Mastering Slack Notifications (Especially For Remote Teams)Team Messaging
You’ve seen the memes. This is the age of working from home. We don’t know how long it will last, but one thing’s for sure: Slack is where it’s at right now.
The instant messaging platform, billed as “the smart alternative to email,” has seen huge and swift adoption, according to a Twitter thread from Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield. In just Q1 of 2020, Slack has added 80% more users than they did in Q3 and Q4 of 2019, combined.
As companies began urging their employees to work from home in March, newly created work teams (CWT in the chart below) surged:
Team messaging tools like Slack make working from home a lot more feasible, but they’re not without their challenges. More than ever, it’s essential to brush up on Slack etiquette or risk the wrath of your colleagues.
In this guide, we share everything you need to know. Read on to learn the best practices of Slack for remote teams.
Turn off notifications with Slack Do Not Disturb
One of the challenges of working from home is the pressure to always be “on.” Team chat apps like Slack and Microsoft Teams only intensify that, but here’s the truth: no one is actually expecting you to always be available. You have a life, too, and during these dark times, maintaining a healthy work-life balance is more important than ever.
Enter the Slack solution: Do Not Disturb.
How to properly use your DND status
As long as Slack Do Not Disturb Mode is turned on, Slack stops sending you notifications (unless one of your Slack teammates chooses to override it; more on this in a bit). If a teammate messages you, they’ll see a notification like the following:
Whenever you return from Do Not Disturb mode, Slack will fill you in on what you missed. It simply pauses the notifications.
Set your Slack DND schedule
You can create a Do Not Disturb schedule for your non-working hours, such as 6pm to 8am. Once you set your schedule, it will automatically turn on Do Not Disturb during that time. Make sure that the time zone is set to your local time zone.
We also recommend using Do Not Disturb whenever you really need to focus and zoom in on a task. For that, you can turn on Do Not Disturb by selecting one of the options under the bell icon. When it’s turned on, a few sleepy Zs will appear over the bell. Click to resume once you're ready.
You can also use Slash commands to use DND: type /dnd [20 minutes/1 hour/etc] to turn it on, or /dnd off to turn it off.
How to respect a teammate’s DND status (and when to override it)
When your teammates have Slack Do Not Disturb turned on, you should respect it. Feel free to send them notifications, but be prepared that you’ll have to wait for their response.
If something truly urgent comes up, you can click “click here” to push a notification through. Be aware, though, that if they’re away from their computer or phone, they still might not see it.
The definition of what’s “truly urgent” varies by your company culture, but things it definitely doesn't include: a funny meme, a snarky note about your coworker, or a small error that can easily wait until tomorrow to be fixed. This should be reserved for matters like a sudden all-hands meeting, a serious shift in messaging that needs to be addressed before the press release gets published, or your website’s checkout page 404ing.
Using custom statuses in Slack
The one problem with Do Not Disturb, especially during working hours, is that it can lead your remote coworkers to mistakenly assume you’re not working and binging some Netflix shows instead. If you’re using Slack DND to focus, or you’re only away from your computer for a short while, you’ll probably want to let them know it’s for a good reason.
This is exactly what Slack custom statuses are for. Beyond their use as a CYA, you can use these to be more communicative with your remote team about where you are, what you’re doing, and how responsive they can expect you to be.
Here are a few examples of when a Slack custom status comes in handy:
- When you’re traveling: Whether you're traveling for work or fun, let your colleagues know. You may be working different hours than the rest of your remote team, or be less responsive due to meetings or air travel. Tell them where you are, the purpose of your trip, and throw in an emoji for good measure.
- When you’re on a break: Just because you’re working from home doesn’t mean you don’t deserve a break. Let your coworkers know if you’re on a lunch, coffee, or dog walking break. An emoji will suffice for this one.
- When you’re celebrating something: The regional or religious holidays you observe may be different than your coworkers, so avoid miscommunication and frustration about your lack of responsiveness by explaining why you’re taking the day off. If you’re celebrating something else, like a birthday, new baby, or the season premiere of your favorite TV show, share that in your status! It’s one of those little things that helps drive connections among remote teams.
- When you’re focusing: The Do Not Disturb mode can seriously help with distractions, by pausing all Slack notifications, but if the permanence of it frightens you, feel free to simply let people know you’re focusing for a few hours in your status, and then don’t respond if they send you a notification.
- Whenever you want: Just having a normal workday? Make your remote teammates smile with a funny emoji or status.
Slack custom statuses can appear whether you’re available or away. To set yours, click your workspace name. Then click “Set a status,” and click the smiley face icon to select your emoji. You can also select “Clear after” to choose a specific time frame (which we recommend for travel and vacation). Click “Save,” and get back to work!
Integrating Google Calendar with Slack to update your status
Want to make updating your Slack status even easier? Integrate Slack with Google Calendar.
First, install Google Calendar (or Outlook) on your Slack workspace. Connect your account. Then open the app in Slack by clicking on it in the sidebar, and send it a message.
Click the “Connect to the app” button and follow the steps.
Once your account is linked, click the “Turn On” button to start syncing your status.
Moving forward, your Slack status will automatically update to show that you’re in “In a meeting.” It won’t show the name of your meeting, so you’ll still have some privacy. However, it’s important to note that the calendar app will not override a custom status you’re already using.
Integrating Google Calendar with Slack has more benefits. You can click on the app anytime to see your schedule—no need to open up a separate browser window!
Setting Slack notifications across my devices
When working from home, you can’t just pop your head up over your cubicle wall to see if your colleague is at their desk. And they can’t do the same for you.
Fortunately, Slack notifications can replace those IRL interactions for remote teams, along with interoffice emails, IMs, and more.
Make sure you stay in the know by setting up Slack notifications across your devices.
Before we dive into customizing Slack notifications for channels, mentions, and more, you need to make sure you’re set up to receive said notifications. Here’s how to do that.
Slack’s default notification settings
By default, Slack will send a push notification on your desktop (as well as the Slack mobile app, if you have it installed on your smartphone) whenever you receive a direct message; someone @mentions you, uses one of your keywords, or replies to a thread you're following; or Slackbot sends you a reminder.
If that sounds like a lot, don’t worry. Slack will not notify you on your desktop and mobile phone at the same time, so you won’t receive a barrage of notifications. The mobile notifications only begin once you’ve been inactive on your desktop for 10 minutes, although you can customize this for a shorter or longer time period:
The default Slack notification settings are even more restricted for emails. You’ll only get notifications if you’re not active and someone sent you a direct message or @mentioned you.
How to modify Slack notification settings
You can customize the sound, frequency, device, and substance of Slack push notifications in your Slack Preferences.
- To customize desktop notifications, click your workspace name > Preferences > Notifications.
- To customize mobile notifications, swipe left to open the menu (iPhone) or the three dots icon (Android), and tap Settings > Notifications.
- To customize email notifications or opt-out of them entirely, click your workspace name > Preferences > Notifications.
Understanding channel notifications on Slack
The bread and butter of Slack, channels are where everything happens on Slack. You can think of a Slack channel as a centralized forum for teams to talk with each other, manage and share files, and share tools and resources.
Threads (which we’ll discuss later) are specific conversations that occur within a channel. You might think of the channel as a folder within your email inbox, and threads as various emails within it (although team communication software like Slack makes keeping on top of these conversations way more manageable).
Slack channel best practices for remote teams
1. Use naming conventions for your channels. It’s easier for people to find a channel on the fly when everything in your organization follows a similar template. Slack recommends starting with standard prefixes for your departments, projects, office locations, and announcements. Slack has an excellent guide on this topic if you’re interested in learning more.
2. Keep your channels open. Allow people to join any channel they want, and edit the details as needed. This helps boost team morale and create a sense of openness—two things which are critical for a successful remote work culture.
3. Have a defined purpose for each channel, and write it out in the purpose field, so there’s no confusion. This helps reduce any confusion as to what topics are relevant for a channel, and if any messaging guidelines should be followed.
4. Maintain a master document of your channels, their purpose, and any team rules or Slack etiquette. This helps everyone stay on the same page and can be a welcome resource for new hires—which, you guessed it, you can pin in Slack.
5. Pin important resources and messages. Just like maintaining a master document, pin anything important to the channel. This helps orient new users to the channel, and prevent common questions from blowing up your notifications. Teach a man to fish, as they say!
6. Be nice. Remember: channels are a public space, so act like it. These are not the forum to call people out (just ask Away how creating a toxic work environment on Slack worked out for them). Save negative feedback for direct messages or a private Slack video call. Instead, use Slack to share information that the whole team (or most of them) would find important, interesting, fun, or celebratory.
7. Spring clean your channels. It’s a good idea to put your Slack channels through a healthy spring cleaning every once in a while. You can leave and join a channel at any time, and sometimes, it’s in your best interests to do so—especially if it’s no longer relevant to your work, or has become an unproductive timesuck.
8. Add fun channels. Most companies have department and announcement channels to keep people informed. But fun, culture-focused channels can be a godsend, especially for remote teams and those working from home. Try one for pet photos, remote office setups, or start up team “clubs” around books or TV shows.
How to set notification preferences for a specific channel on Slack (and how to mute a channel)
We talked about spring cleaning your channels. Even if you keep on top of that regularly, chances are you’re going to end up subscribed to more channels than you can count, some of which you care less about than others—but you can’t get away with leaving them completely. That’s just the nature of office communication, whether your team is remote or not.
Fortunately, you can prioritize or mute different channels in Slack. Here’s how.
Navigate to the channel you want to change notifications for, and click the Gear icon. This opens up your Notification Preferences for the channel:
The default will be the “Just mentions*” column. You can either dial up the channel notifications or mute them completely. You can also have different notification settings for Desktop and Mobile. Here’s what we recommend:
- For key projects and teams, you may want to prioritize viewing “All new messages.” This will give you a notification of any new message, whether you’re @mentioned or not.
- For channels that are lower priority for you (like an IT team you only interact with when you submit a ticket), consider muting them. Check the box for “Mute entire channel.” Note that this will grey out the channel in your side list. You will still be notified if someone @mentions you, though, and the channel will show up with a red badge.
How to set keyword notifications in Slack
There may be certain topics you’re particularly interested in following on Slack, such as an important project you’re working on. You can track updates to these topics, even if they’re discussed in a channel you’re not following, by creating keyword notifications in Slack.
To set keyword notifications, click your workspace name > Preferences > Notifications > My Keywords. We recommend adding the following keywords:
- Titles of projects or special task forces you’re a part of
- Your name, for those less tech-savvy folks who forget to include the @mention
- The names of customers you work with (sales and customer support teams love this one)
Pro Tip: Keywords are not case-sensitive, so no need to worry about that. However, they are exact-match, so choose less restrictive options or add in multiple options (e.g. your Slack display name as well as your first and last name).
What does starring channels do?
If you really want to go Marie Kondo on your Slack channel list, good news: you can.
You can star anything you want to really keep an eye on, including channels, users, and even direct messages. This brings them up to the top of your channel list and sorts everything else below.
Starring a channel is as simple as clicking the grey star icon (it should turn yellow). To unstar it, simply click again.
What does it mean to pin something in Slack?
Pinning something in Slack stores it for easy reference moving forward. So, if you don’t want to lose something, pin it!
Any key messages, replies, and files can be pinned to both a Slack channel or a direct message. To pin a file, you’ll actually be pinning the message that contains the file. You can view Pinned Items by clicking the pin icon for the channel.
To pin something, hover over the message and click the three dot icon. Select “Pin to channel” or “Pin to this conversation” and click “Yes” to confirm.
Pro Tip: Pinned something but are having trouble finding it? Use the has:pin search modifier when you search for it.
How @mention notifications work in Slack
You use the Slack @mention function whenever you want to notify a specific channel, group, person, or project.
But what happens, exactly, when you @mention something? Read on to find out.
Mentioning a channel in Slack
Channel @mentions are for announcements. There are a few ways you can notify users in Slack channels:
- @here notifies all channel members who are online
- @channel notifies all channel members, whether they're online or off
- @everyone all Slack users in the default #general Slack channel
Using any of these @mentions in a channel will send a notification to channel members. Note: If someone has Do Not Disturb on, they will not receive a Slack notification.
Pro Tip: Don’t spam the channel. Some people can get slap happy with the @here and @channel options. Unless everyone truly needs to know, just state your message, and people can catch it the next time they check in on the channel.
Here are examples when someone truly needs to know:
- Use @everyone for important company-wide announcements, like a change to the work-from-home policy.
- Use @here when you need help now, from someone who is available (but there’s no need to bother everyone else). This could be an urgent question for the IT team when the website goes down, or you got locked out of the VPN.
- Use @channel when you want to share relevant and/or time-sensitive information that everyone in the channel should know about, like a deadline change or a new hire.
Mentioning a Slack user group
Channels are the main way of organizing teams within Slack. However, there are plenty of times when finding the appropriate team channel, clicking through, and asking your question or making your announcement becomes an arduous process—all the more so for larger organizations on remote working tools.
Slack user groups save the day. These are another way of organizing people in Slack, such as by title (@managers) or by team (@marketing). When you @mention a user group, everyone in that group gets notified, independently of whether they’re a member of a channel you’re notifying them from.
Slack user group @mentions are ideal for situations when:
- Certain members of a group (like managers) need to know about a change in company policy, but you don’t want to announce it to the entire channel.
- Something requires cross-team communication, like during a website outage when the @developers needs to work on fixing it, while @marketing manages the social media messaging.
- You don’t know the name of a channel. If your organization didn’t create standard naming conventions, or if your channels are heavily siloed, you might not know where the appropriate team members are located. Mentioning the user groups ensures no one gets left out.
When you set up a Slack user group, you can add default channels to automatically add members of the user group to. Follow these instructions to set up a user group in Slack.
Mentioning a Slack project
Just as Slack streamlines communications, it also facilities project management–a must-have for any team, remote or not.
We recommend creating a dedicated Slack channel for your projects (you can always deprecate the channel once it’s complete). This way, you can leverage all the helpful functionality of channels, like starring high-priority projects and pinning key files and to-do lists (complete with checkboxes!). It also ensures all project-related communication lives in the same channel.
Pro Tip: If people outside your project will need to reach your team, as may be the case with a Culture Club, create a Slack user group too.
Take Slack project management to the next level with these project management apps:
Mentioning a person in Slack
For times when you need to talk to someone directly, @mention them by name. Anytime you send a message with an @mention of a person, they’ll get a notification (unless they have Do Not Disturb turned on).
To find the person’s name, you can either type @ and begin spelling their name, and toggl up or down to find the person you want to reach. You can also click the @ icon and search from the full list of everyone in your Slack workspace.
More Slack tips for user @mentions:
- If you mention someone from a channel they’re not a member of, Slack will give you the option of inviting them to join.
- If you forgot to include the @mention when you first wrote your message, editing it will not trigger a notification. You’ll need to send a new message with the @mention included.
- You cannot @mention people from a direct message. You can only @mention them from a channel or send your own direct message to that person.
Understanding group chats in Slack
Group chats are distinct from Slack channels and user groups. They function similarly to Direct Messages, but with more than two people.
Slack introduced the feature back in 2015 to help people form their own side conversations. These can be useful for a variety of reasons, whether you have a specific question for just a few people working on a project (as opposed to the whole channel or team), or you want to share an inside joke from a meeting you had earlier.
To create a group chat, click on Direct Messages in the sidebar, and type in the name of your remote team members. You can add up to eight people to a Slack group chat.
Want to customize your Slack notifications for your group chats? Easy. Open up the group chat and click the gear icon. Then select Notification Preferences. You can customize settings by device (desktop and mobile).
Just as with channels, you can also mute your Slack direct messages and group chats. Open the conversation, click the Details (i) button > More > Mute conversation. You can also type /mute in the message field and press Enter, or click the Mute bell icon.
Note: When a direct message is muted, it will be greyed out and listed at the bottom of your Slack sidebar. You won’t receive notifications for the conversation, but you will get a red badge if there’s any new activity.
How to use threads in Slack
If every response to every question, announcement, or random thought occurred in a channel, you can imagine how quickly channels would become unmanageable. That’s why Slack created threads.
Threads are designed to help you keep conversations together within a channel. Have feedback or questions on a file? Perfect - add it to the thread. Want everyone to respond with their sales wins in the weekly sales meeting? Make a thread for that. Jonesing for a group brainstorm? You know the answer - start a thread.
Threads are perfect for topics that are relevant to the channel, but don’t need everybody to weigh in. Threads are lifesavers for maintaining a certain level of organization and group sanity in a channel.
To start a thread, hover over the initial message and click the “Start a thread” icon.
If a thread has already been started, you’ll instead see the “Reply to a thread” option.
You can click on the initial message at any time to see the replies or add your own. You can also share your reply in the channel at the same time. Just check the box for “Also send to #channel-name” before you click Send.
How Slack notifications for threads work
Starting or replying to a thread automatically signs you up to be notified of any new replies. You’ll also see Threads highlighted at the top of your Slack sidebar.
Note: channel members who are replying to, mentioned, or following the thread will not see their channel name highlighted, in order to reduce distractions. The same goes if you were @mentioned in the initial message.
If you haven't responded or otherwise been included in a thread, you can still stay in the loop by following a thread. Hover over the message and click the three dots icon. Then select “Follow thread.”
To unfollow a thread, click Threads in your Slack sidebar. Hover over the message, click the three dots icon, and select “Unfollow thread.” Want a faster option? Open the thread, type /mute slash command in the message field, and press Send.
Understanding badge notifications in Slack
Like any app-based service, Slack’s got badge notifications. How do the badge notifications in Slack work? You get a badge notification on the upper right corner whenever you have unread notifications, but how that badge appears depends on the platform you’re using.
Badge notifications for Mac users
If you’re on a Mac, you’ll see a red badge on the Slack icon whenever you have unread activity. If it’s a dot, that means you have unread activity. If it’s a number, that signifies that a teammate sent you a DM, @mentioned you, notified one of your channels, or used one of your keywords (and how many times that happened).
You can remove badges by clicking your workspace name. Then navigate to Preferences > Notifications > Sound & appearance, and either check or uncheck “Show a badge on Slack’s icon to indicate new activity.”
Badge notifications for PC users
If you’re on a PC and you have Slack running, you’ll see a blue badge in your notification area if you have any unread activity. If the badge is red, that means a teammate sent you a DM, @mentioned you, notified one of your channels, or used one of your keywords.
Note: The default setting is to keep the Slack app running even after you’ve closed the window. If you want to change that, you can click your workspace name. Then navigate to Preferences > Advanced > Other options. Uncheck the box for “Leave app running in notification area when the window is closed.”
A red badge with a number will appear in your taskbar whenever a teammate sends you a DM, @mentioned you, notified one of your channels, or used one of your keywords. The Slack icon will also flash whenever there’s a notification and your computer has been idle for 10 seconds or longer.
Note: If you also want the Slack icon to flash when you’re active, click your workspace name. Then navigate to Preferences > Sound & appearance, and check the box next to “Flash window when receiving a notification.”
Type of notification
DMs, @mentions, channel notifications, keywords
Badge appearance (Mac)
Red with dot
Red with number
Badge appearance (PC)
Blue (notifications area)
Red (notifications area)
Red with number (taskbar)
Badges will also appear in your channel list for the same reasons. If there is a red number next to a channel name, it indicates that someone @mentioned you or notified one of your channels.
Setting up reminder notifications in Slack
Use Slackbot to remind yourself and others about things you (or they) have to do. Remind yourself to check back in on a thread later that day to see if it got resolved, or to work on a project that afternoon.
You can also remind another user to do something, and give them a due date to get back to you. Or, you can remind a channel, so everyone joins the weekly status meeting at a designated time and place. You can even use reminders for words of encouragement:
How can you set up a reminder in Slack? More ways than one. Here they are:
To set a Slack reminder from the shortcuts menu, click the lightning bolt icon > Set a reminder. Select a date and time, and enter your description. Click Create, then wait for Slackbot to remind you at your desired date and time. Note: if you don’t enter a specific time, Slackbot defaults to 9am.
To set a Slack reminder from a message, hover over the message. Then click the three dots icon and select “Remind me about this.” Choose your timeframe, and Slackbot will remind you to get back to this message. Reminders can be recurring or one-time.
To set a Slack reminder using a slash command, type /remind in the message field any time. Slack will prompt you with a formula to get all the relevant details: /remind [@someone or #channel] [what] [when].
Pro Tip: If you ever need to snooze, delete, or complete a reminder, type /remind list and send the message to view a list of your reminders.
Troubleshooting Slack notifications: common issues and how to fix them
From its usability to its price point, Slack’s pretty amazing, but you can’t expect it to work perfectly all the time. Fortunately, whenever you run into an issue with your Slack notifications, there’s usually an easy fix.
Below we cover the most common Slack notification issues and give you tips to troubleshoot.
Not receiving notifications
If you know you should be receiving a notification, but you’re not getting one, it’s often due to your system settings. Here’s what to do:
- Mac users: Navigate to System Preferences > Notifications. Select Slack and set the alert style to Banners or Alerts. Also confirm that your Do Not Disturb is not turned on. Open the Notification Center and confirm that Do Not Disturb is toggled Off.
- Windows users: Open the Start menu > Settings > System > Notifications & Actions. Select Slack and confirm notifications are enabled. Also confirm Focus Assist is turned off. Again, click the Start menu > Settings > System > Focus Assist. Select Off. (If you’re not getting sound, check if your Windows Quiet Hours are active; this turns off notification sounds.)
- Chrome users: Navigate to the menu > Preferences > Advanced > Privacy and security > Site Settings > Notifications. Turn on “Ask before sending (recommended).”
- Firefox users: Navigate to the menu > Preferences > Privacy & Security > Settings. Confirm Slack is in the list for Notifications Permissions, and add it if it isn’t.
- Safari users: Navigate to the menu > Preferences > Websites tab > Notifications. Confirm Slack is allowed to send notifications.
- iOS users: Swipe left to view the sidebar. Tap Settings > Notifications > Troubleshoot Notifications. This runs a test to let you know what you need to fix.
- Android users: Restart your phone. If you’re still not receiving notifications, tap the three-dot Overflow menu > Settings > Notifications > Settings > Troubleshoot Notifications. This runs a test to let you know what you need to fix. Also check your Google Play settings. Open the Settings app on your Android, the click Application Manager > Google Play Services. Check the box next to “Show notifications.”
Does it feel like your Slack’s been hit with a case of jet lag? This can be a common issue for PC and mobile users. If you’re receiving notifications, but they’re coming in on a delay, here’s how to fix it:
- Windows users: Click your workspace name. Then select Preferences > Deliver notifications via, and select “Built-in notifications.”
- iOS users: Swipe left to view the sidebar. Tap Settings > Notifications > Notify Me on Mobile, and select “As soon as I’m inactive.”
- Android users: Tap the three-dot Overflow menu > Settings > Notifications > Settings > Notify Me on Mobile, and select “As soon as I’m inactive.”
Sound not working properly
Are you receiving Slack notifications, but without the accompanying sound? This is probably due to your system preferences. Here’s how to fix it:
- Mac users: Open System Preferences > Notifications. Find Slack in the list and confirm sounds are enabled. Then, go back to System Preferences > Sound > Sound Effects. Turn up the “Alert Volume” and confirm that the appropriate audio output is selected for “Play sound effects through.” Finally, make sure these steps worked by opening Slack. Click on your workspace name and select Preferences > Sound & appearance, and click “Show an example.”
- Windows users: Click the Start menu > Settings > System > Notifications & Actions. Find Slack in the list and confirm “Play a sound” is checked.
Stuck badge notifications
Nothing’s more annoying than a lying badge. If you’re stuck with a badge but you don’t have any notifications to justify it, you probably need to clear your cache. Follow these steps to fix it:
- Desktop users: Open your workspace on Slack. Press Shift + Esc. Then click Help from your computer menu bar. Select Troubleshooting > Clear Cache and Restart.
- iOS users: Open your Settings app. Select Slack > Reset Cache on Next Launch. Reopen the Slack app.
- Android users: Tap the three dot Overflow menu > Settings > Advanced > Reset Cache.
If you’re experiencing any of these issues and the troubleshooting tips above don’t fix it, you can also reach out to the Slack support team for help.
Congratulations! You now know everything you need to know about Slack notifications. Get more from your Slack workspace with these current Slack promotions.