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Slack Tips and Custom Emojis

Do you use Slack for work? So do we! Here are a few of our tricks to turn it into a more efficient, richer tool.

Slack is our office

As a remote-first company, our main "office" is our Slack company account. That's where most of our conversations happen.

In fact, we designed our new brick-and-mortar office in Bologna to deliberately NOT include any meeting rooms. Conversations at Balsamiq should not happen in person — if they do, people who work from home will feel like they're missing out, and that’s no bueno.

Today we'd like to share with you a few tips and strategies we have come up with that allow us to turn Slack into a more effective and warmer tool for our company.

Tip #1: Use stars to de-clutter

Slack has a built-in feature called "Star this channel". This lets you mark things that you want to be able to get back to quickly.

You can use Slack's built-in "star" feature to mark some channels as your favorites. If you then go to the preferences, you can select to only show "Unreads and starred conversations" in the Sidebar on the left.

After you set it up this way and star a few channels, the Sidebar will only show you a nice short list of the channels that are important to you right now, with easy access and without distractions. Try it out!

Tip #2: Save messages to get back to them

Another often-overlooked but very useful Slack feature is the ability to Save messages to bookmark them.

You can then show all your saved items:

One trick that we came up with to help us collaborate is to also add a custom emoji for :saved: and use it any time you save a message.

This quickly tells the author: "I have bookmarked this, I can't get to it right now but I have seen this message and I'll get back to it when I can."

We find this so handy that we wrote a custom Slack app that automatically adds and removes the :saved: reaction any time we save and unsave messages.

Tip #3: Have separate front-desk and core team channels

At Balsamiq we have different development teams, a marketing team, an admin team, etc. Each team has a channel that they use to collaborate on different work-related topics.

Over time, we have found it useful for each team to create a second, "front desk" kind of channel, to collaborate with the rest of the company. This is a place for anyone to ask questions for a specific team, and for the team to announce updates to the rest of the company.

Having a front-desk team channel allows the core team members to keep the core team channel small and focused. Try it!

Tip #4: Use naming conventions for channels

The more your organization uses Slack, the more channels inevitably pop up. To make sense of all of them, we came up with a naming convention: a series of prefixes to use before a channel name, which tells everyone what kind of channel it is. Here's a few examples:

  • #t_marketing — the t_ prefix means team channel for the marketing team.
  • #fd_marketing — the fd_ prefix means front desk channel for the marketing team.
  • #p_newsletter_2019_10 — p_ means project. We often create a channel for each project, which we archive when the project is over. This is great especially when projects involve people from separate teams (which happens often in our case).
  • #g_dogs — we use g_ for channels designed for groups of people to chat about non-work-related topics.
  • #c_marketing or #c_testing — c_ is for craft. If you want to learn more about the craft of marketing or software testing, join those channels. These channels are usually full of links from around the web.

You get the idea. Having clear prefixes helps everyone make sense of what a channel is about, and keeps things nice and alphabetical. 😊

Tip #5: Have a #lovefest channel

We have a couple of channels that are too important to have a prefix: our main one is called #announcements, for instance.

Another very important one we encourage every organization to have is what we call #lovefest.

This channel is a place where we collect nice things people say about our product or our company. Often they're screenshots of emails from support, or nice Tweets or even hand-written letters we receive.

We also use this channel to send props to one another.

A #lovefest is a huge morale booster for everyone on the team, you simply MUST set this up if you haven't yet.

We also have an #opportunityfest channel, which we use for angry messages or bad reviews... I'm happy to say, this channel is very rarely used. 😊

Tip #6: Improve expressiveness with custom emojis

Slack's reactions are a big reason for its success. Instead of polluting the channel with lots of reaction messages, people can react with small-but-expressive emojis and animated GIFs.

Slack comes with a good amount of reactions built-in, but those were not enough for us!

We've been gradually adding more and more. I compiled a selection of our most used ones, for you to use in your own Slack community.

Custom Emojis To Show your Colleagues Appreciation and Excitement

Sometimes a 👍 is just not enough. Here are a few more options:

  • :like:
  • :thanks:
  • :clap:
  • :awesome:
  • :fistbump:
  • :success:
  • :yay:
  • :woohoo:
  • :excellent:
  • :boom:
  • :mindblown:
  • :amaze:
  • :highfive:
  • :happypanda:
  • :excited:
  • :happyparrot:
  • :hero-female:
  • :hero-male:
  • :iseewhatyoudidthere:
  • :bananadance:
  • :lol:

Custom Emojis to Express Thanks and Affection

  • :awthanks:
  • :fallinlove:
  • :hug:
  • :bye-boo:
  • :phew:
  • :awww:
  • :fingerscrossed:
  • :noproblem:
  • :ouch:

Other Useful Custom Emojis

  • :plus1:
  • :twocents:
  • :low-priority:
  • :no-strong-opinion:
  • :i-trust-you-you-decide:
  • :thread-please:

Emojis about Logistics

  • :disappear:
  • :chomp:
  • :lunch:
  • :break:
  • :brb:

Tip #7: Add team members (and pets!) as custom emojis

In addition to the custom emojis above, we have made it a practice to add a new emoji for each employee when they start. This allows us to mention our colleagues in a visual way without notifying them, or use their face as a reaction to give them credit for something they did.

We also add emojis for our pets! Look at this message I sent earlier today:

I told everyone I was going to walk my dog Lucy, and later I reacted to my own message to tell people I had gotten back to my desk. Efficient, succinct, visually rich, and kind-a cute! 😊

Tip #8: Split long messages for easier threading

If you find yourself adding multiple points in your message — you’ll recognize this when you type 1), 2) or similar — stop yourself and send each point as its own message. This makes it A LOT easier for others to reply in a thread for each of your points.

Tip #9: Use status instead of “brb” messages

When you have to leave your desk for some reason, people’s first instinct is to type a message in the “catch-all” channel, saying “rebooting” or “errands” or similar. This actually requires everyone to pay attention to a channel which is normally considered not important. Instead, consider using Slack’s built-in status feature.

This has several benefits:

  • It doesn’t distract people with a new message.
  • It shows your status across all Slack channels.
  • It has an automatic timer, which clears the status for you.
  • It can be customized per organization — see the “For balsamiq” section above.

Tip #10: Have both private and public communities

We have 2 Slack accounts. One paid, which we use for communicating internally, and one for our community, which we keep on the free plan.

Our public Slack community is more and more useful: we use it as a support channel, we use it to run our private betas, we use it to keep in close touch with our biggest fans and best customers... It's great. You should join us!

Tip #11: Encourage employees to QUIT slack!

Last but not least, a tip to encourage focused work. Make it acceptable, nay, NORMAL, for people to quit Slack for parts of the day, any time they need to have some focused time. The ability to shut the world out is one of the biggest perks of working from home, so take advantage of it!

If you need them for an emergency, you can always call them on the phone! We keep a list of phone numbers on our wiki, but we probably use it less than 5 times per year.

So, tell your team that it's OK to quit Slack for a couple of hours, and do it yourself!

Are there Slack tips you'd like to share with us? We'll add them to our list!