A Field Guide to Managing Noise on Slack

Noise is one of the most discussed and misunderstood aspects of instant messaging in workplaces. Synchronous communication is thought of as this virus that turns your sharpest people into gif loving teens. It is also perceived to be a source of constant distraction that hinders people from reaching “the flow”.

Add to that the paranoia people associate with the cultural implications of an “everything goes” system that converts traditional office spaces into a virtual open floor plan one.

The specific techniques listed in this post work best when dealing with noise on Slack inside a company.

Using DND to create silent times

Let us start with the obvious. Multi tasking is never going to take you to flow state. If communicating with people isn’t your core work then you’re better off you setting up DNDs to ensure notifications don’t bother you.

Using DND in Slack

A helpful technique is to set up automated do not disturb times for the hours you’re usually most productive. Think of it as the equivalent of Pomodoro technique of time management in the time of instant messaging. 2 hours of uninterrupted work followed by 10 minutes of being available to chat and so on. You’ll be surprised how effective this is. It doesn’t take away any of the key benefits of Slack as your co-workers can still reach out to you if they really need a response.

Channels - join slowly, leave quickly

If you find yourself constantly trying to resist the urge to reply and contribute on channels, perhaps it is time to take a look at the channels you’re a member of. This is one of those problems that just have to be prevented rather than cured. The simple mantra here is not to join a new channel unless its purpose is clear and you have a role to play in it. If you get invited to a channel whose purpose sounds very similar to another channel, don’t shy away from direct messaging the creator asking them if they really need a new channel.

It might also be a good idea to leave channels once your role in it or it’s purpose itself has been met. Being ruthless about this ensures you’re never battling on too many fronts and there are only few channels that actually warrant your attention.

Needless to say this will make you much more productive across channels. Another productive way to manage channel related noise is by encouraging the use of private channels. They not only restrict noise from unwanted parties but are also a mark of a serious conversation.

Establish rules for posting (esp gifs)

They say a gif is worth over a 100 characters. Nothing is more expressive than a cute 2 sec loopy video. But they are also very addictive, both to post and to consume. Having rules around posting gifs or other fun items in a channel reserved for specific conversations is super important.

Rules for gifs

One way we set up rules for a channel is by typing out the rules as a single message and then pinning the message on the channel. People are less likely to break an explicitly stated rule, but YMMV :)

This is a good hack for making Slack less distractive. So when people share links to articles or tweets or videos, they do not appear with the enticing media inline with the message. This in turn will discourage people from reading the blurbs, getting interested and following the deep dark rabbit hole.

Kill auto show of media in slack

Unfortunately this is not something you can enable channel-wise and so it might be a bit of a buzzkill for any ‘random’ conversation channels.

Using mark as unread and /remind

At times, it makes sense to break the synchronous nature and get back to people later. There are two ways to achieve this. Mark messages that you need to respond to by marking them as unread. This will add a badge of unread message on your sidebar and will serve as a reminder to get back to a person or channel.

reminders in slack

Another interesting way is to use Slackbot (the nifty bot that accompanies your Slack) to remind you to do a specific task at a given time. Simply send something like ‘/remind me to reply to kenny at 4pm’ and it will ping you when it’s time.

Customize your sidebar for being more productive

You can customise your sidebar to list starred channels and unread messages better. By default, Slack shows everything in our sidebar, including all channels and everyone you’ve interacted with recently. This is obviously not a great idea.

I prefer having all unread messages in my sidebar while other people in my team swear by starring conversations and then having starred and unread messages listed together for quick access.

Do give these tips a shot and see if this helps in manage the noise levels in your Slack team. Have an interesting technique to manage noise on Slack? Do share with us in the comments.