, the Slack app makes it also much easier to manage multiple Slack teams.
Lastly, the mobile Slack apps make answering on the go from a smartphone as easy as with WhatsApp and the like.
2. Promote transparent communication
Although Slack offers the possibility to communicate via private chats and channels, one should avoid this — especially within client projects.
Transparent communication is the cornerstone of agile working, ensuring that all project team members can keep up with the project’s progress and decisions at any given time.
By contrast, closed communication can quickly lead to problems: clients are particularly used to communicating important information by email to specific persons. If the recipient is, for example, on sick leave or holiday, this information might not reach the rest of the team. The client might however assume that in having sent their message, everyone has been informed — a potential case of conflict.
To prevent this, we don’t communicate on a person-to-person basis, but rather on a topic basis in the corresponding Slack channels. Which brings us to our next point:
3. Optimise your use of topic-based channels
One of Slack’s limitations (although they are already working to rectify it) is the absence of threads. This means that it is not yet possible to see all responses to a particular post, as all messages appear chronologically under one another (an exception being the comments related to an uploaded file).
In order to ensure vital information doesn’t disappear into a sea of posts, it is especially important to discuss related topics within the context of their designated channels. We solve this by creating a single channel for every user story.
In the channel description we add a link to the documentation of the user story in Confluence. This way one can find all relevant information about the user story starting from Slack.
It is imperative to be clear and consistent in naming channels, so that everyone can easily find their story’s channel and no redundant channels are created on similar topics. This is how:
4. Name your Slack channels clearly
Slack is very restrictive when it comes to the naming of channels: the name can only have 21 characters and can only be lowercase. This makes it more difficult to choose a name that is both clear and informative.
We use the following scheme for clear Slack channel naming:
[ Story number ] — [ Platform ] — [ Story name ]
- The story number refers to the number of the corresponding JIRA ticket
- Following is an optional letter which provides a better overview in the case of projects with several platforms. For example with websites, the letters “m” and “d” might be assigned to mobile and desktop versions, or “a” and “i” for apps with Android and iOS versions.
- The name of the story is a short representation of the JIRA ticket title.
An example for a channel name would then read as follows: “123-i-tracking”.
5. Create a single Slack team for each project
The creation of multiple topic-based channels becomes complex as soon as one combines several projects in one Slack team. We have our own company Slack, but generally create independent Slack teams for larger client projects. This has multiple advantages:
1. It is the only way to include all client-side stakeholders without giving them access to internal conversations or information related to other projects.
In the Pro version of Slack it is possible to invite single and multi-channel guests, but the limited number of accounts isn’t viable for an agency needing to include all of their clients. Furthermore, manually granting people access to channels poses an additional effort and goes against the core principles of transparent communication.
2. Confusion is avoided with multiple projects containing similar user stories and consequently similar channel names.
3. It is possible to customise notification settings separately for each project.
6. Maintain an overview with colour schemes
After adding multiple Slack teams to one’s Slack app, there is the constant risk of accidentally posting in the wrong team as the various Slack teams are visually similar.
To avoid the embarrassment of writing something to a client that was intended for a colleague, one can give each individual team their own colour scheme. This way, one can instantly recognise which team conversation is currently open.
7. Increase productivity with Slack integrations
What differentiates Slack from other messenger tools is the enormous amount of external service integrations. This makes it easy for Slack to be used as a company’s central command centre, where all updates and notifications come together.
It enables one to inform colleagues automatically when a new design has been uploaded (with the InVision integration), when the developer has completed a new version (Git integration), when the build process of a website or app has been completed (Jenkins integration) or when a new user rating has been published in the App Store (Review Monitor integration). Even services that have no specific Slack integration can be connected through IFTTT or Zapier.
Other integrations can extend Slack’s functionality as well. The following three useful Slack apps particularly help us with our daily tasks:
Google Hangouts: An indispensable tool for daily scrum meetings or sprint reviews, when not all participants can be present on site. When a Hangout is started within a Slack channel, the app posts a link enabling all participants to join a video chat, without having to install anything. This is especially interesting for clients who find tools like WebEx too complicated.
Polly by Subcurrent: This app allows polls to be conducted within a slack channel. We use this function primarily for design feedback rounds.
HeyTaco!: HeyTaco! offers the simple option to show gratitude to colleagues in the form of virtual tacos. Additionally, there is a ranking list where one can exchange a certain amount of received tacos for real rewards.
8. Conquer the flood of messages
Sometimes one just needs to be able to work for a certain time without being disturbed. At times like this, the constant messages from colleagues exchanging important project information or the newest cat Gifs (there are even Slack integrations for that), can become overwhelming.
Slack offers multiple options to reduce distractions without completely disconnecting:
1. The “Do not disturb” mode suppresses all notifications for a particular time period of your choice. This mode can also be activated automatically for certain times of the day.
2. Channels that you don’t want to receive notifications from, but still like to check for updates once in a while, can be silenced with the “Mute Channel” function.
3. One can also completely deactivate notifications in the Slack settings. In this case, Slack can send email notifications at specific times when one is mentioned by name or directly addressed. This is also a good alternative for clients who aren’t able to install the Slack app on their work computers.
9. Pro tip: define your own emojis
Slack makes it incredibly easy to express oneself in the 21st century’s only reasonable form of communication: emojis.
Provided the relevant permission, one can upload custom emojis for the Slack team under “Customize Slack”. Apart from the fact that it’s just plain fun, it can also be helpful in that one can create customised abbreviations for frequently used terms and thereby can type faster.
Slack is a great tool that largely simplifies our day-to-day work. With the above mentioned tips, it’s easy to coordinate big client projects with multiple stakeholders, while retaining an overview of the project status, open questions and decisions. All this without being interrupted by constant emails.
Particularly in agile projects, Slack enables transparent communication and accelerates the exchange with stakeholders enormously.
What Slack isn’t
For all of its perks, Slack should not be seen as a replacement for all project documentation and management tools. It works seamlessly with tools like JIRA and Confluence and serves as a great extension to them. Even meetings can be structured more interactively with Slack:
What are your experiences with Slack? Do you have further tips or recommendable apps and integrations? Let us know in the comment section of this article.