Balancing fast and slow information in Slack

How to mix persistent knowledge with real-time communication in channels

Illustration with two people sitting inside a rotated clock
Image Credit: Pete Ryan

While most channels in Slack contain real-time conversations, when those conversations are productive, they’ll lead to plans, outlines, documents, and deliverables. That kind of content can serve both as a long-term guide to everyone’s shared goals and as an ongoing marker of completed milestones.

A challenge every team faces is how to balance “fast” information (like conversations) with their “slow” counterparts (things like schedules, lists, and spreadsheets). The good news is that it’s possible to balance both of these communication types in Slack.


Pin it to win it

The easiest way to track important messages and to reference files in Slack is to pin them to a channel. You can have up to 100 pinned items in a channel, but it’s best to be concise. Ideally, keep a handful of the most important documents and messages related to the channel’s purpose pinned. Just click the Show Channel Details button to reveal them.

channel details

Slack’s own #help-workplace-sf channel is where anyone in the company can ask questions about our office space in San Francisco. The pinned items contain a variety of reference material that can answer most frequently asked questions. We also encourage team members to check pinned items before posting new questions to a channel.

For anyone managing a project, it’s a good idea to periodically check pinned items, removing or updating anything that is out of date.

Tracking documents in Slack

Slack messages are ideal for real-time project collaboration, but when you firm up plans or new policies, you’ll probably want to put that into a document that can be shared and edited by others.

Posts in Slack are great for writing simple documents, while Google Docs, Quip, and Dropbox Paper are other popular options for authoring documents with your team. Once you’ve written up lists, outlines, or briefs, remember to share them and pin the most important ones to the channel.

An added bonus is that all the text in those documents is automatically indexed by Slack’s search, so you can find words and phrases inside them just as easily as you can find messages.

Ask Guru

Guru is an app designed for sharing knowledge inside a company. You can keep track of information by boiling it down to a title and a few sentences that get saved to a card, and then those cards can be organized into groups.

For example, Guru is often used in onboarding to help new employees get up to speed quickly. It’s great for sharing information like favorite restaurants near each office location, instructions on how to set up benefits, and other reference material that people periodically need to look up. It can also be useful for specific teams within an organization. A customer support team might have dozens of cards saved for responses to the most commonly reported problems.

Use the /guru slash command in Slack to find information

Guru lets you search all your cards within Slack, with the option to post them in channels to share with others. You can interact with the Guru bot or even use an emoji reaction to start writing new cards.

Fast lanes and slow lanes

A channel like #random is often used for fast-moving office watercooler conversations, but not every channel needs to follow that format. At Slack, we have some channels set aside for ideas and inspiration where people drop good examples of work they found online or half-baked notions of things that they might develop into projects in the future. Channels like these might only see a couple messages each week.

It’s good to set expectations for anyone on your team who discovers your slower-moving channels. Set both the channel topic and channel purpose to accurately describe the sporadic speed and specific subject matter of messages in that channel, so others can follow suit.

Slack is great for real-time collaboration, but not every channel has to be focused on that. And even for faster-moving ones, there are ways to remind people of goals, briefs, and project deliverables to steer everyone in the right direction and keep projects moving forward. Conducting daily discussions while also tracking long term goals in Slack is easier than you think.

Slack is the collaboration hub, where the right people are always in the loop and key information is always at their fingertips. Teamwork in Slack happens in channels — searchable conversations that keep work organized and teams better connected.