Slack: Using Slack to Communicate

Objectives and Overview

This lesson provides guidance on how to use Slack to communicate with your coworkers. Much of this lesson is based on what we do at DHF, but many of these recommendations apply to other times you’d use Slack. This lesson includes examples of when you should (and shouldn’t) use Slack to communicate.

Lesson Objectives

  • Identify the pros and cons of using Slack
  • Recognize how Slack can boost your productivity and communication abilities
  • Recognize when you should use Slack and when you should use another tool

Slack Communication

Much of the points in this lesson are based on how Digital Harbor Foundation uses Slack. Even if your organization uses Slack in a different way, the items outlined are broad enough that they’ll still be useful. Like any other new tool, Slack takes time to know when it’s the best thing to use. Let’s start by looking at some of Slack’s pros and cons.

Pros and Cons of Slack

Like any other tool, Slack has advantages and disadvantages. Part of digital literacy is understanding the strengths and weaknesses of online tools. Knowing the strengths of a tool helps you decide when you should use it. Remember, you should always try to use the right tool for the job/task!

Pros & Advantages

  • Flexible – You can send direct messages to one (or more) teammates, message an entire channel, or even call someone!
  • Notifications – “@ mentioning” teammates lets you grab a teammates attention since any @ mention sends them a notification (for example, @jonathan in the DHF Slack sends me a notification)
  • Real-Time Collaboration – One of the benefits is you can use Slack for real-time communication where you need to have a conversation (one-on-one or with a group).
  • Quick Feedback – Slack is great for getting quick answers or feedback from coworkers
  • Reply Threads – Teammates can reply to messages to create a thread about that topic
  • Organized Communication – Organizations can create channels based on projects, topics, or team

Cons & Disadvantages

  • Notifications – Your notifications can get overwhelming if you receive too many direct messages or @ mentions. There are settings you can change to help with this.
  • Lots of “noise” – When an entire team is using Slack, important messages can get lost. Newer messages push older ones out of visibility, so you may miss important information unless you’re tagged (@ mention). This is one reason why you’ll want to send an email for crucial communication.
  • Tool Fatigue – This is more of an issue when introducing Slack to a team. It often feels like another tool in addition to emails, texts, and other communication methods.
  • Tendency to Expect Immediate Response – While Slack tends to be more immediate than email, it’s possible to forget that folks won’t always respond to your messages right away

Since these pros and cons are based on our experience, it’s important for you to draw your own conclusions. As you use Slack for remote work, build your own list of pros and cons. This helps you build familiarity and comfort and understand when and how to use Slack.

Examples of When to Use Slack

Now that you’ve read through some of the pros and cons, let’s look at some examples. This section provides examples of when you should (and shouldn’t) use Slack to communicate a message. Try to think about the question before revealing our answer. Once you give it some thought, click the question to show what we recommend.

I have a quick question about a project I’m doing with my coworker.

Use Slack

This is a great example of when to use Slack! You could send your coworker a short direct message on Slack asking your question. Remember, just because you send a message doesn’t mean you’ll get an immediate response.

I’m running late for work.

Use Slack

If you know that you’re not going to be available when your shift starts, send a Slack message to your supervisor ASAP (as soon as possible). If you can, include your ETA (estimated time of arrival) in your communication. This is a great reason to install the Slack app on your phone.

I need to (informally) update my coworkers on a project we’re working on.

Use Slack

The key is that this an informal update. An example of this is if you have an online “stand up” at the end of your shift where you share what you worked on during the day. Sharing this update in the appropriate Slack channel is an effective way to keep everyone informed.

I won’t be able to make it to my shift today.

Use Slack and Email

Maybe you’re sick or something major happened that keeps you from making your shift today. Email your supervisor ASAP and also send a Slack message because your supervisor may not see your email until later. Since this is very important communication, it makes sense to use email and Slack. You may also want to send Slack messages to your coworkers if they’re impacted by you being out.

I need to request time off.

Use Slack and Email

Since this is a formal/official communication, you should avoid Slack and write an email. If you know in advance you’re requesting off, email your supervisor with the dates. Be sure to provide as much notice as possible.

I need to resign.

Use Email

This is a formal communication that should be done through email. In the event you get a new job or need to leave your position, you’ll want to communicate this directly to your supervisor via email, and with as much notice as possible (at least 2 weeks is professional courtesy).

Sometimes it’s hard to know if you should use Slack to send a certain type of message. A general guide is that if something is more official, you likely want to use email instead of Slack. For communication that is urgent and important, you’ll likely want to send an email and a Slack to your supervisor.

Remember, just because you send someone a Slack doesn’t mean that they’ll be able to immediately respond. This is important to keep in mind when you’re communicating urgent messages, especially if they’re time sensitive.