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How Slack Works

Young man uses Slack on his iPhone
Online messaging workplaces have surged in popularity since the coronavirus pandemic began. S3studio/Getty Images Entertainment

You could argue that commuting to the office for face-to-face meetings is no longer a necessity when your team uses a business communication platform like Slack. This online messaging workspace allows you to easily connect with co-workers and increase collaboration within your team.

In March 2020, the company was reporting 12.5 million simultaneously connected users, says MarketWatch. That's compared to 44 million users for competitor Microsoft Teams. Nevertheless, Slack has become a standard form of communication for workplaces around the world since launching in 2013 and seen a rapid uptick in users since the coronavirus pandemic began.

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You might be a bit confused after being invited to join a Slack workspace, but once you get going, there are a lot of different functions and shortcuts within the platform that you can implement into your workday. Let's jump into the basics of navigating Slack.

Slack profile
You'll have your Slack profile filled out in no time.
Screenshot by HowStuffWorks

Slack has four different plans your company can choose from: free, standard, plus and enterprise grid. The first plan is free, while the others have a subscription fee because they offer more features and are suitable for larger teams.

To join Slack, your company has to invite you to its workspace. You have to accept your employer's invitation and set up your account with an email and password. This will gain you access to the company's workspace, where you can start conversations, share files, and start video or voice calls. Often companies just email employees an invitation.

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On the computer, you can use Slack in an internet browser or by downloading Slack's desktop app. Once you join the workspace, you have to create a profile so co-workers can recognize you on Slack. Upload a profile picture, write your title, location, the team you work under and other relevant information about your position. You also may want to download Slack to your smartphone for on-the-go communication.

Setting status in Slack
Options for updating your status on Slack
Screenshot by HowStuffWorks

Each time you open Slack, you can update your status to show you're online. You can set your status during the workday to indicate when you're in a meeting, out to lunch, on vacation, working remotely, out sick and other scenarios.

So what's the difference between email and Slack? While email is used for formal and basic message sharing, Slack is more casual and allows you to interact with workers instantly. Moreover, you can turn notifications on in the settings so you never miss a message. For times when you need fewer distractions or are away from your computer, you can pause notifications for a designated period.

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Creating a channel in Slack app
Just don't forget to set it to private if you want to limit the people in your channel.
Screenshot by HowStuffWorks

On the left-hand side of the screen, Slack displays all of the channels and direct messages you're a part of. You may automatically join general Slack channels, though there's also a search function allowing you to browse all public channels and join. Some channels are public, while others are private and only for designated users.

Channels are group-based chats where you can share and receive information with a large group of people. Each channel can have a designated topic up for discussion such as general announcements, random banter, events and more. Teams can have their own Slack channels to break into smaller company groups and discuss what's relevant to their jobs.

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You can start your own channel by clicking "Add Channel" and filling in the details. This is where you can make it public for anyone to join or private for only certain people at the company.

Underneath the channels section of Slack are your direct messages. This is where you can send private messages to team members individually and in groups. You can also send messages to yourself such as links, notes, to-do lists or other necessary information that will help you stay organized.

While your direct messages to co-workers aren't public, Vox reports that it's possible for your employer to access the messages. This might occur if:

  • You preserve information.
  • You are part of a lawsuit.
  • The company is conducting an internal investigation.

Slack is a secure and confidential platform. However, make sure to treat it like any other website and never share personal information such as passwords, payment information or other sensitive data.

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Getting to fully know Slack will take a bit of time, but it won't be long before you'll be comfortable using all the available features and tools. There are lots of things you can do when sending messages. Some of them include:

  • Sending a GIF by typing "/giphy" into the text box, followed by a word you want the GIF related to and hit send. Choose the GIF you want others to see and click send again.
  • Hovering over the message and clicking "More Actions" to edit or delete a message you sent.
  • Responding to a thread by hovering over the message and clicking "Reply in Thread."
  • Reacting to a message by hovering over and clicking on your chosen emoji.

To save messages, you can hover over a single message and click the save icon. Click on the "Saved items" tab to view any message you've saved in the past. If you forgot to save a message, you can always search for it in the search bar at the top of the window.

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Not only can you connect with people over Slack channels, you can also connect to services that will help you be more productive. More than 2,200 apps, such as Google Drive and Office 365, allow you to seamlessly share and pull information into Slack with ease.

Additionally, Slack is available to download on mobile devices. The user-friendly app is simplified and allows you to easily swipe between direct messages, threads, mentions and your profile.

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The best way to use Slack is via the desktop app. It can be downloaded onto your computer and work in the background while you browse the internet, send emails and perform other day-to-day work tasks. The app also can be helpful when you're on the go and need to stay in touch with colleagues or check for updates.

Whether you're working from home or at the office, Slack is a convenient way to communicate virtually with your team. It's not difficult to navigate, and you'll always be one click away from the people and things you need to increase your productivity and excel at your job. For even more information, you can search online for plenty of helpful guides to utilize Slack to its fullest potential.

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