How to organize your work life into Slack channels

Best practices for setting up your workspace

Illustration with two bowls of ramen noodles and one bowl of noodles is shaped as the Slack logo
Image Credit: Pete Ryan

Channels are one of Slack’s core features and the best way to organize diverse groups of people working on lots of concurrent projects. They also create a deep history of all the work that’s happening in your organization.

office hoursWe recently shared ways that channels transform how you get work done — from bringing order to conversations company-wide, to increasing team cohesion through shared information and knowledge. But all of that begins with a proper channel setup, which is what we’ll be going over today.

 

Add channels for teams, projects, and functions

Before we get started, it’s good to remember that you have choices around how to start a conversation in Slack. You can send a direct message to just one person, create a group direct message with up to nine people, create a private channel, or create a public channel.

And while there are some situations where private communication (via direct messages and private channels) is preferable, it’s best when teams default to public channels so that anyone in your organization can find the information they need and search for it in the future.

Though Slack ships with two default channels —#general and #random — the act of creating additional channels is the first step to organizing your work. Keep in mind: You don’t have to launch dozens of new channels right away, or you might end up with lots of empty “virtual rooms” in your Slack workspace.

Instead, add channels when there’s a real need. For example: a channel just for team conversations and updates, a channel to kick off a new project with a bunch of different people, and automated or machine-generated channels filled with data populated by apps and services that your company uses. Another good rule of thumb is that whenever you notice that an existing channel is being used for multiple simultaneous conversations, start a new channel.

 

Use channel naming conventions

Consider adding logical prefixes to channel names so that the channel’s purpose is clear and people can easily gauge whether it contains the information they’re looking for.

Start by creating a channel for every active project in your organization, giving them names that start with the prefix #proj- (like #proj-new-website, #proj-2018-conference, and #proj-alpha).

Next, create a channel for each team within your company — like #team-marketing, #team-sales, and #team-design — where team members can post status updates, share important calendar reminders, and have general discussions related to their functions.

For firms that mostly work with other companies, you may want to label channels with something like #client- or #accounts- and the name of the organization you work with (for example, #client-acme or #accounts-megacorp).

Once you’ve agreed on how to name channels, share your guidelines widely by posting and pinning them to your main announcements channels.

By following naming conventions, channel names will not only group together alphabetically: They’ll also serve as paths to finding what you need.

 

Channels naming conventions

Click to download this PDF guide to your desktop or mobile device. Each example can be edited to reflect your own team’s conventions.

 

Plan for future growth

When a channel’s subject matter or membership grows considerably, group discussions may start overlapping and topics may become harder to follow. If you get to this point, consider adding more-specific channels with a similar naming convention. At Slack, we usually separate projects into three channels, each serving a different audience and discussion.

For instance, when Slack launched screen sharing, the work was divided into: #devel-screensharing, #feat-screensharing, and #gtm-screensharing.

#devel-screensharing was where developers shared and reviewed code and conducted tests. In the #feat-screensharing channel, product managers talked about the features, functionality, and design of screen sharing. And in gtm-screensharing, our marketing and PR members coordinated the “go to market” plans for launch and collected the assets leading up to the big day.

 

But more channels in your Slack workspace doesn’t mean more work for everyone if you keep channels highly targeted and organized. 

 

How many channels is the right number of channels?

Once you’ve added a bunch of channels, you might wonder how many channels are enough for my team, or how many are too many. In a nutshell, it really depends on the size of your organization.

When different teams throughout an organization adopt Slack, it’s common to see up to two or three times as many channels as there are employees using the app.

But more channels in your Slack workspace doesn’t mean more work for everyone if you keep channels highly targeted and organized.

When you set up multiple topic- and project-specific channels, groups can focus their discussions among smaller numbers of people, allowing them to align and move faster. And each person can participate in fewer channels, because only a handful of them will be necessary for their daily work.

There’s a real danger in having too few channels on a large team, though. Say you’ve got 500 people using just 40 channels total . Any one of those channels is likely to span many topics and projects that cross several functional groups, and specific information will be harder to track down as a result. It’s better to add new channels around narrower topics so you have more room to talk.

 

Share channels beyond your walls

Shared channels are a recent addition to Slack that allow you to bridge your own Slack workspace with that of another company’s, like your agency, a vendor, or a freelance consultant. Work speeds along as both sides share mock-ups, drafts, and final deliverables in their shared channel. And both sides can add or remove team members as needed.

When creating a shared channel, you might include both company names (for example, #acme-zebra), but either side can set their own name for the same shared channel according to their distinct naming conventions. As with channel names, public and private settings for shared channels are independent, so they can be set as public on both sides, private on both sides, or public on one side and private on the other.

 

Social channels provide real value

Aside from cross-functional teams working on projects together, some of the most popular types of channels are informal or social in nature, like #music, #podcasts, or #cycling.

Some might say discussing non-work activities is counterproductive, but social channels allow employees to get to know each other better, share their knowledge and expertise, and help build a wider sense of camaraderie and cohesion.

You may want to set aside a prefix of #soc- (short for social) or #fun- in your naming conventions for these kinds of channels.

 

Channels bring it all together

With a bit of forethought and planning, you can set up channels in logical, predictable ways so that anyone in your organization can track down the information they need. And when everyone has access to the right people and information, the sky’s the limit.

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Matt Haughey learned to avoid FOMO by joining Slack teams with thousands of channels, then following only the half dozen most important ones.

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.