Have you heard of Slack? If yes then skip to the 2nd paragraph; if not – Slack has been making waves for a while now in tearing up the market with their new, slick web-based communication software and in doing so it has raised a lot of funding. With a clear licensing framework and made for both free and paid users, Slack is easy for small and large teams to adopt. Sounds great, right?


Well, a lot of people are struggling with this new type of asynchronous, always-on style of messaging. The workplace is a mixture of social- and work-based interactions and thus require different types of responses and handling. Questions like “do you have a second?”, “do you know why Mark wants a project meeting at 11?” and “are you free after work for a quick jog?” have different origins and were (pre-Slack) divided into clear, separate channels; for example Yammer for events, Skype for Business (Lync) or Skype for instant messaging and calls and WhatsApp, Telegram, Google Hangouts etc. for casual conversation. Slack has brought all of these different types of communication to (mostly) one place and thus some are struggling.


In this article I will share my experience in working with Slack and show you how to solve 5 common workplace communication problems while using Slack. In Samuel Hulick’s “breakup” post about Slack, one particular quote stands out to me: “Just because it’s fun to hang out at the water cooler at work, it doesn’t mean I want to work there.” Samuel is right and with my tips, you shouldn’t have to either!


Problem #1 – “Where are you?”

Presence is indicated by your status (little green dot next to your name) in Slack. If you’re available to talk, communicate this to others by setting your status to “green”. If you move away from your desk or need to focus, then change this to “away”. When the mobile app is open (active screen), it automatically sets your status to green and if you switch apps or close the app it will set you to away. Doing this lets people know whether to expect a response. Use the do not disturb option to block yourself off for up to 24 hours if you need to.


Problem #2 – “Can you send me that presentation for tomorrow morning?”

Use the Slack desktop version as your primary tool if you can – drag and drop a files, paste clipboard contents, change between teams easily and flip between channels with keyboard shortcuts too. It also makes going “offline” easier – just close the app! The browser version works almost as well but doesn’t support multiple teams and some of the other smaller features.


Problem #3 – “Why haven’t you answered my question from yesterday in the #meeting channel?”

Slack works with public and private channels (groups) and notifications can be set for these individually – use this to your advantage! Set your notifications for channels you want to monitor to “Activity of any kind” and to channels you don’t need to keep an eye on to “mentions of my name or highlight words”. Set other channels to “nothing” and look at them manually if you need to. Also set your account defaults in order to always retain a preference, even if you get added to new channels. Avoid using the “mute” option – you might as well just leave the channel. If you want someone to respond to a specific query, assume they are using the above notification system and mention them with @username – this way it’s also easier for them to pick their name out in a conversation involving multiple parties.


Problem #4 – “Is everyone happy with the minutes from yesterday?”

Organizing meetings in Slack is a breeze – until you get disagreements and discussions. Try to keep discussions in an actual call or conversation and then just put the minutes/notes in Slack (as a separate channel for example, to avoid clutter). Then, when you want feedback on something ask people to react using emojis – the thumbs-up or -down are perfect for agreeing or disagreeing! This way you avoid lengthy conversations with people writing “I agree”, “good for me” etc. It also adds the visual cues that a lot of people can identify more easily.


Problem #5 – “Can you do these 5 tasks until tomorrow?”

Slack supports markup of text, which means you can stop just writing plain sentences and make fancy lists using bullet points, icons and other emoji. This is the easiest way to manage a to-do list for a small group (if the tasks are simple) while keeping everything inside Slack.


Hopefully these tips will help you communicate better with others in Slack! I look forward to reading your feedback in the comments below.