Now that the coronavirus has so many of us working remotely, Slack and other business messaging tools have become mission-critical tools. These 9 tips can help you keep your Slack channels more organized and keep your productivity high.
By Jill Duffy
Business messaging app Slack makes communicating within a team much easier than using email. A new update to the interface, which begins rolling out today for the desktop and web apps, improves your ability to make it a neat and organized workspace. For example, a universal compose button gives you the option to write and edit a message in a large window, and only when you’re finished, choose where to post it. Another change lets you organize your channel sidebar to a much finer degree than before.
The changes help those who are new to Slack, and especially people without a background in programming and tech development, understand how to use the tool more easily, according to Ilan Frank, vice president of enterprise product for Slack. If you don’t see an immediate update to your Slack interface with the new interface, know that it’s coming soon. The rollout will occur in phases over the next few weeks. An update to the mobile interface, Frank said, will happen at a later date.
The improvements, combined with a few existing tricks and changes you can make to your Slack account, let you create an organized interface that’s more efficient than the default. Try these tips for cleaning up Slack. They’ll make it easier and less stressful for you to communicate with colleagues and keep up on important information.
The change I’m most excited to see in the new interface is channel sidebar sections. This feature lets you create groups of channels and direct messages, and name the set whatever you like. For example, you can create a section for your team, department, or project, and put all the relevant conversations together.
Once you have the new Slack update, you can create a section by going to the Channels header in the left sidebar and clicking on the three dots. Choose Create new section. Enter a name for the section or pick one of the suggested names. You can optionally put an emoji of your choosing next to the section name, too. Click Create, and you’re done.
In addition to organizing your channels and messages with sections, you can also pare down how many items you see in your sidebar. One way is with stars. Add a star to the channels and direct messages that you use the most often. That makes them sit at the top under the heading Starred, allowing you to focus your attention on this curated list.
If your Slack account is seriously cluttered, consider also changing your settings to show only starred messages and unread messages. Go to Preferences > Sidebar > Sidebar Settings > Appearance and choose Unread and starred conversations.
2. Make Slack Messages More Compact
Two settings will tighten up your Slack interface to make it more streamlined.
Go to Preferences > Messages & Media:
- Under Theme, choose Compact
- Right below it, choose Just display names
Together, these settings eliminate excess characters, icon images, and whitespace from Slack. They let you see a lot of information without too much scrolling. Whether you like it is up to you, and you can always change it back. They’re worth trying if you want to make your Slack space look neater and less busy.
3. Suppress Image Clutter
If your main complaint about Slack is that your colleagues post too many animated gifs, emojis, and links with enormous preview images, you can simply suppress them in your view. Look in Preferences > Messages & Media. Toward the bottom are checkboxes that let you hide different types of imagery.
If you want the ultimate uncluttered Slack experience, set them up like this:
4. Customize Notifications
Getting too many notifications turns them all into noise. Customize the notifications you receive in Slack in three steps.
First, mute any channels where the majority of new messages are not important. Go to the channel, click the cog icon next to the search bar, and select the option to mute that channel.
Second, change your notification preferences to either Direct messages, mentions, and keywords only or Nothing. If you choose Nothing, you’ll see badges indicating new messages, but you won’t get audio alerts or other on-screen notifications.
Third, pay attention to the last two options that appear in this section of your preferences: Notify Me About Replies to Threads I’m Following, and Use Different Settings for Mobile Devices. Depending on how you and your teammates use threaded conversations, you might want to select the option to receive thread notifications. As to the mobile device options, choosing to have different preferences on your phone can help you focus. The next time you need to work without interruption, quit the Slack desktop app and log out of the web app, but keep your phone nearby for important Slack notifications.
5. Use Prefixes to Cluster Similar Slack Channels
Here’s a trick that I see often in Slack accounts: Create prefixes for channels that should be grouped together. For example, all the channels that are meant to be used exclusively by the sales team might take the prefix “sales-”. That way, you can have #sales-contacts, #sales-tips, #sales-wins, and so forth. Channels that are just for fun can take the prefix “fun-” or “watercooler-”.
Using prefixes causes similar channels to cluster together automatically, both in your sidebar and in the full list of channels whenever you need to explore them. While the new sections feature lets you organize your channels and messages in a way that’s unique to you, prefixes help every team member explore and find the channels that are most relevant to them.
6. Use Polling Tools (or This Hack)
When asking your teammates a survey-style question, such as “What time can everyone meet this afternoon?” use a polling app. It’s much easier and neater to read replies to a poll than to page through a barrage of comments.
If you have the new interface, look for the lightning bolt icon that now appears next to the compose box for quick access to tools and apps, such as a polling app. Polly for Slack is one of the best-known polling and survey apps. Install it as a Slack add-on, and then choose it from the lightning icon, or use a slash-command by typing “/polly” whenever you want to create a poll.
An even more streamlined way to run a quick poll is by using this simple hack: Write your question and provide possible answers with reacji. Your teammates will figure out that they should add the appropriate reacji to the question to show their preference. For polling options that don’t have obvious icons to match, use number reacji or colored dots. The results are tight, tidy, and easy to read.
7. Create an Etiquette for Threads
Message threads are fantastic for keeping Slack organized, but only when you use them in a way that works for your team. A message thread is a conversation that spins off from the main channel into a sidebar. People can opt into the conversation or stay out of it. In the thread, you and your teammates can have an elaborate conversation about one topic without it being interrupted.
When there are too many threads, however, it’s hard to scan the channel and catch up on whatever has been happening recently. Therefore, you need to find the right balance of thread use and an etiquette for it. There’s no rule for how to do it.
I used to work with a team that would add a spool of thread emoji at the end of any message that they wanted to divert off the main channel. Over time, we all picked up on the informal rules for when to thread messages, and everyone seemed happy to follow them.
Tip: To add a custom emoji, such as a spool of thread, click your workspace at the top left, choose Customize Slack, and upload an image of your choice from the Emoji tab. Note that administrators can restrict who can add custom emoji.
If you’re down for more advanced tinkering, you might want to learn how to build a slack bot, too.
8. Organize Your Thoughts With Formatting
Slack didn’t always have support for rich text formatting, but it has for a few months now. That means you can add bold, italics, bullet points, underlining, and so forth without having to know how to code.
A little formatting goes a long way to helping people read your message and absorb the right information quickly. When everyone can scan their channels and see what’s important at a glance, communication is clear and everyone stays productive.
While there isn’t a button for it, line breaks are another formatting option that make long messages easier to read. To create a line break, use shift+return. (If you press return without shift, your message will post instead of creating a line break.)
9. Create Automated Alerts
An automated alert in Slack is a notification you receive automatically when some action occurs. For example, you could create an alert for when someone fills out your company’s web form. A few other ideas: You can have an alert every time a sale closes in your online shop, whenever a new comment appears on your website, or as soon as someone on your team opens or closes an issue in Github.
There are a few ways to set up and control automated alerts. The simplest is through Slack’s integrations with other tools in its App Directory. For example, connect Slack to Freshdesk, and you can get alerts about support tickets submitted to your team.
Another way is to use the Slack app Incoming Webhooks, which takes a tiny bit of technical know-how to set up, but lets you get alerts about activities that may be outside of the realm of Slack apps. The last option is to use a third-party automation tool, such as IFTTT, Workato, or Zapier. These services let you connect apps to one another, and in the case of Slack, you can connect an app even if Slack doesn’t natively support it. Automation tools can also give you more options for customizing the alert.
Signal vs. Noise
Slack promised to help correct some of the signal-to-noise problems that are inherent to email. It also promised to give people a way to communicate that was more fun. It’s become an app that mostly succeeds in both areas, but in doing so has grown into a different kind of beast, one that can feel unwieldy. By cleaning up your Slack interface, you can cut down significantly on the noise and create a more focused space to communicate.
Originally published at https://www.pcmag.com.