This article was originally posted to our Medium page way back when we were called Motel. We’ve updated slightly and thought it would be helpful to reshare.
When you work on a remote team like I do, it can be hard to pick up on subtle cues from your coworkers. When everyone is in the same office, it’s pretty clear that Steve is in the zone, and not to be bothered, when the big headphones are on… but we get less of that on Slack. Can I ask Sally a question about this bug I just found? Or would I be interrupting her deep in code?
Well, as you can imagine, when Slack released the status feature, we were all pretty excited to give it a try. And as we all set our first status emoji, we learned something pretty quickly… if we didn’t define how to use this thing, it was a pretty useless feature. Not that it isn’t fun to use it for your favorite cat emoji… but that doesn’t deliver a whole lot of information.
But hey, we know a thing or two about fixing features. Rather than live in cat-emoji-world forever, we decided to figure out a way to use this thing in a useful way. After some quick #general chatting, my co-worker Jess had the idea of using the hearts and their colors to indicate how busy we were.
Screenshot of our first convention:
We all agreed to try it, and it actually worked pretty well. The colors were easy to spot, and it finally gave us a visual cue as to who was available for a question and who was not to be interrupted. It was pretty easy to spot that it’d be better to ask Steve a question about that Github issue, instead of Sally, because we could see that Steve had a yellow heart, and Sally had a red heart — thus avoiding an interruption that would have most likely taken her out of the zone and taken her 20 minutes to get back in to. Productivity boosted!
Another issue we realized we were now avoiding: oversharing. At first, it seemed like this new feature could lead to the expectation that you’d report on your location at all times of day — so we liked this new system that kept the number of statuses to a minimum (and all work related or ✌️ I’m on vacation, leave me alone). This clear set of rules gave us the information we needed without big brother creeping over our shoulder.
So after a little testing… and realizing this wasn’t the worst idea… we decided to create our own custom emoji to replace the hearts.
We kept the same color coding, but we gave them a bit more personality by making some little faces with color coded hard hats (or a hamburger hat). We also expanded a bit so that everyone can indicate when they’re at lunch, taking a break, or caffeinating (don’t bother Matt before he’s had his coffee). We all understand how hard it can be to get work done when you’re constantly getting interrupted. Having these emoji conventions that help communicate how busy we are, continues to work for us, and maybe they can work for you too!
We’d love to know if this helps anyone else, and how other companies are using this new Slack feature. Thanks for reading!
P.S. These are open source! Download the Illustrator file.