Slack is the central nervous system of remote companies. It's how employees communicate, send updates, and stay connected with the rest of the company. Often times, it's the only persistent link they have to their coworkers.
But the ubiquity of Slack is a double-edged sword.
On the positive side, Slack is an amazing tool for company communication. Everyone in the company can see and digest updates, announcements, and initiatives as they're published. They can react to messages with emojis and start discussions by opening a new thread.
On the negative side, Slack fatigue can be a serious problem. Because of its always-on nature, Slack can lead to constant context switching, employees feeling pressured to appear online, and over-communication that buries critical messages. To be productive, teams need time for deep, uninterrupted work. Slack can be a blocker to that.
In this article, we'll go through how to leverage Slack to make sure it adds to a culture of connection and fun. We'll walk through organizing Slack channels, designing fun channels, taking advantage of the benefits of Slack emojis, and communicating work boundaries with Slack statuses.
Designing Slack Channels to be Efficient and Fun
Efficiency and fun usually don't appear in the same sentence. However, in the case of Slack, being more efficient with channels gives breathing room for fun channels to thrive within a company.
Let's start by talking about how Slack is organized. At a high level, we can communicate in one of three ways. Public channels, private channels, and direct messages (between two or more people).
Public channels are great. Everyone is the company can join the channel and jump right in with full context. Too many public channels, on the other hand, can be harmful. The right balance is to have 4-5 work-focused public channels with the prefix of “company_”. The announcements channel would be “company_announcements” while a leadership AMA channel would be “company_exec-ama”.
Depending on the level of transparency within the company, we can leverage private (or public) channels for the next three levels: department, team, and project.
Department channels are for different related functions to come together and understand how each team's work builds into larger department-level goals. For example, engineers can be in a “department_engineering” channel.
Team channels are specific to each team and are largely run by the team's managers. For example, the marketing department can have different team channels for “team_seo”, and “team_paid-growth”.
Finally, project channels are composed of different parts of the company working on each project. A channel like “project_api-changes” might start with just engineers and product managers during the planning phase. Then, as the project approaches launch, members from marketing and operations are invited to optimize the release process. Once the project is in the wild, the channel is archived (participants can view the past discussions but no longer contribute to the channel).
Beyond just organizing channels, it's important for companies to create a space for creative expression. In other words, starting fun Slack channels.
Often times, there's an inherent tension in employees engaging with non-work channels. Managers may frown on extensive participation and question an individual's work output. Without an existing culture that promotes these interactions, it can also be daunting for employees to take a risk and start non-work discussions. As a result, when designing fun channels, we need to ensure that the entire company, including managers, understand that these channels are a safe space to wind down and glimpse into the lives of coworkers.
In fact, this goes beyond Slack. It's easy for remote companies to index on function work (work that can be measured) rather than soft work (conversations or interactions without an objective). But a high-performing and cohesive culture isn't built through occasional off-sites or specific time-boxed events. Company culture comes from the day-to-day interactions and the slow accumulation of social capital. A manager who forces his or her reports to only talk about work in Slack is going to have less team cohesion and higher turnover in the long-run.
In combination with Slack, we also suggest implementing Culture Committees to resolve the tension between functional and soft work.
The other part to fun Slack channels is to limit these non-work spaces to two or three channels. Most companies have different channels for each hobby, such as a channel for bookclubs, arts and crafts, and games. While this is great for organization, it also leads to fewer messages in each channel. The lack of engagement then becomes a self-reinforcing loop. Fewer messages mean a larger barrier to posting new messages, which in turn leads to even fewer messages. Eventually, the channel goes silent for months.
Instead, we have to design fun channels that are both inclusive of a wide range of activities and low commitment for coworkers to interact with.
Some ideas that we love are -
- #company_pets - For coworkers with or without pets. No one ever complains about seeing too many cute animal pictures.
- #company_see-food - Not just for “sea-food”, anything (gourmet or homemade) is worthy of being posted in the channel. Luckily, food is a universal language that can connect any company together.
- #company_kudos - Giving visibility to the accomplishments of coworkers goes a long way in building a positive-sum culture.
- #company_water-cooler - For general discussions about the company or outside industry trends. Examples include: “What are your thoughts on the new Apple Vision Pro?” or “Who saw the new Marvel movie?”
- #company_what-ur-watching - TV shows and movies are a great way to unwind, and suggesting a show or movie is a great way to kick-start the personal bond between two coworkers.
- #company_sports - This can be for self-achievements such as running a 10k or for what's happening in your favorite sport like Verstappen winning again in last week's F1 Grand Prix.
For companies that are starting these channels from scratch, we also need to seed engagement. What this means is that the channel organizer spends the first few weeks sending messages in the channel and inviting coworkers to chime in. At first, it's going to be awkward with low engagement. The natural inclination of remote work is to avoid social interaction outside of pre-defined times. However, once a channel gains a critical mass of engagement, the awkwardness disappears and the channels comes to life.
Slack Emojis and communication 💬
Emoijs are quick to use, convey meaning with little ambiguity, and the right emojis even bring a smile to coworkers. Sending emojis saves the time necessary in figuring the correct phrase or response.
We're huge fans of using emojis. While Slack provides a large range of emojis, we also add a bit of flair by uploading our own custom emojis or gifs. For example, we added our faces as emojis. Whenever someone does something awesome that's posted to our #company_kudos channel, we react with their face.
To get started with custom emojis in Slack, navigate to https://[COMPANY_SLACK].slack.com/customize/emoji (insert your company's Slack URL) and click on the green “Add Custom Emoji” button.
From there, we just need to upload the emoji (or even a gif) and give it a name, like :silly-cat-face:.
While we're on this page, we can also change the default emojis that coworkers see. For example, the default can be the heart emoji ❤️ instead of the looking emoji 👀. It adds a bit more positivity and happiness.
Once this is all done, we can kick things off by using the new emojis in announcements and ask coworkers for their favorite emojis. Each new emoji adds a bit of personality in an otherwise bland Slack workspace.
For inspiration on what emojis to add to Slack, we love browsing through the Slackmojis website. Or, look at recent trends within the company. At the time of writing this article, Diablo 4 has just come out. Piggybacking off the game's success, coworkers can trade emojis on treasure goblins, game characters, and animated cartoons.
Slack Statuses, prevent burnout, and increase communication
By default, Slack shows a small bubble next to each person's name. It can be:
- a green dot, which represents that the person has checked Slack recently
- a green dot with two z's at the top, which means that the person is active but has notifications disabled
- a blank dot, which translates to the person being away from Slack
While it's useful to know when coworkers are online and active, this system of statuses can lead to employees feeling a pressure to show as active during work hours - even when they need to close out of Slack to stay focused. There have even been articles written about how to “game” Slack's green bubbles and appear as active.
An environment like that isn't exactly conducive to a positive company culture. We can solve this through using Slack statuses - emojis that appear next to a person's name and when hovered over, display a short message like “Out sick (today)” or “Deep work (until next Tuesday)”.
In particular, Slack Statuses extremely helpful for both deep work and serendipitous conversations.
When someone needs time for deep work, having the right status helps coworkers be mindful of their communication. They're the equivalent to putting on large headphones in an office and showing focused body language.
On the other hand, when someone is receptive to outreach and collaboration with coworkers, statuses can be a great calling sign (as opposed to messaging in a public channel). They're the equivalent of hanging around the watercolor or kitchen and engaging coworkers in discussions.
We started with the following four statuses, which cover most of the work use cases.
- ✍️ - Focusing on deep work
- 🧠 - Brainstorming, come chat with me
- ♣️ - Finding a group for this afternoon's game
- 🌊 - Lot of work, could use some help
With a heavier gaming culture, you can incorporating new emojis such as -
- ♟️ - Quick game of chess, anyone?
While small, these statuses have been instrumental in helping teams bond and connect with each other outside of work.
A lot of company culture can be simplified to: make it easy for coworkers to engage, connect, and have fun with each other.
While some people label Slack as creativity killing or just another boring communications application, there's tremendous potential in using Slack to jumpstart employee bonds. Slack channels can be organized in a clear company, department, team, and project level to save time and create space for fun channels that show the company's spirit. Slack emojis are a great way to decrease the cognitive load in responses and add a bit of fun and color to the company. And finally, Slack statuses ensure that teams can work on their own terms and translate implicit body language/interactions to a remote company.
Ensuring connection and fun through Slack takes time and effort. Coworkers might forget to set statuses or use emojis in the first few weeks or months, but as the reminders add up, these changes start to enter a positive feedback loop. In time, Slack stops being a point of fatigue and instead energizes the company.