Slack’s Missing Manual

Last week, I joined a new Slack workspace. It was particularly active. And I quickly found myself distracted by incessant notifications.

I would spend a few minutes every hour catching up on all the unread channels — scrolling through message upon message of irrelevant information — just to ensure I wasn’t missing the rare important message.

I was losing control of my attention.

Slack is ubiquitous among startup teams. But it doesn’t scale automatically with teams. Instead, we need to architect Slack standard operating procedures (SOPs) that support our teams’ business operations. This takes intention and thoughtful design.

When you fail to architect Slack SOPs, you induce drag on your team. An information flood of useless notifications and noise saps your team’s attention.

Like your org chart, your codebase, and your financial models: you need to re-design your team’s Slack SOPs as you scale.

Macgyver-ing Slack

Slack is a messaging tool. That’s it! But we overload it — jury-rigging it to act as many other things. Some examples that we use Slack for at Retriever:

  • ticket tracking
  • knowledge base
  • logging of outputs from web workers and cron jobs
  • a virtual water cooler for sharing cat memes

This Macgyver-ing Slack to your team’s needs seems unavoidable. We do the best we can with the tools we have. Your team’s jury-rigged Slack uses are unique, as are ours at Retriever.

I’ll share the best practices and SOPs that have worked for our team, to help get you start building yours.

General Best Practices + Hygiene

1. Keep conversations in threads
In order to keep the channel clutter to a minimum, try to respond in threads so that messages are kept nice and neat.

2. Keep work out of DMs
Try not to post work-related items in DMs with other teammates. Use the appropriate channels, including internal client channels to discuss these items so that everyone has context and can find the info if needed.

3. Pin messages that need action
Many messages require action by a channel moderator. Pinning the message creates a queue for the moderator to triage, and makes it easy to see which messages require action at a glance in the channel.

4. Emoji reactions
Building on Slack’s own best practices, we’ve mapped particular meaning onto emojis. e.g.) making “read receipts” by reacting to a message with :eyes: to indicate that you’ve read it.

Here are all of our standardized reactions:

We keep these pinned to the top of our #team Slack channel for easy reference.

5. Assign a Moderator
Each channel is owned by a teammate. That channel owner is responsible for ensuring that channel-specific operating procedures are being followed.

Ticket Tracking in Slack

We have a #questions channel in Slack that operates as a just-in-time knowledge base.

When someone has a question whose answer they can’t find in Notion (which is Retriever’s central OS), they:

1. Post it in the #questions channel
2. Pin that post
3. Prefix their post with a 🔴, 🔵, or ⚪️ depending on the urgency of their question (see Tactic #1 above)

Next, the moderator of the #questions channel answers the question, or pings the relevant specialist who can answer.

Once the question has been answered to the satisfaction of the teammate who asked, that teammate will:
1. react to the original question with ✅ :check:
2. and, unpin the message (so that the moderator knows it’s out of their task queue)

Pin the Standard Operating Procedures

For each channel that’s being jury-rigged for some non-standard business process, do the following:

1. Create a short description and set the channel topic
2. Write out the SOPs
3. Post them in the channel
4. Pin that post to the channel

Want an example?

At Retriever, #response-queries channel is where new teammates get practice drafting responses for our clients. They submit draft responses to be proof-read by an account manager before sending the responses out.

Here are the steps we used to set up the rules for this jury-rigged channel:

1. Set the topic

2. Write out the SOPs

3. Post them in the channel & 4. Pin the post, so that any teammate can easily find it

Making the most of imperfect tools

Jury-rigging Slack isn’t the most elegant solution to your business ops needs. But it’s fast and agile.

As long as you take the time to 1. spec clear standard operating procedures, 2. articulate them, and 3. ensure that they’re being enforced, you’ll be able to make the most of this woefully off-label use of this simple messaging tool.

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