A beginner’s
 guide to Slack in 2020

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July 14, 2020

slack on desktop

If you work in an office, chances are that you've heard of Slack, or you might even be using it right now.

Slack is a cloud-based collaboration and communication tool taking the business world by storm - as of October 2019, Slack had more than 12 million daily users, and demand for the application increased exponentially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

If you've recently started using Slack and are just figuring out the platform - or if you're still trying to decide if you should implement it for your business - we've got you covered: in this guide, we'll be sharing the best Slack tips and tricks to get you started.

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What is Slack?

In essence, Slack is a chat programme that companies use to communicate internally (and sometimes externally, such as with partners). It’s widely used to simplify communication streams, but it's much more than an instant messaging tool: with its 1,500+ integrations, including Google Docs and Trello, Slack is also a powerful tool to share documents and files, manage projects, track team progress and share important information company-wide.

With its easy-to-use interface, teams can communicate quickly and share important documents seamlessly, effectively eliminating internal emails. In fact, Slack users see a 48.6% reduction in internal emails.

It also records all sorts of interactions between team members, and with its extensive search and star functions, it is possible to find any thread, photo, link or file. That also makes Slack a very handy tool to use as an internal knowledge base - if someone in your team has a question, they can easily look it up on Slack to see if it's already been answered.

It’s accessible via mobile, desktop application and web app, allowing you to stay in touch with important company communication while you’re on the go on any device you have.

 

Plans and pricing

Slack offers a free plan, as well as three types of paid plans: Standard, Plus and Enterprise Grid.

Free account
  • Gives access to the most basic features of Slack
  • 10k searchable messages
  • 10 apps and integrations
  • 1-to-1 video calls
  • Two-factor authentication
Standard
  • Geared towards small and medium businesses
  • Unlimited message archive
  • Unlimited apps and integrations
  • Group video calls for up to 15 people with screen sharing
  • Guest accounts and shared channels
  • 10GB storage per member
  • Pricing: from $6.67 USD per person per month, billed annually
Plus
  • For larger businesses or those looking for advanced administration tools
  • 99.9% guaranteed uptime SLA
  • User provisioning and deprovisioning
  • Corporate exports for all messages
  • SAML-based single sign-on (SSO)
  • Access entire message history
  • 20GB storage per member
  • Group video calls for up to 15 people with screen sharing
  • Pricing: from $12.50 USD per person per month, billed annually
Enterprise Grid
  • Unlimited workspaces
  • Support data loss prevention (DLP), e-Discovery and offline backup providers
  • Designated customer success teams
  • HIPAA-compliant message and file collaboration
  • Access entire message history
  • Group video calls for up to 15 people with screen sharing
  • 1TB storage per member
  • Organization-wide search, messaging and announcement-focused channels
  • Pricing: The pricing for Enterprise Grid plans is custom, and users need to contact Slack's sales team for an estimate

slack plans and pricing


Who needs Slack?

A lot of businesses suffer from software bloat, which means that the organization is using a lot of applications it probably doesn't need.

This can affect internal communications: if there are too many communication tools and channels, it's easy for information to get lost, or important messages to be missed. When there is no centralized communication channel in a business, the information can easily become fragmented and disorganized.

That's where Slack comes in - to centralize and streamline communications across the business. Slack is obviously great for remote teams, but also for teams working physically in the same space.

There are a lot of communication tools that serve as alternatives to Slack - such as Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts, Chanty and RocketChat - and they each have different features that may suit different types of business.

You should consider using Slack if:

  • You have multiple team members constantly sharing files.
  • Your primary mode of communication is email. You spend hours every day sorting through company messages, and you don't find that efficient.
  • You rely on teamwork but find it difficult to collaborate on projects, because everyone takes different meeting notes and files don’t get distributed properly.
  • You want to simplify your workflows.
  • You want to enhance collaboration.

If that sounds familiar, deploying a tool like Slack can definitely help improve collaboration and communication across the company.

The benefits of using Slack include:

  • It creates streamlined team communications and transparency on the projects people are working on.
  • It improves decision making processes.
  • You can easily search and find documents and conversations - much better than rifling through your emails or several separate tools.
  • It can serve as one central notification hub - you can integrate other work apps and bring notifications into Slack, so you would no longer need to switch between apps to get updates.

Getting started

So you've decided to get Slack for your business! Now it's time to set up the tool, which is pretty straightforward. Go to the Slack homepage and click on 'Get started'.

slack homepage get started

 

Then, enter your email address for confirmation.

getting started with slack

 

After you receive the confirmation code, you can fill in your details, including your company name. You can then invite individual members of your team via email to join Slack.

 

Channels

After you've created a workspace for your company, you can create different channels for each area of the business, such as #accounting, #marketing, #sales, #ops, #general, and whatever else suits your needs. You can also create fun channels, like #food, #movies or #random.

Channels allow you to really drill down on information and be specific on where to discuss certain topics. For instance, at PieSync from HubSpot, we have several separate channels for different areas of marketing, like #marketing-content, #marketing-seo, #marketing-growth and so on.

Once other team members have joined Slack, you will be able to invite them to the channels that are relevant for them to be in. They will know if there is activity in these channels, and they will receive a notification if they are personally mentioned.

In March 2020, Slack rolled out a major update that changed the way each person can organize their channels in a workspace. For example, now you can group all marketing-related channels into "Marketing", non-work-related channels into "Fun", and so on.

slack interface channels

 

Direct messages

You will also be able to send direct messages to all teammates on your workspace. Direct messages are private one-on-one messages, almost like an instant messenger. Through private conversations you can also send documents and search the entire archive for conversations.

Your most recent conversations will appear by default on the left-hand sidebar. If you want to start a conversation with a new person, simply click on the plus sign next to "Direct Messages" on this sidebar and type in the name of the person you want to talk to.

Slack's new interface also makes it easy to have an overview of everyone in your company's workspace. Simply click on "People" on the left-hand sidebar and you can search all Slack members in your workspace. Clicking on their names will give you their profile and options to call or message them.

 

Notifications

Slack can you let you know every time there’s a message in one of your channels or when you get a direct message.

By default, channels with unread messages will appear in bold in the sidebar. You will also see a red notification badge when someone mentions your name.

You can get an alert via desktop, email or mobile, but this is completely customizable. You can decide where, how and if you want to get Slack notifications by clicking on your name on the top left-hand side of the application, then selecting 'Preferences'.

slack preferences

 

There you will be able to set your notifications preferences, including channel-specific preferences.

slack notification preferences

 

You’re also able to decide if you want sound with your notifications and choose a sound. It is also possible to mute channels that you don’t need to closely follow.

You can also get notifications for threads you are following or have been mentioned in.

If you want to focus on work and pause notifications for a while, there is a 'Do Not Disturb' function that places all notifications from Slack on hold. You can set it for a few minutes, hours or even as much as a few days. Just click on 'Pause notifications' under your name on the top left-hand side corner and select your preferred time frame from the drop-down menu.

Your teammates will be able to see that you have paused notifications and that you will see their message once you've switched off 'Do Not Disturb', though they do have the option to push urgent notifications.

 

Reactions

On social media, you can like and react to anyone's posts. The same logic applies to Slack: whenever someone posts anything on a channel or sends you a direct message, you'll have the option to react to it with an emoji. All you have to do is hover over a message and click the 'Add a reaction' icon on its top right corner, then choose an emoji.

On mobile, tap and hold a message, then choose from your most frequently used emojis at the top of the menu. Or, to add a different reaction, tap the 'Add a reaction' icon.

On the 'Mentions' tab on the left-hand sidebar, you can also see your teammates' reactions to your messages.


Automations and integrations

One of the things that makes Slack such a great business tool is its range of automations and integrations. These allow you to share documents and files, manage and track projects, share important information with the right audience and automate various workflows. Here's a rundown of the top automation options and integrations on Slack.

 

Slackbot

Slack has a multitude of automation options in its roster, including its virtual helper Slackbot.

Slackbot helps you find answers to questions about Slack, set tasks and reminders to yourself and to teammates, add custom automatic responses, and more. You can access Slackbot by sending it a direct message or on a channel.

A good rule of thumb for Slack is, when in doubt, ask Slackbot - you can ask it your question by sending it a direct message. You can also use it to set automatic responses to common questions in channels:

slack slackbot

 

To set personal reminders and tasks, just type /reminder anywhere on Slack. This works to set reminders to other teammates too:

slack slackbot reminders

 

Workflow Builder

In October 2019, Slack also introduced Workflow Builder, an automation used to streamline tasks. This tool can be used to standardize how you collect requests from the team, report outages or glitches in real time, share welcome messages and relevant documents with new team members, and more.

slack workflow builder onboarding

 

It can also help you streamline the way you collect forms from your team in a single Slack channel, such as travel requests, and centralize the collection of incident reports or bug reports:

slack workflow builder forms

 

slack workflow builder incident report

 

At PieSync from HubSpot, one of the ways we use Workflow Builder is to request a daily check-in from team members to post on a channel about the projects they've been working on:

slack workflow builder daily check in

 

Integrations

Slack's integration options with third-party apps are truly formidable. By clicking on the lightning bolt at the bottom left corner of your text box in any channel or direct message, you can access shortcuts to plenty of useful apps.

slack integrations

 

Here are some of the most useful integrations to use in your Slack workspace:

Google Drive

With the Google Drive integration, you can:

  • Create new Google Docs, Slides and Sheets files directly from Slack
  • Share an existing file from Google Drive into a channel or direct message
  • Search Google Drive files shared within Slack
  • Automatically grant access to the files you share with the right audience
  • Get updates in Slack on changes in Drive, like comments, access requests, and new files shared with you
  • Reply to comment notifications from within Slack and have them posted to the file

 

Google Calendar

The Google Calendar integration is another handy one. It allows you to:

  • Automatically create events directly in Slack using a shortcut
  • Automatically sync your calendar to your Slack status so that it shows when you're in a meeting
  • Get a daily notification of your schedule for the day
  • Get a notification when an event is starting soon, including relevant any relevant links to a video conference
  • Respond directly to event invitations
  • Get updates when an event's details change

 

Trello

The integration with project management platform Trello is really useful to collaborate on team projects right from Slack. Its features include:

  • Add new Trello cards to boards directly from Slack with the command /trello add
  • Join Trello cards and boards, change due dates, attach conversations and more
  • Invite @trello to a channel for automated card & board previews, including members, descriptions and comments
  • Allow Slack team members to join your Trello boards in one click.

 

Giphy

On the fun side of things, the Giphy integration makes it possible to share a wide variety of GIFs on channels, threads and direct messages. Simply type /giphy on a text box followed by a keyword, then choose the GIF you want:

slack giphy gifs

 

Other integrations

Among Slack's other integrations, some of our other top picks include:

  • Zoom — Easily start a Zoom meeting directly from Slack.
  • Polly — Create surveys, polls, games and trivia.
  • Jira Server — Connect Jira Server projects to Slack channels.
  • GitHub — Get updates from the development platform directly on Slack channels.
  • Asana — Coordinate and manage projects on Asana from Slack.
  • Stripe — Automatically post to a Slack channel when changes occur on charges, subscriptions, transfers and more.
  • DoodleBot — Create a meeting or start a poll on Slack.
  • Outlook Calendar — Create events on your Outlook calendar from inside Slack.
  • HeyUpdate — Progress reporting for teams.
  • Dropbox — Cloud file storage and syncing.
  • Mention — Monitor your organization's media mentions from a dedicated Slack channel.
  • Screenbot — Share screenshots, annotations, screen recordings and more.

You can view all of Slack's integration options by clicking on "Apps" on the left-hand sidebar.


Shortcuts and commands

If you want to save some time on Slack, mastering its shortcuts and commands is a great idea. They allow you to quickly format your text, navigate threads and channels, set your status, set reminders, and more. We'll cover slash commands, text formatting and general keyboard shortcuts to help you get started.

 

Slash commands

Slash commands act as shortcuts for specific actions in Slack. Here’s the rundown of some of the more useful commands to know:

  • /dnd + length of time — Set up "Do Not Disturb" for a custom period of time.
  • /remind — Set a reminder to yourself or a teammate for a specific date and time.
  • /status — Set a status or clear your current status.
  • /invite @user — Invite a new user to a channel.
  • /leave — Leave a channel.
  • /msg or /dm @user — Send a direct message to another user.
  • /search — Perform a search.
  • /apps — Search for apps in the Slack App Directory.
  • /shortcuts — Open the keyboard shortcuts dialog.
  • /feed — Manage RSS subscriptions.
  • /poll — Create a new poll
  • /collapse — Collapse all files in the current channel.
  • /expand — Expand all files in the current channel

By simply typing "/" in any chat box in Slack, the application will already give you a list of some of the most used Slack commands to give you an idea of actions you could take:

slack slash commands

 

Keyboard shortcuts and formatting

Here's a list of some of the handiest keyboard shortcuts to know on Slack. You can find an extensive index here.

 

Shortcuts

  • Press ⌘+Shift+M or Ctrl+Shift+M to see your recent mentions
  • Press Ctrl (or Command) + ↑ to jump to the latest message you posted on a channel
  • Press Ctrl (or Command) + J to jump to the most recent message on a channel
  • Press Alt (or Option) + ↑ or ↓ to scroll through your conversations and channels
  • Press Esc to mark all unread messages as read

 

Formatting

Slack uses Markdown to format text, so that's a good starting point to understand how formatting works there. Here are some examples:

  • Entering text in between underscores will produce italicized text
  • Entering text in between asterisks will produce bold text
  • Entering text in between tildes (~) will produce strikethrough text
  • Add > before a line to indent the line
  • Add >>> before a paragraph to indent the paragraph, preserving line breaks
  • Press Shift + Enter to add line breaks in a message

Extra resources

Now you're all set with Slack! We've given you some great tips and tricks for Slack, but there's still a lot to be learned about the application - and it's constantly evolving, too. Here are some handy external resources if you want to truly become a master of all things Slack:

About Luna Campos

Luna is a writer and editor with experience in tech & creative media. She has come from Brazil to London to Ghent to join the PieSync team and sprinkle it with a bit of extra magic. She lives and breathes words, and uses her creativity and quirkiness to create amazing content for PieSync on all fronts.