What is Slack

Slack is a cross-platform tool to enable your team to communicate and collaborate. With a clean and simple interface, it hides a deep and complex set of tools that can really open communication, collaboration, and productivity.

Slack has native apps for all the main platforms, as well as a browser-based interface. It has a well-defined set of notifications that are easily adjusted to match each users preferences.

Slack is extensible, with a large variety of integrations available to other online services. This all enables you to build on its core functionality to drive your teams productivity.

As with any tool, there are some drawbacks and areas that could be improved, but these out-weigh the benefits that Slack brings.

 

Workspaces

Slack uses the concept of Workspaces to enable your team to communicate.

When creating a new workspace you create a unique URL for your team. This allows for your team members to join different Slack Workspaces, and keep them separate from each other.

Slack Workspace List

Joining a Workspace

Once you have created your Slack workspace you need to invite team members to it. The on-boarding process starts with you adding a new members email address to your Workspace. Slack sends an email to that address inviting them to join your Workspace.

Slack Email

Once your new member presses the “Join Now” button in the email, they are guided through a process to allow them to set their name, and a password. They are then redirected to the main Slack page for the Workspace.

Slack Main Page

 

Channels

Communication within Slack occurs in Channels. Think of a Channel as a chat-room. You can create as many Channels as you need. It is worth spending a bit of time to set up your Channels, as having a well thought out set of Channels enables your team to drive communication to the correct audiences. You can easily create new Channels, and remove existing ones.

By default Slack creates two Channels, “general” and “random”. These Channels give one room for general chat about the team, and the second Channel for things that are not directly related to the team but could be of interest, i.e.setting up a social event etc.

You create a new Channel by pressing the ⨁ symbol at the top of the Channels list.

For my example, I have created a number of additional channels for my Workspace.

 

Slack Channel List

 

When creating a new Channel you can set a Purpose for the Channel. This provides further guidance to your team members about the usage of the Channel. You can change this at any time in the Settings section.

Now you have set your list of Channels. Do you have a set of Channels you want your team members to have access to when they join the Workspace? You can set these via the Web interface, and select the Default Channels.

Slack Default Channels

 

Public Channels

Public Channels are available to all members of your team. They can add themselves to the Channel and see the message history.

Most Channels benefit from being Public – after all there is no point in trying to collaborate if you are hiding your information away from others.

Private Channels

These Channels are invite only, and can only be seen by those team members who are invited. When adding a new member to a Private Channel you are asked to allow them to see the chat history on the Channel or not.

These Channels allow you have chats about non-public information, whilst enabling you to take advantage of all the other features that Slack offer.

Direct Messaging

Like most messaging applications Slack allow you direct message other teams members. These are private between you and the other person you are messaging with.

This is all targeted at keeping your communications within the Slack tool, reducing the need to constantly be switching from one app to another.

 

Chatting

Like most other messaging apps, you chat by posting messages. With Slack, you can select an existing message which will then display the Thread window.  This allows you to reply directly to a message and chat in a thread, keeping all related responses together, and improving readability for the rest of the team.

 

Slack Message Thread

This simplifies the main messaging list, especially if you a number of threads in the Channel. You are able to respond within the message, keeping related topics together, as opposed to the flat list approach of other messenger application, where multiple concurrent conversations in the same list get mixed up and you very quickly lose context about who is responding to which message.

 

Slackbot

The slackbot is an automatic “user” created for all Workspaces. This is a helper user that you can go to if you want to know something about using Slack.

Slackbot

Slackbot can quickly become one of the most used areas of Slack. Use this to explore Slack to enable you to get the most from the tool.

 

Linking to Other Apps

Slack is highly extensible, with the ability to link to other Online services. This allows you really take advantage of the power of Slack and the other tools, without having to leave the Slack interface.

Slack maintains a list of available services and details of how to link to them.

Slack Extensions

A couple of examples of services that are available :

Cloud Storage

If you connect Slack to external Cloud storage providers (e.g. Dropbox, Box etc) you can link from a Channel to a file in the Storage provider. This is a simple action. The real power comes from how you can then work with these linked files.

  • gives any member of the Channel read-only access to the file, so they do not need to have direct access to the Cloud Storage file

Slack Box Link

  • Slacks search functionality is able to search for the file, but more than this, Slack is able to search in the contents of the file as well. This powerful search capability makes finding the right file and piece of information quick and easy

Slack Search

 

  • When the file is updated in the Cloud Storage system, the update is automatically reflected into the Slack Channel. This means that your file is always up to date

Trello

Integration with Trello allows you to easily create new Trello cards directly from Slack. This is done via the /trello command.

The first time you use this command in a Channel, Slack will guide you through the steps needed to link the two systems together. You can then use the command /trello add “card name”, to create a new Card in Trello.

Slack Trello

Clicking on the “Quick Actions” menu will give a list of their properties of the Trello Card that you can change in Slack.

Slack Quick Actions

 

For my review of trello please visit Trello Review.

 

Notifications

Slack allows you have a fine level of control over notifications. This is useful to cut the constant notification triggers from a popular, and often updated, Channel.

To access the notifications go to the Settings Menu.

Slack Notifications

By fine-tuning your notifications, you make sure you get alerted to important messages, whilst not being disturbed unnecessarily.

 

Drawbacks

Like all tools, Slack does have its drawbacks and limitations.

One of the major drawbacks of Slack is the lack of read receipts. If you need to know that your messages have been read, then Slack may not fit your needs.

There is also a small learning curve to use Slack, this is where the use of slackbot comes into its own.

 

Summary

Slack, for communications, provides a step up from most other messaging tools. Slack is not the only tool in this area, with other large companies releasing similar tools, e.g. Microsoft Teams.

Its extensibility makes this a useful tool for team communication, collaboration, and productivity. The more systems that you integrate with it, the higher the pay-off.

Using Slack can have its drawbacks, especially the lack of read receipts and the learning curve needed to start using it.

Bear with it, and you’ll soon be reaping the benefits from the power and flexibility of Slack.

 

To try Slack visit Slack Website.