How to use Slack channels to organize your work life

Best practices for setting up your workspace’s channels, including when to create new ones and how to name them

Image Credit: Pete Ryan

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

We’ve previously shared ways that channels transform how you get work done, from bringing order to companywide conversations, to increasing team cohesion through shared information and knowledge. All of that begins with properly setting up your channels.

Add channels for teams, projects and functions

Before we get started, know 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 public channel
  • Create a private channel

While there are situations for which 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 when searching for it in the future.

Slack ships with two default channels,#general and #random, so creating new channels is the first step to organizing your work. That said, you don’t have to launch dozens of channels right away. Instead, add channels when there’s a real need. Those might include:

  • A channel just for one team’s conversations and updates, e.g., #team-marketing
  • A channel to kick off a new project with a cluster of people, e.g., #project-blog-redesign
  • Automated or machine-generated channels filled with data populated by apps and services your company uses, e.g., #slack-twitter

When should I create a new channel?

Whenever you see that an existing channel is being used for multiple simultaneous (but deep) conversations, or one topic dominates a space that normally covers several topics. A new channel splits off a single topic to a better, more specific place. Don’t forget to invite everyone participating in the conversation into the new channel as well.

Keep work organized with channel naming conventions

When you add logical prefixes to channel names, like #nyc-office, a channel’s purpose is clear to others. Plus, when you use them extensively, it helps others predict channels they might need. For example, your teammates could create #nyc-sales to coordinate with the New York-based sales team.

When creating channels for active projects, use names that start with the prefix #project-, like so: #project-new-website, #project-2019-conference and #project-alpha. These channels will group together on your sidebar.

The same concept applies to channels like #team-marketing, #team-sales and #team-design. In these channels, members can post status updates, share important calendar reminders and have general discussions related to their responsibilities.

For firms that mostly work with other companies, you might want to label channels with a prefix like #client- or #accounts- and the name of the organization you are working with, e.g., #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 announcement channels.

How to use Slack channel naming conventions

To help you get organized, download our PDF guide to channel naming conventions.

Creating channels as your org grows

When a channel’s purview or membership grows considerably, group discussions might start overlapping and topics can become harder to follow. If you get to this point, consider adding more specific channels within a similar naming convention.

At Slack, we usually separate every project into at least three channels, each serving a different audience and discussion. Recently, when we launched the newest Slack desktop app (called Sonic internally), the work was divided into #devel-sonic, #feedback-sonic and #gtm-sonic.

  • #devel-sonic was where developers shared and reviewed code and conducted tests of the latest app beta versions
  • In the #feedback-sonic channel, product managers discussed the features, functionality and design of the app, along with feedback from testers and employees
  • In #gtm-sonic, our marketing and PR teams coordinated the “go to market” plan for collecting and iterating on assets leading up to the big day

How many channels is the right number of channels?

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.

Even if you work at a large company with thousands of employees, you’ll do your best work in channels with as few as a dozen people.

When you set up multiple topic- and project-specific channels, groups of folks can focus their discussions among smaller numbers of people, helping them align and move faster. And having lots of specific channels means 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. Say you’ve got 500 people at a company using just 40 channels in total. Any one of those channels is likely to span many topics and projects that cross several functional groups, so specific information will be harder to track down. It’s better to add new channels around narrower topics to keep them tightly focused.

Shared channels: collaborate with outside organizations

Shared channels allow you to connect your own Slack workspace to that of another company, like an agency, a vendor or a freelance consultant. Work speeds along as both sides share mockups, drafts and final deliverables in their shared channel, skipping the need for email threads or phone calls. And both sides can add or remove team members as needed throughout the life of a project.

Slack's Shared Channels beta is coming to customers on Enterprise Grid this summer.

 

When creating a shared channel, you might include both company names (for example, #acme-beacon), 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 channels are informal or social in nature, such as #music, #podcasts or #running.

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 on teams.

Optionally, you might want to set aside a prefix of #social- or #fun- in your naming conventions for these kinds of channels to make the intentions of those spaces clear.

Channels bring it all together

With a bit of forethought and planning, you can set up channels in logical and 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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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.