A guide to using Slack for international remote teams

Slack is increasingly transitioning from an internal chat tool to a full-fledged work OS. With many businesses adapting to a remote-first work environment, Slack has become the first line of communication for teams. Learn how to use it effectively to surf on top of the daily wave of chats, and avoid feeling overwhelmed.

An organization that has truly mastered international remote work is Kinsta. The Kinsta team is composed of professionals spread across dozens of countries on all continents, and through Slack, the team is able to communicate effectively despite time zone differences. I’ve been a part of the Kinsta team for a couple of years now and I’ll be sharing my setup as a template for you to adapt to your working environment.

My experience with Slack

I’ve been a Slack user for over 7 years now, having used it in dozens of workspaces (Slack groups). Some of these have been supplemental to an offline-first office environment, some of them were remote-first with some supplemental offline meetings, and a few of them have been all-Slack. During those years, I learned how to make optimal use of Slack for each of those contexts.

One context that has been gaining traction, in particular, is an international remote-first context, in which more and more businesses hiring talented people worldwide with Slack serving as the main asynchronous communication platform. This is one I’ve also experienced with Kinsta over the past couple of years.

Organizing Slack with custom sections

In August of 2020, Slack released an update that enables users to move DM’s and channels into custom sections. These custom sections can be named to your desire, and styled with an emoji.

Here’s how I’ve set them up with the Kinsta workspace. In terms of channel categories, the higher one is placed, the higher the priority I give it when moving to inbox zero on Slack.

The Announcements section contains channels with must-read updates. In larger organizations you’ll likely find that certain updates are shared with specific teams, while others are company-wide. In smaller workspaces, you might not need this space if you just have one announcement channel.

Since I am a member of Kinsta’s sales team, the Sales section contains any sales team-specific communication and deserves second priority. If your workspace has many channels, try to find channels that are directly involved with your field and collect them.

I lead a team at Kinsta, and Management comes with its own (mostly private) channels. That is why these channels are grouped under Management. You may have channels like this too, ranging anywhere from performance reviews to recruiting and any other management-related topic.

Operational refers to any channels that I need to be in, but aren’t a core part of my role. A lot of these channels are muted, which means I don’t receive notifications from them. This is essential, especially if a channel sees a daily activity. Avoid overload!

Lastly, Reference is a group of channels that are used to share industry or expertise-relevant updates and information. This is a super useful section where people help lift each other up and become better at their job.

Slack organization = effective communication

Organizing my Slack workspace to take into account all the above-mentioned factors – time zone differences, relevance, areas of focus – makes it easy to communicate effectively. The biggest benefit for me has been to organize my team members’ DM conversations into time zone groups.

When I log in in the morning, I tend to have multiple DMs spread across these three time zone groups. The segmentation makes it easy for me to start with those from team members that are >5 hours ahead of me since they are near the end of their working day and they probably sent it earlier during that day – since I sign off much later than them the day before, it can’t be from yesterday – and they’ve been waiting for the longest. Then I move on to those in the same time zone and end with those 5 hours behind me. They’ve sent me a DM after I signed off, knowing that they’ll have a response when they log on the next day, which still gives me some time to deal with those until they are online.

In other words, Slack organization helps you prioritize and apply the right sense of urgency and make you a better communicator as a result. Start organizing your Slack workspace today and say goodbye to the overwhelm of dealing with 50+ messages that all feel equally urgent.

2 thoughts on “A guide to using Slack for international remote teams”

  1. Totally agreed that optimizing Slack is critical for remote work. The custom groupings is a new thing to me from your post here. I will have to take a further look into them.

    Personally I find that knowing the keyboard shortcuts to slack and muting indirect channels is key to slack use. I still check up on a lot of indirect channels but usually at the start of the day and then infrequently as the day progresses.

    Great post!

    1. Thanks, Roger!

      Great idea with those keyboard shortcuts. I often forget those even exist for many applications, Slack included. Definitely gonna study those. 🤓

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