Remote company culture guide for the Slack generation
👋 1.0 Introduction
Hi, I’m Tomas, the founder of Ahoy team. I firmly believe that setting up a healthy company culture is the key to growing a stable, happy, and well-balanced team. Sure, there are probably tons of guides and manuals out there on company culture, but how many of these go beyond the same basic principles and practices for co-located companies? What about 100% remote companies?
Companies around the world, big and small, have been making the switch from office-based employees to partially or fully remote workers. Flexible working has been shown to improve productivity, employee satisfaction, save money, and increase the diversity of the talent pool.
More and more companies are taking on remote workers, often based in different parts of the world across time zones and cultures. The way team members work together, communicate, and build relationships has evolved, and so should the way we approach building company culture.
With most communication and collaboration happening online, companies around the world have brought their teams together over tools like Slack.
Slack has revolutionized office communication. Instead of emails arriving in an inbox, Slack creates a steady stream of organized conversations. It allows the user to have daily discussions with colleagues as well as maintain a regular workflow from team to team. Essentially, it’s a collaboration hub where you and your team can work together to get things done. It is casual and reflects how people communicate, eschewing email’s outdated formalities, it’s efficient, and it reflects how culture is changing with globalization.
Slack is such a popular tool for remote teams that I created this guide specifically on how to use it to build company culture. When used correctly, it can support a sense of common purpose across a disparate workforce. When misused, it can undermine any efforts to bring people together.
The explosive growth of Slack has coincided with the boom in flexible working. As both trends have snowballed, each company has created a process (or lack of process!) for managing productivity, collaboration, and growth across its remote workforce. We all probably have our own horror stories of where culture has gone wrong- and it’s from these experiences that we can learn.
This guide is packed with tips, tricks, and real-life examples of how to build a culture in the hyper-connected, global, remote, Slack generation. In the next few chapters, we’ll go over some of the tips and tricks of using Slack for the greater good, based on advice from team members of well established remote companies like Dribbble, GitHub, InVision, Automattic, and Zapier. Let’s get started!
📖 2.0 How to use this guide
It’s important to state upfront that this is not an instruction manual for how to use Slack or any of its technical functionality. For more info on how to use Slack, go check out their fantastic blog!
Think of this as a guide to the different aspects of company culture and work processes that a tool like Slack can help you achieve in your company. Some tips will be more useful for larger teams, while others are better suited as general rules for any remote worker. The more you know, the easier it will be to make the most of your remote work experience for yourself and your employees.
You don’t need to read this guide from top to bottom (although I’d love it if you did). Feel free to skip to the sections that are most interesting and relevant to you. If you disagree with anything you read or would like to add to the discussion, feel free to ping us on twitter @hellodusko. Or email me personally, I’ll take it very seriously. (email@example.com).
Lastly, share the love! This guide isn’t just for HR professionals, founders, or ‘happiness managers.’ It’s for everyone in your company, which is why we made it free! Share it to create an open conversation about what it means to feel part of a team.
🤗 3.0 The importance of company culture in remote teams
3.1. Defining company culture
Company culture is hard to define. It’s that secret sauce, the personality of a company. According to Wikipedia, it's the “behavior of humans within an organization and the meaning that people attach to those behaviors.”So far, so unhelpful.
Some people and companies think they have it all figured out (is there anything more frustrating?!). But the reality is some of the companies that think they have great culture are some of the worst culprits. Humility helps us learn, and every company has improvements it can make.
An important distinction to make is that culture- inclusive of company vision, values, norms, systems, symbols, language, assumptions, beliefs, and habits (thanks again, Wikipedia), is not about individuals. It’s not something employees bring with them; it’s in the DNA of the company. Even pre-team companies have a culture.
Most companies don’t have the foresight to do significant cultural planning; it evolves and adapts as they grow. Certain things can help, such as setting shared values, a mission statement, and fostering an environment of trust. As it’s so difficult to define, you can’t do a ‘culture audit.’ There are a few factors you can look at to give you a gauge of how positive your culture is.
Employee behavior is one. Behaviour is a symptom of culture- How do your employees act when they’re on the job? Are there common behaviors – either good or bad? What does having this job mean to your employees, and would they go elsewhere if they had the chance? These can indicate either good or bad culture.
Culture is about how the team works together as one cohesive unit that seamlessly drives towards the same goal while being happy in the process. The vast majority of our hours are spent at work, so work itself needs to be rewarding. Team members need to feel like they are contributing to a goal more significant than themselves. Building culture around deep practices, metrics, and values has more longevity and a sense of sincerity than free lunch and ping pong tables (nothing against these things- just not in isolation).
3.2. Company culture is everything for remote teams
For a remote team, company culture is critical. A common misconception (that I’m here to challenge!) is that it’s more challenging to build a company culture in remote teams than in co-located teams.
It’s true that in co-located teams, there are more naturally occurring opportunities for relationships to develop, such as going for lunch or conversations in passing. However, co-located teams tend to take it for granted that a positive culture will develop, instead of making a concerted effort to foster a sense of teamwork. With remote teams, you know it’s not just going to happen automatically, so you go in with intent. With the right focus, both remote and co-located teams can benefit from this renewed focus on positive company culture.
Culture is an ongoing process. Employees should feel happy in their jobs, and the atmosphere shouldn’t provoke stress. A great culture should alleviate stress from difficult tasks. For remote employees, it’s easy to feel isolated, which is where tools like Slack have come in to create virtual hangout spaces and a sense of connection. Instead of team members seeing each other every day and spending time together in meetings or over lunch hours, companies can create bonds by utilizing technology to allow employees to spend time with each other, creating virtual hangout opportunities. We'll go into this later in this book (so keep reading!).
Let’s start with the basics. What are the building blocks of great culture amongst remote workers?
1. Hire the right people
It’s safe to say remote work isn’t for everyone. Despite the allure of the ‘Instagram lifestyle,’ remote work can be challenging and lonely. Ensure you hire people with emotional intelligence to remain productive and sane. Hire people who fit the positive company culture you have, or are working towards. People who don’t fit can have a significant impact on the morale and productivity of other employees.
2. Trust is the foundation
When you work in a remote team, you need to trust each other to deliver. There’s simply no way around the fact that when you all work from different locations, you can’t monitor productivity or input. Work should be measured on an output basis, and employees should be encouraged to be dependable and consistent. Generally, people want to do good work that provides them with a sense of accomplishment, and a culture of trust can create huge rewards.
Feeling trusted is a critical stepping stone in the journey to a healthy culture in a remote-based company. High-trust organizations are those with more empathy, collaboration, recognition of employees, vulnerability, and personal growth for everyone around. Low-trust organizations, on the other hand, tend to have toxic cultures that people wouldn’t recommend a friend work at, and themselves plan on leaving.
It’s essential to create a sense of accountability where each team member understands where their work fits into the overall company strategy and goals. In the age of remote workers, we need new technologies that bridge the communication gap, automate routine check-ins, and create platforms for recognition and reward. These new tools have the power to produce more efficient teams with higher accountability than has ever been seen in the physical office. Getting to know each other helps drive a connection to a common purpose and knowledge of how each other fits in.
Ask three specific questions:
1. Do you know what you’re meant to be doing in your role?
2. Do you (and have you or your boss communicated) the value of your role as it contributes to your department and company?
3. Do you understand the direction of the company as a whole?
Communication is complex. Almost all issues in companies can be improved or resolved by changes in communication. It’s not the responsibility of management to initiate conversations, but they can foster an environment of openness and provide tools, platforms, and touchpoints to support employees. Employees should have a say on how they want to communicate with each other, and regularly provide feedback on this. Tools like Slack revolutionize communication in remote workforces.
Note: In the next chapter, we’ll cover more in-depth the importance of over-communicating in remote teams.
5. Employee engagement
In job interviews, it’s common practice to ask a potential employee: “Why do you want to work here?” A robust answer is a good way of gauging whether or not the interviewee is on board with the company's mission and values.
Each employee should feel engaged and motivated to be part of the company. When the employee is on board with the mission, they’re engaged in the job and want to help the company succeed. As well as observing employee behavior, there are many best practices to keep employees in the loop, welcomed and onboard- connected to the previous point about communication. Remember, happy employees are more productive, act as talent acquisition tools, improve the brand of your company, and reduce costs.
Note: We’ll cover more ways to keep the engagement high in upcoming chapters (4.7.)
📌 4.0 General Slack tips
How does Slack fit into all of this? Well, in place of team members seeing each other every day and spending time together in meetings or over lunch hours, companies can create bonds by utilizing technology to allow employees to spend time with each other.
“Slack is a very human experience,” says Christina Janzer, who runs Slack’s UX research team. “It makes the workplace much more personal, which is maybe why people have such an emotional tie to it.” That’s also why Slack can reshape office relationships: It takes the group dynamics already present between co-workers and douses them in digital accelerant.
Let’s begin with some general tips, which can apply to any sized company in any industry, regardless of how many or which countries your team members are based in. Look at the following as a checklist to go through before you move on to any specific productivity guidelines. I can’t stress enough how just these few basic principles can change so much in team morale and overall happiness. I have personal experience of this if you couldn’t tell!
4.1 Over Communicating is always better
than working in silos
Unlike at the office, where sticking your nose in other people’s business is frowned upon and frankly, quite annoying, in the remote world it’s pretty crucial to ask questions and get involved. There’s nothing worse than keeping your colleagues in the dark by not actively sharing your progress on a project.
Let’s explore two different scenarios:
Nobody likes to talk about work hours and productivity. It’s often a sensitive topic amongst freelancers and remote workers, who feel that their hard work can be unseen or masked by the benefits of their set up. Work ethic is quite a typical conversation in bigger organizations and co-located employees too. Some studies have shown freelance and remote workers to be more productive without the constant office interruptions or the dreaded commute.
The truth is, it’s challenging to track exactly when and how much everyone in a team is working- physically seeing someone in the office can be a comfort, regardless of productivity. When employees are physically scattered across different time zones and work schedules, it’s difficult to feel in control of the output you are getting for your investment.
To avoid micromanagement, employees can be active members of the online team community by updating the group as things happen. Not necessarily documenting every trip to the restroom (no thanks) but instead, keeping your team posted with informal updates about when you’re going to lunch, starting late because of a dentist appointment, or checking in when your kid is sick. It may seem silly at first, but sharing even the smaller things, like taking a break to walk your dog for 20 minutes or saying goodnight once you’re done for the day are great ways of building your character amongst the team and keeping trust.
For example, “Thanks for a productive day, team. It’s just about my bedtime now… signing off with a good night & good luck. See you tomorrow.”
Focusing on the wrong tasks/projects
When tasks are not clear, sometimes employees can make assumptions and proceed with the work instead of asking for clarification. In larger organizations, different departments might be working on the same project or variations due to broader organizational politics. With remote employees, this can happen more frequently without the mechanism of quickly asking a question to your desk mate.
Again, something as simple as updating your team with what you're about to start working on can make the biggest difference to both productivity and a sense of connectedness. You can have delineated channels for specific projects or interests. Even better, lots of common project management tools like Asana integrate with Slack.
For example, “Hey all, I’m excited to start making progress on the FAQ page! What are you guys up to?”
Let’s be honest; it can be easy to forget employees in a different location. Knowing about important things happening in the company, and keeping everyone in the loop for any big decision is essential. Nobody likes to be kept in the dark.
Transparency makes everyone feel more connected and informed. Even just a monthly all-hands call when management gives a breakdown on important business decisions, and anyone can ask questions can make a big difference in providing a forum for people to be heard.
Processes should also be transparently communicated, so everyone understands who does what and how it’s all connected. Be honest and encourage vulnerability in your leadership team.
Organizations should ask if their leaders are visible to all employees and if the company’s vision is resonating with all employees across all locations.
Do your remote employees have the same opportunities for immersion into your organization’s culture, values, and vision as in-office colleagues? Do they have opportunities to share in this spirit through peer-to-peer interaction and interactions with management, even if those interactions take place mostly online?
If not, there may be a lack of leadership, which can be detrimental when building the trust needed to create a culture of transparency.
Leadership can be enhanced with increased communication. Communication methods that allow leaders and employees to interact include weekly leadership calls, town hall forums, and open-door policies that give employees easy access to management.
The important thing is that these communications between leaders and employees are honest, transparent, frequent, and are a two-way street that allows leaders to listen as much as they talk.
4.3 Respect different cultures, races, religions, social environments
You’d imagine this would be a no-brainer, but at times, it can feel a bit difficult to empathize and acknowledge people’s differences when you’re talking to a screen name. But to avoid some seriously embarrassing moments, it’s always wise to be mindful and respectful when speaking to your colleagues online. If you're not sure of how a colleague may react to a comment, it's always better to ask them by DM before making a spectacle of yourself by saying something that may sound offensive.
You may all be part of the same company, working to solve the same problems every day, but when you’re remote, you should be aware that your colleagues have private lives you may not necessarily identify with. For some, religious practices may be part of their daily routine or limit their availability on certain days. People around the world live according to their traditions and may have holidays on which it might not be possible for them to work. Remember that everybody has a right to their practices and beliefs.
It is also important to take into consideration different tastes in humor and cultural upbringing. For some, pub-jokes may seem humorous, but for others, they can be highly offensive. As a rule of thumb, it’s best to avoid jokes about sexuality, religion, gender, or race. If you’re not sure if something is offensive, avoid it.
Another thing to remember is that English may not be the first language of everyone you communicate with daily. Sometimes language barriers can inadvertently cause miscommunication, even more so with remote employees without the context of body language, facial expressions or tone of voice. When in doubt, ask for clarification.
As somebody who did not grow up speaking English, I’ve been told that my words can come across as direct or even potentially rude to native English speakers. Luckily, a great colleague alerted me to this before any damage was done in my career. As a language with subtle ‘between the lines’ meaning, give non-native English speakers the benefit of the doubt when communicating online.
4.4 Judgment-free communication
To create a healthy company culture, you need to have cultivated a judgment-free communication policy. Everyone should be encouraged to express their opinions without feeling scared of the response or its consequences. Of course, common sense applies- opinions need to be expressed in the right way and the right channel, tactfully, but openness should be encouraged.
Here are some quick tips for a way to cultivate judgment-free culture:
AMA - Ask me anything
Let anyone in the company ask questions that are answered by the executive team on an all-hands call.
1. Team members submit questions through an online forum — anonymously if theyprefer. There are a lot of free, no-nonsense tools out there to enable employees tosubmit questions anonymously. From Google forms, Typeform, to Slack integrations like Slido which lets you run AMA through simple Slack /command.
2. The entire team then votes on which questions they want the execs to respond on. This lets them know which questions are at the front of people’s minds and important to address. Critically, there shouldn’t be any cherry-picking or skipping upvoted questions without a legit reason.
3. Once a month or whenever your all-hands call is, there’s a dedicated time for the executive team to respond in the most upvoted questions with space for a discussion.
You can also do this natively in Slack. Create a channel called #all-hands-events if you don’t have one already, and invite all staff to join. Send out a @channel alert when you’re ready to accept questions for the all-hands event (this can be days before it is scheduled to take place). Ask employees to “vote up” questions they’d like to see answered by marking them with the ➕ emoji. Have someone off-stage tally up the best questions and feed them to a host or read them aloud for those on stage to answer, then mark questions that were asked with a checkmark emoji. Note- this method doesn’t allow for anonymous submissions.
One of the common practices in a lot of remote companies is sending internal surveys. Cadence can vary depending on the company, but usually monthly or quarterly is enough. It’s more about asking the right questions and not over requesting. People are busy, so to keep the response rate high, keep the number of questions low.
Here are some examples:
- How motivated do you feel by your work?
- Do you believe in the company’s vision?
- Is anything frustrating around you that blocks you from working effectively?
- Is your manager helping you grow within your goals?
For most companies, moving surveys into Slack will dramatically increase your response rates- most dramatically if you’re using Slack as your primary method of communication rather than as an instant messenger tool.
In addition to all-hands and smaller team or departmental meetings, it’s imperative to make time and space for your remote employees. 1-2-1s are a critical forum for employees to feel heard and talk about work and their personal development and themselves as a human being.
Try to use technology such as video chat to enrich the communication methods and reduce misunderstandings or misinterpretations. Just like when speaking in person, your remote 1-on-1s should be held in an environment free of distractions, both physical and virtual. Before your discussion, make sure to turn off any notifications. If you see an alert for a new message from a client, you may be tempted to have a glance during your conversation. Even a glance will signal to the other person that you’re not fully invested in the discussion.
4.5 You don’t need to be available 24/7 just because you work from home
One of the most common struggles amongst people working remotely tends to be separating their personal and professional lives. This is especially relevant for those who work from home, where distractions come in all shapes and sizes, and companies encourage ‘work-life integration’ or ‘work-life blend.’ When mobile phones untethered us from our computers, we were thrown into the deep end of an always-on, always reachable working world.
As it’s one of the perks of working remotely, being able to work from home can easily become a blessing in disguise, and work can overtake. The benefits of flexible working need to be balanced by good time management, clear communication, and setting expectations.
Some people try to solve this issue by working from a coffee shop or coworking space where you go home after you’re done working. But now that it’s so convenient to have Slack ringing and vibrating on every device, it’s becoming a challenge to disconnect ourselves from the lurking feeling that we’re obliged to stay available and online for every team in every time zone.
Email is easier to manage in this regard because at least it can be shut off by turning off notifications and not opening your email app. If you’re already in a work culture that doesn’t discourage after-hours emails, you might be missing out, but at least you can be in some semblance of control. Unfortunately this likely won’t be the case with businesses that use chat as its primary method of communication. Because the results of chatting with someone are so immediately felt, being a part of a synchronous organization tends to change the way that you think about communicating with others. We may be more prone to interrupt or be interrupted, which has huge consequences for our productivity.
If this sounds familiar, repeat after me: Nobody is expecting you to work for 24 hours a day. Just because a message from Slack comes in at 1 am your time doesn’t mean you need to urgently respond right away (assuming it’s not a time in your overlap hours). This may take a bit of self-control for some, but it’s essential for preventing burn out (not to mention issues with your friends and family). People are working more and more, and using some of the features of Slack-like ‘Do not Disturb’ (more on this later) can put those boundaries back in.
4.6 Learn to work asynchronously
As a company grows, teammates are in more and more countries and timezones around the world, bringing a diverse skill set of ideas and talent. As this happens, it’s important not to force teams to all be on the timezone of your dominant location. You will reap the rewards of a more productive team and greater employee satisfaction, reducing hiring cost, by allowing employees to work their timezones, perhaps with an ‘overlap zone’ for urgent queries and communication. Trust can empower employees to set their own schedules, starting early or finishing late to take calls with colleagues in different timezones.
There’s an intelligent little feature in Slack when you’re tempted to use @channel but don’t want to disturb people’s personal lives- it’s @here. Know the difference. The @here command lets you grab the attention of team members in a channel who are currently active. The @channel command, on the other hand, will send a message to all team members of the channel, whether they are currently signed in and active or not.
The @channel command is great for emergencies or major channel-wide announcements, but use it for only those instances, as doing so will send push and email notifications to everyone in the channel—including people who may be off work for the day or on vacation. For non-urgent announcements, @here is always best.
4.7 Slack overlap hours
An essential part of communication and trust is knowing when to stop pinging those who have signed off for the day/night when it’s not necessary.
1. Setting up 2-3 overlap hours
The term “overlap hours,” isn’t necessarily referring to a full 8-hour workday with every single team member present on Slack. Sometimes that kind of daily commitment just can’t be expected of people living on opposite sides of the planet where 10 am in one place may mean 3 am in theirs. Instead, focus on getting 2-3 scheduled (whether this needs to be daily, weekly, or bi-weekly is up to your team) overlap hours, where the whole team can be present and ready to participate in the conversation happening on Slack. It’s true, some employees will have to get up a little earlier, some stay up a little later, but these are known trade-offs for working remotely.
2. Setting up your timezone in your profile settings
Once you’ve got your overlap hours all squared away, it’s time to add your timezone to your profile. This will ensure your colleagues know not to ping you (non-stop!) during your offline hours. You can also use this time to change your notification settings.
4.8 Praise publicly, critique privately
Nobody is perfect. Mistakes and clashing opinions are bound to happen and frankly, should be expected somewhere down the line. For people working in a remote environment, where easily 200+ people have access to the conversation where the negative topic may come about, it’s important to follow a few guidelines.
1. Critique privately
There is no reason to critique or shame an individual over a mistake or opinion in a public setting. Doing so can be seen as bullying and can easily demoralize your team. It’s safer and more effective to speak to them privately via DM or over a one-on-one call. This way, you can discuss the issue in a more amicable environment, free from distraction and the risk of upsetting your team spirit or being misunderstood.
2. Praise publicly
Paradoxically, positive events such as team and individual accomplishments are always a good idea to share with the group. No matter the type or size of achievement, praise is appreciated and boosts the morale of the whole team. On a personal level, praise amongst peers is likely to boost one’s momentum and work ethics. So, next time a teammate helped you solve a problem, made a sales deal, or just did an excellent job on one of their tasks, say thank you!
4.9 Balancing the lack of personal contact with colleagues
In the remote work environment, it is not uncommon to work with a colleague for years without ever meeting them in person. This makes it difficult to build friendships but not impossible. Of course, as great as Slack is, it’s not the be-all and end-all of workplace communication. Sometimes in-person is best! Here are some suggestions for various remote situations:
1.Colleagues from the same city/country
If you work in a larger remote company, there’s a chance you might have someone working from your city or a location nearby. Reach out to them, go grab a coffee together, or plan a day for working together from the same coworking place. It may seem unnecessary, but getting to hang out with one of your peers every once a while gives you a better sense of being part of a real company with real people.
2. Local meetups
Organizing local meetups with the community while inviting employees from that area could help you win on two separate fronts. From a marketing perspective, this is a great way to engage with customers and build a community. As for company culture, making employees part of the event, and talking to customers has an enormous effect on the “team spirit” factor, building a sense of ownership and involvement.
3. Company off-sites
If your company has never organized team-building or a full-company offsite, or you’ve just never participated in one, you’re missing out on a lot of opportunities to bond. There is incredible value in building a strong company culture over a few days together in one location. Having a hackathon, going hiking with the team, surfing, or just playing company trivia night can quickly turn strangers from behind a screen into friends. There is no better culture booster than getting together every once in a while to have fun with the colleagues you’d otherwise only see over video chat.
Check out a video from a small InVision offsite in Portugal. Watch on Vimeo
4. Virtual happy hours
Now, this may seem a bit odd to some, but it’s been a thing over at InVision for quite some time now. Essentially, everyone is invited for a weekly group call to talk about… well, to talk about whatever they want with each other. Just like a real-life happy hour, colleagues are invited to join the call with a drink in hand (or on the table). Just to keep the conversation flowing, the folks over at InVision even had a suggested topic set up for each week.
5. Employees sharing pictures of their workspace
InVision and Zapier have a common theme of sharing desk photos to show how everyone is setting up their workspace and maybe inspire some of them to improve it.
Simply create a channel on Slack for #workspace-inspiration to allow anyone to post a pic of their workspace. If you get enough good ones, you could even make a blog post to show how your team works around the world!
Check out a video from a small InVision offsite in Portugal. Watch on Vimeo
6. Book club
Having a channel for #bookclub is pretty common among remote companies, but what about taking it to another level and include Kindle as in your employee onboarding swag package, so your team has even a simpler way to read and share some books to discuss in the book club.
7. Weekly random chat with a new, unfamiliar face
There’s a great Slack integration called Donut (also mentioned in chapter 9) which simply pairs you on a weekly base with a teammate that you’ve never talked to on Slack before and schedules a call between you to know about each other more.
8. Company-wide challenges
This is a fun one. There are tons of challenges you can do company-wide or per team to connect your teammates to compete and have fun with it. Here are a few ideas you might like:
Step tracking challenge
Similar to giving an e-reader in welcome swag pack, what about a Fitbit or another fitness tracker and have a “healthy competition” challenge on daily steps made. If you think about it, it also helps and encourages desk-based employees to get moving!
Organizing virtual running sessions could be just that kick you need when trying to go running alone and not having enough willpower to do it. You could share your GPS maps or try to create shapes in your city.
Same as you would do it with pizza and beer in your office, just organize a gaming session from your home with online games and compete with each other
Fun way to encourage the team to write about their hobbies or simply topics they are passionate about outside of work. With winners being published on the company blog.
👤 5.0 User Profiles
Setting up your user profile correctly and thoroughly is an essential step to building a rapport with your colleagues. Completing your Slack profile helps other members learn more about you. The basics will be there from when you created your account, but some workspaces may have included some additional custom profile fields.
I wish I didn’t have to say this but don’t use any dating app catchphrases or overshare in your bio. Start with an appropriate photo, and some of the tips below will help you project as much information about yourself at first glance as you can. This can really help build rapport as well as assisting colleagues to quickly and easily understand the essence of who you are and what you do.
5.1 Custom fields in profiles
With features like adding custom fields when setting up a company profile, adding something as simple as your location can be essential for keeping your team in the loop with your schedule. Just the right amount of informative fields, yet playful enough to spark a connection will do a lot.
Here are some good ones to consider adding:
- Current location
- Name pronunciation
- A fun fact about yourself
5.2 Utilize “Do not disturb” mode
Once you’ve gotten used to announcing your comings and goings, it’s time to start thinking about when to utilize “do not disturb” mode properly. There are two generally accepted times to use this.
1. Outside of working hours
Setup the times for your notifications to be automatically disabled, so you’re not bothered when going to sleep or first thing in the morning (nobody likes being disturbed before having their first cup of coffee).
2. Focus time
Utilize the “Do not disturb” feature when you need to focus and cannot be distracted. Similarly, disable your desktop notifications; they’re intrusive and annoying, and if you’re on Slack throughout the day, you’ll see things pop up as they come in. Nobody has time for those right-side-corner slide messages.
5.3 Take advantage of setting up your current status (OOO, dog walking, etc.)
We’ve all seen people’s statuses next to their names. It’s way more helpful than you’d think. Just a simple note or an icon can be enough for your colleagues to understand where you are or what you’re up to before sending you a message. Here are a few good examples:
If you are traveling and will generally be unavailable, set up a non-expiring status using the palm tree emoji or airplane emoji. You can also add text about your location or specific status (in transit, flying to Bali, family vacay), letting folks know you may be less responsive.
Food & coffee time
If you go out for lunch or on a coffee break, keep your colleagues in the loop with a food or coffee emoji. Some of your coworkers may likely be in different time zones, so this gesture can help them understand that you might not respond right away.
I guess this one doesn’t need much explanation! One of the big benefits of remote working is being able to walk your dog in the middle of the day, and this alerts colleagues you’re out and about.
Country/Religion specific holiday
If you’re celebrating a holiday that is not a “day off,” set up a simple status and say what days specifically you might not be responding at all. Don’t assume that other countries practicing other religions will automatically know you are away. Use which emoji is appropriate for you.
One thing is setting up the “do not disturb,” mode, but you can also drop a link in your status saying you’re currently focusing on a task and will respond in a couple of hours.
Random mood vibe
Just drop a fun emoji as your status if you feel like it can make someone laugh. This helps foster a connection across remote teams.
📢 6.0 Channels: all you need to know to use them effectively
In Slack, teamwork and communication happen in channels. A channel is a single place for a team to share messages, tools, and files. They can be organized by team, project, or whatever else is relevant. Team members can join and leave channels as needed. Threads, on the other hand, allow for focused and organized side conversations within channels.
Many people can get overwhelmed by the daily use of Slack, and the constant connection and notifications can become counterproductive. As the team grows rapidly, this only increases and people can worry about missing important information and become stressed by unread messages.
Fortunately, a lot of these issues can be avoided with habits, boundary setting, and holding ourselves accountable for how we communicate with each other.
6.1 Clear channel names and conventions
By using clear and predictable naming guidelines, people are more likely to ask questions in the right places, troubleshoot their issues, and connect with the right people to get work done efficiently within Slack.
Here’s a great article from the Slack team on a more complex naming convention technique: https://get.slack.help/hc/en-us/articles/217626408-Create-guidelines-for-channel-names
Whatever naming convention you choose, it’s important to write them down in an onboarding document so that new hires can get up to speed quickly.
6.2 Channel purpose
Every channel should have a clear purpose. Preferably, this purpose will be described in the purpose field at the top of the channel. This way, anyone joining or browsing the channel will quickly and easily be able to see what information they can find, share, or ask, improving effectiveness.
6.3 Open channel settings
In a remote culture, it’s important to have an environment of trust and collaboration. Any user should be able to change the channel names and details without the help of an admin. This also reduces the workload of your central team.
6.4 Pinning important stuff in channels
By pinning essential resources to a channel, people can quickly find the answers to their most common questions, onboarding can be sped up, and it reduces repetition, which can kill engagement. Highlight the top resources!
6.5 Channel etiquette /@here @channel usage
This rule references back to the general etiquette guidelines we covered earlier in this book.
Remember to be respectful and refrain from giving negative feedback to anyone publicly. Negative feedback or constructive criticism is an important tool to improve people’s work and keep a sense of development and engagement. However, Slack is not the right medium for this. Instead, praise and highlight great work in this wide setting, and keep the more difficult negative feedback for private forums such as video chat or face to face.
It is also essential to also make sure to follow the channel's purpose and not to sidetrack or “spam” a channel with random topics and conversations.
@here or @channel can be very destructive to the flow and attention of a channel. Remember that using these functions notifies everyone who is online (@here) or everyone on and offline (@channel). Sometimes this can mean hundreds or even thousands of people. In most cases, this is not necessary. Reduce the noise that people experience by not mentioning anyone- it will still be picked up by active users.
Occasionally, if there’s a storm coming and you need an urgent answer, using @channel might be the best approach. In this scenario, describe your question or issue succinctly and clearly to reduce the follow-up messages asking for clarification.
If someone is sidetracking in a channel or going off-topic too often, some companies have a habit/rule of dropping a specific emoji, such as, to let them know they should stop. While this can be perceived as passive-aggressive, it can halt the sidetracking quickly and efficiently.
If you’re asking something in a channel, add a label on your message stating the context. It’s a quick way to help others determine what to do. You can use things such as ‘Action required’ or ‘For information only.’
6.6 It’s ok to leave a channel
In order to maintain a streamlined workflow and reduce distraction, it’s good practice to clean up the channels that you don’t need regularly. Similarly to how you’d unsubscribe to junk mail in your inbox, don’t feel you need to be on everything if it doesn’t help you do your job. Cluttering up your sidebar with unnecessary channels gives me instant anxiety- it’s ok to leave!
Here are a few tips. If you haven’t visited the channel in over a week, leave it. Chances are, you don’t need to be there, and you will have less unread messages. And eventually, if anyone needs you back in that channel, they will mention you directly and you’ll be notified so you can rejoin and reply.
You don’t need to be part of every conversation. It’s actually okay to join a channel and leave just 10 minutes later if your business there is done.
This principle will clean up your channels list, distract you less and probably (most certainly) gives you more time to focus on important tasks and conversations.
6.7 Snoozing channel notifications
Muting your favorite or most used channels is perfectly acceptable when you’re busy, or just need to step back to check in periodically. Even if you find a channel too noisy, you can still be summoned back in by a mention if needed.
6.8 Starring channels
On the other hand, if you have channels you want to keep track of and don’t want to miss anything there, easily starring them will bring them on top of your channels list. All of this is a part of healthy social hygiene to free up your time.
6.9 Less hidden private channels, more open public ones
While it’s not necessary to keep everyone in the loop about everything, private channels can make people feel excluded and foster negativity. It’s much better to have open public channels, and using the tips described earlier, allows people to opt-out of things that are not relevant to them.
Sometimes of course, private channels can be necessary for the culture. If it’s a matter of business-sensitive content or simply making a safe space for anyone to be themselves. Public and private channels for LGBTQ+ and channels that can serve as support groups when needed.
6.10 Announcement channel / general channel
Try changing the #general channel to an #announcements channel (everyone is in this channel by default), and use this channel only for company-wide announcements that no one should miss. When a user sees a notification from this channel, they will know it’s something they need to pay attention to.
It’s also advisable to keep the celebrations of such announcements limited to reactions (or threads), so the channel is easily legible. This channel is also a good place for roundups of weekly (or monthly) happenings.
Having a reliable announcement channel will make company-wide emails redundant. Eventually, every department can have its own announcement channel for important announcements, if necessary.
6.11 Tips for useful channels ( #welcometeam, #salesdealsdown, …)
Useful channels to replicate
Create a #team for welcoming new team members, celebrating birthdays, and non-critical team togetherness.
Move sales wins to #salesdealswon as an homage to the awesomeness of the sales team. Separating this into a category of its own makes it more special while giving space to the #team channel, where the number of sales wins can be just overwhelming.
Connect your company twitter account to Slack to have all company mentions flow to one channel. This way, you can always see what’s going on on social without having to leave your workflow.
If you have a company-wide offsite or an event that you’re organizing, it’s great to start all channels related to that with an event name/shortcut + purpose of it. This way, anyone can search for all channels around that event seamlessly. This also makes it easier for admin to archive it all together.
Fun random ones
You would be surprised how many dog/cat people love to share their photos and talk about their little furry friends. Give them a place to share the furry love.
There’s a reason why book clubs are a classic. Share the books you’re currently reading and get some inspiration from other like-minded individuals.
Yes, this is exactly what you think it is. For all folks over 40, and you would be surprised how many companies have this channel. With millennials taking over the workforce, it can be helpful to connect with similarly aged colleagues.
A place to go when you need to talk about something irrelevant and way too random for any other channel. And why that’s called danger-room? Because most of the time, conversations like that just don’t have a limit and can waste hours of your productive time.
💬 7.0 Direct Messaging
One of the coolest things about being part of a remote company is the accessibility you have to all team members. You’re always just a click away from your CEO or an engineer, who may well be on the opposite side of the planet. In comparison to trying to get a word in with virtually anyone in a 400-person traditional office space, a remote company is about as personal as it gets these days.
With this in mind, it’s important to know some basic guidelines on how to approach direct messaging and knowing when it’s better or worse than talking in a @channel.
7.1 Respecting work hours and snooze mode
This becomes especially apparent when peers get in the habit of disrespecting work hours by sending questions or requests when you’re busy or offline. In the office environment, this is less likely to happen, as you’d simply be away from your desk or you might be able just to close the door. Within Slack, something as small as a notification or ping can be enough to throw you off from your focus. In the worst case, it may even take away from your private time, when you’re meant to be enjoying your personal life.
If a coworker has made their offline status clear, but you still have a message that’s absolutely imperative to send, at least pretext the message with an explanation for its urgency before hitting that “send” button.
- Unless the company is on fire, you better not click on “notify over snooze mode.”
- The snooze mode is there for a reason. Respect the snooze.
- If it really is critical, send your message and provide full context (instead of sending one line at a time). Craft the message methodically, to give the recipient the chance to respond fully.
7.2 Acknowledging messages and requests
You may be busy, you may be swamped with deadlines and projects, but the person who messaged you five minutes ago may not be aware of your workload. As tempted as you might be just to leave it unread, it’s simply more effective just to take a minute to let them know you’ve seen their message and plan to get back to them later. It can be as easy as using the / / reaction or just a quick, “Hey, got it, will get back to you,” before setting a reminder (right-click on the message) to ping you in X hours so you can respond.
7.3 Take longer convos from public channels to DMs
When a conversation on a certain topic starts to take up too much space in the chat, it may be time to move to a more focused setting to resolve the issue. This doesn’t necessarily mean every longer discussion needs to be moved to a DM or group message, but rather that there are situations where it does make sense.
- When discussing assignments or specific projects with a clear action item, it’s often best to take the conversation to a more focused space. This way, you’re able to assign a task to the appropriate person in the appropriate place.
- Channel discussions can easily evolve into a conversation between just two people. In this case, it’s better to continue discussing the matter in a DM, to avoid overcrowding the channel with 50+ notifications. You can then ping the channel with a resolution or notes from your private convo if necessary.
- As mentioned in chapter 4.4, it’s best to move critique or constructive criticism to the DM inbox, rather than putting someone on blast in the channel.
- Sidetracking to off-topic discussions can be really annoying. Probably all of us have done this at least once without realizing it. It’s okay to tell your peers if they’re getting off track and suggest they move to DM.
7.4 Calling vs. DMs
Not everyone particularly likes calling or video calling. Some folks prefer to have more time to process their thoughts or are partial to typing out points rather than discussing them on the spot. However, a quick call can often save hours of discussion over the course of sometimes hundreds of messages.
When to take a call
1. When providing answers or an explanation for a complex topic.
2. When discussing an important matter which requires a quick resolution
3. When talking to a person who you know loves to message a lot it can be quicker to have a call
When to message instead
1. When asking or answering simple questions that don’t require elaborate explanations.
7.5 Hidden Tip: mark unread
Do you know those times when you check Slack too quickly? Like when you check your phone first thing in the morning (not a healthy habit, btw), take a glance while commuting, or when you’re mindlessly scrolling during a coffee break? The trouble with these habits is that oftentimes while we’re just browsing out of boredom or habit, we forget that we’re actually on a work platform. We’re being asked to answer questions and complete tasks. Messages are often left unanswered, and requests are forgotten.
By the time you get to work mode, you simply can’t find those messages anymore. Better yet, you probably forgot about them altogether or can’t recall what channel they happened on. In those cases, it’s helpful to use the mark unread tool (shortcut: use Alt + click on the message). This way, you’ll be able to check back on all those unanswered questions and inquiries by clicking on the “all unread,” section.
🤖 8.0 Company culture Slack apps
Here’s a list of integrations collected from our research with companies like Dribbble, InVision, and Automattic which help with creating or improving a company culture over Slack.
I’ve been a big fan of this app from the start. Bonusly provides an interesting and fun approach to recognition and rewards for those you work with. Although the concept may sound odd to those who haven’t worked remotely before (yes, I’ve asked), it can be pretty motivating for those of us in the remote sphere.
The concept is essentially this: each employee receives a monthly budget (usually around $20 from their company, not their paycheck) to spend on sending $1 to $5 thank-you messages to their peers.
Screenshot from an article at InVision blog.
You can use this budget to send a public thanks to any of your colleagues for completing a task quickly, being proactive, or even simply for being a good team player. These cash points can then be withdrawn in a variety of ways, including cash, an Amazon gift card, a donation to charity, or even custom goal-driven rewards.
Read more about it here.
Donut started as a simple tool to help employees connect with any random coworkers they’ve never talked to before over Slack. For example, once a week, Donut will pair you with a random teammate, allowing you to introduce yourself for a coffee-chat to get to know each other.
Read more about it here.
Even though Troops is more of a sales team integration for connecting Salesforce directly through Slack and centralizing key sales workflows, there is a feature that still falls into company culture boosts; Sales Gong + Opportunity Alerts.
With this feature, you can celebrate with your team when they close a deal, create an opportunity, or hit key sales milestones. It’s a great way to let everyone in the company know that you’ve closed another deal and that business is truly booming!
Read more about it here.
Kind of like the Facebook function, this simple bot keeps you informed about any upcoming birthdays in the company. This ensures all members of your team receive a proper celebration! This goes to show that you don’t need to use a complicated product to make an impact on company culture.
Read more about it here.
Did you know doing internal surveys through Slack is more effective than via email or any web-based survey program? What’s more, it’s easy to set up and share across all channels.
Collecting and measuring internal feedback at scale has never been easier than it is now, with the help of survey integrations. Use this tool for company-wide engagement surveys, onboarding feedback from your new hires, all-hands meeting feedback, or even product sprint check-ins.
It’s worth a shot!
Read more about it here.
🦙 9.0 Strong Emoji game
Always save the best for last, right? In all seriousness, this is as important as any (or most ) of the chapters above. Every company has its way of doing things, like using a specific emoji to mark something cool or inappropriate, having a company-emoji mascot or a symbol of crazy celebration rituals. A lot of the time, a simple emoji reaction to a message can say enough, and you can save yourself the time and trouble of trying to respond with some witty line.
1. Start your emoji game
Here’s a great resource for popular custom Slack emoji you should consider adding to your team :) View website
2. Each employee gets a custom emoji as part of their “onboarding.”
Not sure this needs much of an explanation :)
3. Emoji As Serious Business
Emoji are fun, obviously. But they're also very productive if you use the correct ones as reactions. For example instead of replying to a simple task if you did it or not, just drop ✅. Or you can setup a custom emoji for important questions and anyone who is scrolling can quickly see there’s a question needed attention.
4. Example of a strong emoji player, Automattic :))
Until I saw this screenshot, I didn’t even realize there’s a limit to how many emojis you can put as a reply to one message.
Use the wrong emoji
Emoji can be misinterpreted or misunderstood very easily. Here are few examples you probably might have gotten wrong
😗- This face looks like it's whistling, but it's just another kissy face
📛- No fire here, though it looks like that. It actually means "name badge."
😥- This looks like a crying emoji at first glance, but it’s supposed to be a (disappointment and relief!) rather than tears.
🙆- No yoga or ballerina. According to Unicode, this is a woman making an "OK" gesture.
💩- Even when this is the most versatile emoji, please avoid using :) Even when it’s a smiley face, it can still mean that you think something is “garbage”
🥃 10.0 Conclusion
Yes! You made it to the end. I’m hoping you’ve read through most of the chapters and soaked up some of the tips on how to improve remote culture in your company. Now all you have to do is start implementing them (at least try to. I know sometimes we need to struggle through a little bit of bureaucracy to get stuff done).
It might never be perfect, but if each one of us strives to be better every day, we can make a better community for one another. The goal is to get to a point in which we work in an environment where culture is driven by respect, empathy, kindness, and full of good friends pushing toward the same goals.
If you have any questions, requests, or just wanna share your thoughts and tips, please reach out to me on twitter @hellodusko or ping me on firstname.lastname@example.org.