How to Use Slack for Work

Use these Slack tips to get the most out of the chat program

Slack is a communication platform and collaboration hub that's designed to facilitate remote teams, but it can be useful in a wide variety of situations. If you're ready to give it a spin, here's how to use Slack, including a walkthrough of creating your first workspace, staffing up your team, all of the basic functionality of the app, and some advanced features as well.

Setting up Slack to use for work.
 Farknot_Architect / iStock / Getty

How to Set up a Slack Workspace for Your Team

Slack can be used on a computer via your web browser of choice or through a mobile app, but the setup process is complicated enough that you may want to consider using a web browser. For the purposes of these instructions, we will show you exactly how to set up your first Slack workspace from scratch.

You don't need a Slack account prior to setting up your first workspace, and you can set everything up and start using the service for free. Some functionality is locked behind a subscription, but you can choose whether or not the subscription is worth it after you've tried out the free version.

Here's how to set up your first Slack workspace:

  1. Navigate to slack.com, and select Get Started in the upper right corner of the page.

    A screenshot of the Slack website.
  2. Select My team isn't using Slack yet.

    A screenshot of the Slack setup process.

    These instructions are for setting up a brand new Slack workspace. If you aren't responsible for setting up Slack for your organization, click My team is on Slack to search for a workspace that was set up by one of your coworkers.

  3. Enter your email, and select Confirm.

    A screenshot of the Slack setup process.

    Use your business email, or the email you normally use to communicate with the people on your team.

  4. Check your email for a confirmation code. When it arrives, enter the code.

    A screenshot of the Slack email confirmation screen.
  5. Enter the name of your company or team, then select Next.

    A screenshot of the Slack company or team name entry screen.
  6. Enter the name of a project your team is currently working on, then select Next.

    A screenshot of setting up Slack.
  7. Enter the email addresses for each of the people on your team, then select Add Teammates.

    A screenshot of adding team members on Slack.

    You will be able to add more teammates later on if you don't get everyone on this step.

  8. Your Slack channel has been set up at this point. Select See Your Channel in Slack to start using it.

    A screenshot of Slack.

How to Assemble a Team in Slack

Once you have created your workspace, you still have a handful of tasks to complete before Slack sets you loose. You'll need to finish assembling your team, create a welcome message, send your first message, and finalize some important settings.

  1. To invite additional members to your team, enter their name and email, then select Invite, or select Done and scroll down to complete the setup process.

    A screenshot of setting up Slack.
  2. Select Choose a greeting, then select a default greeting for your team.

    A screenshot of setting up Slack.
  3. Edit the greeting if you want to, then select Save.

    A screenshot of creating a greeting on Slack.
  4. Select Start using Slack for the #your-channel-name project.

    A screenshot of Slack.
  5. Enter your first message, then select Send. When your invitees start filtering in, this is one of the first things they'll see.

    A screenshot of setting up Slack.
  6. Select Finish setup.

    A screenshot of setting up Slack.
  7. Enter your name, choose a password that you will use to access Slack, then select Next.

    A screenshot of finalizing a Slack team.
  8. Change your workspace name or URL if you want, or just select Finish if you're satisfied.

    A screenshot of setting up a Slack team.
  9. Your Slack workspace is ready, and your team is all set up. You can add more team members if you like, or just start using your workspace to coordinate with your team.

    A screenshot of Slack setup.

How to Create Channels and Add Users in Slack

You created one channel during the initial setup process, but additional channels can really help your team focus on specific projects. This is really useful if you have a large team, since you can restrict channels to just the people who really need the information, but it's still a good idea to use this organizational tool even if you have a smaller team.

  1. Select the + located to the right of the main Channels heading.

    A screenshot of Slack.
  2. Select Create a channel in the drop down menu.

    A screenshot of adding a channel in Slack.
  3. Enter a name and description for your channel, then select Create.

    A screenshot of creating a channel in Slack.

    Select the Make private slider if you want to control who can join the channel. With this option off, anyone can read and add themselves to the channel. Private channels are noted with a lock icon to the left of their name in your Channels list. Open channels will have a hashtag in that spot.

  4. Enter the names of the people you want in the group, and select Done, or select Skip for now to add people later.

    A screenshot of adding people to a channel on Slack.

    To add people later, select the channel, then select Add People.

  5. Your channel is now ready to use.

    A screenshot of a new channel in Slack.

How to Send Direct Messages in Slack

In Slack, every message that isn't sent within a channel is considered a direct message. You can send messages to anyone on your team, or create a group direct message with multiple team members to fill everyone in at the same time.

  1. Select the name of the person you want to send a direct message.

    A screenshot of Slack.
  2. Type your message into the text field, then press Enter.

    A DM in Slack.
  3. To add emojis, select the smiley face below the text box, then select one or more emojis.

    A screenshot of emojis in Slack.

    You can even create custom Slack emojis for your workspace.

  4. To send a document, select the paperclip icon, then select a file from your computer.

    A screeshot of adding a file in a Slack DM.
  5. Enter a description for your file, then select Upload.

    A screenshot of uploading a file in Slack.

When uploading a file to a direct message or channel, it will automatically be shared to the relevant users.

How to Send a Group Direct Message in Slack

Group direct messages are a lot like direct messages, but they allow you to talk to a specific set of people without creating a special channel. It's faster and neater than making a channel, and ideal for situations where you need to provide some important information to specific team members or quickly collaborate on something that doesn't really warrant a channel. You can also place voice and video calls through group direct messages.

  1. Select the + next to the Direct messages section heading.

    A screenshot of Slack.
  2. Select the people you want to add to the group direct message, then select Go.

    A screenshot of creating a group DM in Slack.
  3. The group direct message functions exactly like your one-on-one direct messages. You can return to this group direct message at any time by selecting it in the menu.

    A screenshot of a group direct message in Slack.
  4. If you ever want to delete this group direct message, right-click it in the menu, then select Close conversation. You can also star it to highlight it or mute it to stop receiving email and push notifications.

    A screenshot showing how to delete a group DM in Slack.

How to Place Calls in Slack

Slack allows you to call your team members individually or in a group, and you have the option to use voice or video chat. This makes it really easy to make sure you're always on the same page as your team, rapidly share ideas and confirm plans, and hold remote meetings without the need for any additional teleconferencing software.

  1. To call a single team member, open your direct message with that team member, then select the Call icon.

    A screenshot of a DM in Slack.
  2. The call will open in another window and connect as soon as the other person answers.

    A screenshot of a Slack call.

    Use the icons at the bottom of the call to mute your mic, toggle your video on and off, share your screen, send emoji reactions, and hang up, from left to right. The gear icon in the upper left provides an Options menu, and the silhouette with the + icon allows you to add people to the call.

  3. To place a group call, open a channel or group direct message, then select the call icon.

    A screenshot showing how to initiate a group call in Slack.

Group calling is a premium feature that is not available in the free Slack plan.

How to Hide Channels and Direct Messages With No New Messages

As your workspace grows, you may find that it ends up cluttered with a lot of channels and conversations that aren't always used. Alternately, you may find that you have a difficult time figuring out which channels still have unread messages. In both of these situations, your best option is to hide channels and direct messages that don't have any new messages.

  1. Select your workspace name in the upper left corner of the page.

    A screenshot of Slack.
  2. Select preferences.

    A screenshot of Slack preferences.
  3. Select Sidebar.

    A screenshot of Slack sidebar preferences.
  4. Select the radial next to unread conversations only, or unread conversations plus your starred section.

    A screenshot of Slack with hidden channels.
  5. If you prefer to mute just a single channel or conversation at a time, just right-click that channel, then select mute channel.

    A screenshot of muting a channel in Slack.

Slack Privacy Settings

If you're using Slack for business purposes, it's a good idea to avoid saying anything you wouldn't normally say in the office in front of your boss. That isn't because your boss can use Slack to snoop on you, but there is a chance that the head of your workspace might be able to export your direct messages and read them.

To check whether or not this is an option on your workspace, log into Slack, navigate to slack.com/account/team, then select Retentions and Exports. If you see the following message, you're secure:

A screenshot of Slack data security.

If admins also have access to your direct messages, the message will read like this:

Workspace Owners can export messages and files from public channels. Workspace Owners can also export messages and files from private channels and direct messages.

If you see that message, you'll want to set your direct messages to expire instead of just leaving them around. To do that, select the gear icon in the upper right corner when you're in a direct message, then select edit message retention > Next > Use custom retention settings for this conversation. Set it to one day, then select Save.

Workspace retention settings are only available if your organization has a paid plan.

Prevent Outside Sites From Seeing Your Traffic

If you or your team members ever link to outside websites, they will be able to see the full web address of your Slack workspace in the referral. If you want to prevent this from happening, log in to Slack and then navigate to slack.com/admin/settings.

Scroll down and locate Hide your workspace URL form external sites' logs, then select Expand. Remove the check mark from the box, then select Save.

A screenshot of hiding a URL in Slack.

If you have a paid plan, as the administrator, you can also adjust global message and file retention and deletion settings from this page.

What Are Slack Integrations?

By now, you have a pretty good understanding of how to set up and use Slack, including some basic privacy settings. If you want to greatly extend the functionality of Slack, you can integrate a wide variety of third-party apps like Google Drive and Calendar, Twitter, GitHub, and more.

If you want to add some Slack integrations, here's how to do it:

  1. Select Apps in the main Slack menu on the left side of the screen.

    A screenshot of Slack.
  2. Locate an app you want to integrate with Slack, then select Add.

    A screenshot of Slack apps.
  3. Select Add to Slack.

    A screenshot of a Slack app.
  4. Continue with the on-screen prompts. In this case, select Add Twitter Integration.

    A screenshot of adding an app to Slack.
  5. If requested, authorize Slack to access your account with the app you are trying to integrate.

    A screenshot of integrating Twitter with Slack.
  6. Adjust the settings to your liking, then select Save Settings. The app is now integrated with your Slack workspace.

    A screenshot of integrating an app with Slack.

Slack Notifications, Themes, and Other Preferences

Slack makes it easy to adjust a variety of user preferences, including when you receive notifications, themes, and more. To access these powerful settings, select your workspace name in the upper left corner, then select Preferences.

Notifications

The Slack notification preferences menu gives you some important options, like the ability to enable desktop notifications. Select Enable Desktop Notifications and you will receive a pop up notification on your computer whenever you receive a message on Slack. You can also choose what type of messages cause desktop notifications to pop up.

A screenshot of Slack preferences.

The Keywords box allows you to enter specific important terms that you want to keep a look out for. Any time someone uses one of those keywords in a channel you have access to, you'll be able to easily find the important conversation.

If you don't want to receive any notifications during your off hours, you can use the Do Not Disturb settings to automatically switch off your notifications during a specific time.

Notification options also allow you to choose how desktop push notifications appear, and whether or not to send a ping to your mobile device via the Slack app if you aren't at your desktop.

Theme

If you want to adjust your Slack theme, just select Themes or Messages & media in the preferences menu. Selecting Themes opens a basic menu that allows you to choose between Slack's dark and light themes. If your eyes have trouble with bright, white websites, the dark theme is great.

Continue scrolling, and you'll find that Slack has a number of other themes that switch up the way the app looks and feels. You can also customize your theme and share it with others if you're feeling creative.

Messages & Media

Select Messages & media, and you'll have even greater control over the way different elements of the site are rendered. These options allow you to choose whether user icons are displayed, how messages appear, whether full or display names are shown, and more.