Starling started using the messaging platform Slack in 2015, when there were fewer than ten people in the team. Today, there are more than 900 of us, all communicating and collaborating through Slack. We use it even more now that many of us are working remotely, not only for our work but also to check in on colleagues or organise Friday pub quizzes or fundraisers. Many of our business customers also use Slack, which they can connect to their Starling account through our Marketplace integration.
Here, we speak to members of Team Starling and share some of the unwritten rules to follow when it comes to Slack.
Keep it snappy
Let’s start with direct messages. Every time you send one, your colleague receives a notification. Best practice is to keep notifications to a minimum. Instead of sending ’Hey’ or ’Hello’ as a separate message, followed by your question or update, try to put everything into a complete message. Remember that pressing Enter will send your message. If you want to add a line break, hold down Shift and then click Enter.
Sending everything in one go also means that your colleague won’t be kept waiting or nervously watching the three rippling dots as you type out your message.
The same complete message idea goes for channels, public spaces dedicated to a certain purpose, and groups, which are usually smaller and project based. For these messages, you might want to draft them on a separate document before copying and pasting, just in case you accidently click send before you’re ready.
Instant or email
Slack is ideal for short messages that need an immediate response, while emails may be good for more formal communications. If you’re sending attachments, email can be useful - the search function on email is especially good when looking for attachments, especially if you can’t remember who sent the message. With emails, you can also loop in people outside your company. Shared channels are an option on Slack but only if both companies have the Slack app. And again, the shared channel is especially strong for snappy updates and fast response.
On top of direct messages, groups and channels, you can also use Slack to do audio or video calls. “Everything should be communicated in its most efficient form for that task,“ says web developer Sarah Deakin. “If it needs to only be a quick note, a message works, but if you’re working on something more collaborative and going back and forth, a video call is better.“
We’d recommend sending a quick message to check that your colleague is free before calling them, unless it’s an emergency. If their status is set to ’In a meeting’, ’Do not disturb’ or ’Lunch run’ - leave it for now and try them later.
Hold your peace
If you’re on a group video call, think about how to make the experience easy and enjoyable for everyone involved. Don’t sit with a window right behind you as your face will probably be in shadow; avoid boiling the kettle while the call is going on - the whistling can make it difficult to hear; and try not to be late (although don’t stress yourself out over it, it may give everyone a chance to catch up a little before the meeting starts).
Software engineer Sam Clarke says: “Mute when you’re not talking.“ That way, you don’t have to worry about any phones ringing, dogs barking or children screaming while a colleague is talking.
Needle and thread
If someone posts a question or an update on a channel or group, it might be best to respond using the thread function. This leaves a comment below their message. Unlike direct messages, everyone in the channel or group can see the thread and learn the answer and so save time by not repeating something that’s already been said.
You can also tag someone who would benefit from seeing the post or might know the answer by using @name in the thread. It’s a simple way of bridging the gap between the person who’s posted and the person who can help. Don’t use it as a way to palm off making a contribution yourself though, use it as a quick communication tool.
They say a picture’s worth a thousand words. We’d argue that the same goes for emojis. You can use them to react to a post, letting your colleague know that you like their idea or appreciate their work. Instead of saying ’OK’, you can use the thumbs up or green tick emoji to tell them that you understand.
Emojis can be used to communicate your tone of voice: friendly, surprised, uncertain. A lot can get lost in translation for written messages, which can come across as harsh or cold. Adding a 100 emoji here and a technicolour parrot there can bring warmth and humour into play.
Don’t go overboard though. “They’re decoration and context, not a substitute for words,“ says Eve Stepney, Head of Copy. “Replacing words with them just makes messages harder to read and easier to misinterpret, which isn’t the ideal outcome for any communications. They’re seasoning, not the meal!“
If you need to notify every person who is a member of a channel, you can ping them by writing @channel - a bold (and often emergency) move. For a just slightly more subtle way of drawing attention to your message, use @here. That way, only the people who are active on the channel will be notified.