As many of us continue to work from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve gotten used to conducting our professional lives primarily in digital formats such as email, Zoom and Slack.
In many ways, Slack is reminiscent of a social media platform with its easy communication and implementation of GIFs and emojis, but it’s important not to get too comfortable. While Slack may feel like a more casual and fluid medium than email, that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to be rude or cross professional lines there.
HuffPost asked etiquette experts to identify the faux pas people often commit on Slack. Read on for nine examples.
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“If a co-worker’s status is set to ‘on vacation’ or ‘with my family,’ consider waiting to send a message, which may ping their phone,” said Diane Gottsman, a national etiquette expert, author of “Modern Etiquette for a Better Life” and founder of the Protocol School of Texas.
Take a moment to consider whether the matter is truly urgent before sending a push notification to someone. Perhaps it can wait until they’ve returned to work.
“If the communication truly is an emergency, choose an alternate platform or make a call,” Gottsman said. “If you are sending because you don’t want to forget, start your message with, ‘Read when you get back to the office — enjoy your vacation!’”
Having Direct Conversations Publicly
“Don’t muddy channels with side conversations,” Gottsman said. “Start a thread when appropriate by responding directly to someone within a channel ― or better yet, send a direct message when needed.”
If you have something uncomfortable to say, shoot the person a DM, pick up the phone or send an email requesting a conversation.
“If we’ve been going back and forth with eight other people on Slack and you put something in the channel that I really disagree with, I’m not going to put in front of everyone in the workspace that I disagree,” said Jodi R.R. Smith, president of Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting. “I’m going to DM you privately in Slack, take it off Slack and put it in an email. Or I’m going to pick up the phone and say, ‘Hey you posted this in Slack, and I thought that wasn’t a project we were going to do until next year.’”
Notifying People Unnecessarily
“When you’re responding to a co-worker, don’t use @channel to notify everyone in the channel,” Gottsman said. “Use the feature only when necessary.”
Take the time to understand all of Slack’s features ― such as using @here to notify only users who are active on Slack instead of @channel ― so that you can choose the most effective means of communication. Gottsman added that by using the @channel feature sparingly, you ensure that your messages will have more impact when you actually do need to get everyone’s attention.
Gossiping About Colleagues
“Do not criticize co-workers in writing,” said Patricia Rossi, a civility expert, keynote speaker and author of “Everyday Etiquette.”
Gossiping or writing highly critical messages about a colleague is both rude on a personal level and ill-advised for the future of one’s career. Accidents happen, especially on Slack.
“When you’re working in Slack, one advantage is you can divide out different channels and threads, so be cognizant of the channels and threads you’re using,” Smith said. “It’s easy to post something in one when you meant to in another.”
Even if you’re being extremely careful about the recipients of different messages, remember that those messages can still end up in the wrong hands. Your company’s Slack workspace may be vulnerable to hackers, and your employer can also access your data.
“Remember, whatever message you write can nowadays be screenshotted or forwarded to other people easily, quickly and at no cost,” Smith said. “Thus, think twice what you write, no matter how upset you might feel about someone or something.”
Bombarding People With Multiple Messages
“Don’t bombard someone with multiple messages,” Rossi said. “If someone is unresponsive, it could be that the person is on deadline, in a meeting, waiting or trying to get the answer themselves, or handling a personal situation.”
If the matter isn’t an emergency, just be patient and perhaps check in toward the end of the day or the following morning. If it’s urgent, try to get in touch in a different way, such as a phone call or email.
At the same time, if your communications about a specific work initiative have been taking place primarily on Slack, try to be consistent out of consideration for everyone involved in the matter.
“Don’t jump platforms,” Smith said. “If we’ve been doing this project for three months in Slack and I now need everyone to sign off on something, I’m not going to tell them only in email. People need to be consistent. Friends will all be texting, then suddenly we’re on Facebook Messenger, and I’m like, ‘Wait a second, what just happened?’”
Getting A Little Too Casual
“Slack is great for communicating with your peers and team, but keep in mind a dancing girl emoji might not be the best way to respond to the CEO,” Gottsman said. “Keep it professional, use proper grammar and punctuation, and use emojis in the appropriate context. Avoid slang terms which don’t seem to fit the conversation. It also goes without saying, but I will say it anyways … remember to keep the jokes G-rated.”
Avoid swear words and foul language, as well as obscure abbreviations that everyone might not understand. Don’t use the simple and fast aspects of Slack as an excuse to be lazy in your communications.
“If your boss asks, ‘How is Thursday’s big presentation coming along?’ you should respond with more than a thumbs up emoji,” Gottsman said. Overall, she advised doing your best to “read the room” when it comes to the proper way to use Slack.
“It’s easy to tell what kind of tone is appropriate for your particular workplace by reading through a channel,” she said. “If the regional vice president is cracking jokes and responding with monkey emojis, you can be comfortable with using emojis. If she’s more conservative, respond in kind. Your supervisor and managers always set the tone.”
Crossing Professional Boundaries
Even if your Slack workplace environment is generally casual, remember that you are still in a professional setting.
“There’s a difference between our social media that we use with our friends and family and the way we communicate with colleagues and clients,” Smith said.
She advised against discussing NSFW topics or sharing information about your romantic life on Slack, and emphasized the importance of establishing boundaries.
“With Slack and email, things are easily copied and pasted or forwarded,” Smith added. “Reread things, especially if you’re upset, before you hit ‘send.’ And if you notice people getting annoyed or sending zingers back and forth on a channel, you can say ‘OK, let’s hop on a Zoom!’ There are things people will say in an email or Slack that they would never say face to face.”
Not Snoozing Notifications During Off-Hours
Don’t forget about Slack etiquette with regard to the people in your home.
“Use Slack’s snooze feature to turn your notifications off on nights and weekends,” Gottsman said. “Your friends and family will appreciate not hearing the ‘ding’ of Slack messages from your phone all evening. Courtesy is still key.”