10 steps to creating better remote work culture (on Slack)

10 steps to creating better remote work culture (on Slack)

I’ve been managing and leading remote and distributed teams and vendors for years (my first project chat tool was not Slack, not even Hipchat, but Pidgin(!)) — and now that coronavirus has suddenly reminded us all that we are not suddenly as adept at working together digitally as we thought we were, I thought it helpful to share the biggest issues that I see most companies not understand in creating a positive remote work culture (especially when using Slack).

1. Be clear on the times when you need to be available for each other, and make them explicit. 

During those times, you should not be away from your machine (for an unreasonable amount of time), or take hours to respond. This problem creates decision delay, where something that might have been handled in 15 minutes takes a series of message, delay, message, delay, and so on — until it becomes hours and even sometimes days.

You will simply need to explain this to some people on your team. They’re not used to balancing this availability, as you all shared walls in the same room. It just wasn’t necessary. Now, for some, it will be. Be polite about this — you’re not telling people they can’t grab lunch, or go to the bathroom. You’re asking people to let you know if they need to head out, or handle an errand. You’re trying to prevent your businesses or projects progress from slowing to a crawl.

2. Use your Slack effectively — create channels that are meant for general communication, and channels that are meant for explicit types of messaging. 

Some classics we use are ‘alerts-x’ , ‘bugs’ ‘out-of-office’. Use ‘alerts’ channels for system feeds via webhooks or zapier that keep people aware of activity, but don’t put all your alerts in one channel.

Do ‘alerts-github’ or ‘alerts-hosting’ and on down the line, doing them all in one channel will just get them ignored. If you’re worried this is going to create channel fatigue, make alerts channels optional or in ‘small groups of connected systems’, like ‘alerts-engineering’ or ‘alerts-sales’.

Don’t be an ass, but don’t let channels devolve in to never being on topic. Try to keep them reasonably focused.

3. Don’t lock Slack channels that others might observe because they want to, not because they have to. 

Remember that seeing activity is not always a cognitive burden — in remote workspaces, seeing activity is often a reminder that you’re part of a team.

Locking Slack channels just prohibits others from seeing activity that might remind them what all is happening, and how much everyone is working toward the same goals. Lock channels that NEED to be private, for HR or legal reasons, sure — but don’t force privacy where not necessary.

4. And on the other hand, be clear about what channels are required and what aren’t. 

Don’t over-burden your team with required invitation to 100 channels, because for some, that will make them feel at whim to following all of them. It’s best to just discuss this, and ensure you and your teams are on the same page.


Let them know that you’re glad to have them in as many channels as they want to follow along, but here are the ones that they need to be in, given their role or department. Anything else is optional, and if it’s ever too much, they’re free to leave.

5. When you have grouped channels or departments — and many Slack channels, organize them with an alphabetical prefix. 

It helps to keep your Slack clear by seeing ‘sales-alerts’, ‘sales-general’ ‘sales-news’ (for example) than trying to find the sales channels as ‘news-sales’ and non-consistent naming. Use the alphabet for vertical grouping to your advantage.

Working with clients this is often even worse. You may have many internal and external channels. Create prefix or suffix patterns that will help your team easily identify those channels that are internal and those that are connected to partners, vendors or clients.


#client-int-buddy #client-int-dojo #client-ext-buddy #client-ext-dojo #engineering #engineering-news #general #sales-alerts #sales-chat #sales-weekly

6. And this is to me, the most important — proactively communicate what you’re doing — become ‘sharers’

In remote work culture the greatest failure is generally that your communication devolves in to two types — random and fun stuff, and work stuff ‘when you need something’. You have your joke channels, and your ‘hey did you do your thing’ channels. In truth, this need to keep asking ‘did this happen yet’ or ‘did that happen yet’ — is usually because you haven’t created a remote culture where people share what they’re doing proactively.

How can you know this is an issue? Have you ever been on a team and seen 24 hours or 48 hours go by and no one post anything in a Slack channel at all? This is a symptom of your team not understanding the value of sharing updates ‘just to keep others informed’. Just imagine that in an office. You just went through 2 days and didn’t have anything to discuss. I can’t imagine a business operating like that.

This is especially common on small teams where everyone represents their whole department/work function. They may all be reporting their items back up to the CEO, but possibly in private chats, or in calls. This business is functioning remotely, but it’s not building a remote work culture. It’s not helping individuals understand how to dispense information across the team better, in a remote setting. It’s best that you lead the example to the team by showing them often how you share. Something like:

“Just updated the Asana cards and organized everything. Moved a few of the items we haven’t been making progress on back to the icebox and a couple things that we finished to the done list. Next I’ll try to add details to the next two cards on the backlog and should have that ready by tomorrow.”

There’s no request or ask, nothing that anyone else really even needs to know, but you’re patterning a team where awareness and group effort is communicated, not just a responsive system

7. And mentioned briefly above, but also important — try to avoid private messages as much as possible. 

Key decisions or the history of planning something shouldn’t be done in a 1:1 that can’t be viewed by others or is difficult to recollect. Try to keep department conversations in those department slack groups almost always.

If you’re working with clients, this is especially true. Don’t just take this action yourselves, but try to make sure everyone on your team pushes client conversations back to group channels. Private client convos can result in HR, legal or just difficult conversations happening in a place where you can’t access or help triage should anything ever go off the rails.

8. And per those ‘fun’ conversations, I say empower them. 

We’ve had channels for ‘curated-news’ ‘curated-music’ ‘curated-videos’ and ‘deals’, ‘random’ and ‘gif’ channels. Try to allow people to still have personalities and showcase them.


Most teams are actually pretty good at this, and Slack obviously supports it with emoji reactions, giphy support and so on. You won’t likely have to do much work here, but sometimes it can be helpful to not let this divide happen between your ‘leadership’ and your team, where the fun part of Slack is something the team does and the leadership doesn’t. That just exacerbates the management silos that get generated in non-remote settings anyway.

9. Remember and make explicit to your team that individuals have different communication styles when using remote chat tools. 

Some people may seem brusque, or even angry in how you interpret their messages — but it may just be their writing style. Try to encourage your team to read their remote and chat interactions through the lens of, ‘I can’t assign emotion to this person based on their chat, so it’s best for me to just ask.’

I’m guilty of this, personally — where my time and bandwidth leaves me using a lot of short, quick responses. I try to catch my teams at some point and remind them that it’s not anger and I’m not upset, just the nature of how I communicate when juggling items. That chat, and the willingness to have it, is always helpful.

10. And stepping off Slack for a moment — if you can, ask your team to always turn on their video during group chats.

Or especially during client meetings. Remember that at the end of the day seeing another human face is an emotional and psychological benefit that your team needs to connect.

Slack IS a great tool and for all the anti-Slack sentiment, I’ve seen it bring passionate teams and projects together in ways that create honest-to-god life-long friendships and hugely successful businesses — however, it’s not a face-to-face conversation, and never will be. Try to be that person for your team, to let them know you, even if it feels easier to not sometimes.


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