I have been using Slack for a long time. Here are a few guidelines based on that experience:
- Slack is part of your communications toolkit. It has limits. When you feel that you are typing too much or getting frustrated by misunderstandings then switch to a call. A consequence of this is that you should be prepared to make or accept a call — earbuds at the ready.
- Slack is great for singular topic discussions. The channel clearly displays the discussion’s history. Even if the discussion spans many days the context is always available for a quick catch up.
- Slack is terrible for overlapping topic discussions. The channel quickly becomes a hodgepodge of utterances and fragments that have little reference to the topical context. Overlapping topic channels are needed, however. For example, in one small company I worked at the #operations channel is primarily used to give notice of infrastructure changes. When using such a channel you need to remember that others will not have the same topical context as you. Where possible, include some reference to the topic — "Re X, we did Y." For example, "Re loud bang, we have flogged the responsible employee." Here "loud bang" is the strong reminder of the previous topical messages. See Threads. See Links Use pinned messages to define the purpose of the channel along with links to supporting materials. Messages are editable and so do improve and update the pinned message. Pinned messages can be quickly accessed via the "push pin" icon in the channel header.
- Slack has discussion threads. Any message can be the start of a thread. Threads provide a natural grouping of related messages. The problem with them is that it is hard to have everyone on the channel use them consistently. For example, Jane started a thread to continue the discussion, but Jack, in haste, posted a message instead. Now we have 3 messages connected by two different mechanisms. Don’t use threads unless you can get everyone on the channel to use them consistently. (Actually, just don't use threads.)
- When you want to clearly reference a previous message use a Slack link. It is long and ugly, but it is by far the most reliable reference.
- We reuse text from many different applications and written languages everyday. It is common to copy from one place and paste it into Slack, and vise versa. When you do this you bring along a lot of unseen cruft. Cruft like formatting, odd visible characters, odd invisible characters, etc. And Slack does not help, in that it wants to pretty up the text for you; emoji interpretation being the most blatant example. When pasting into Slack always use Paste without formatting or Paste and Match style. And if you are pasting something technical like an email address, an access token, my salary, etc then use Slack's inline code formatting, eg "The email is `firstname.lastname@example.org`" becomes
- Use the sidebar as a presence indicator. Making sure your immediate team members are favorited.