What Is Slack and How Does it Work?

Tips and tricks to get the most out of Slack messaging

Slack is an all-purpose communications platform and collaboration hub with instant messaging, voice and video calls, and a whole suite of other sharing tools to help groups share information and work together. Slack has standalone applications for Windows, Mac, Android, Linux, and iOS. It also operates in web browsers.

The Basics of Slack

Slack starts out with workspaces. Groups or teams of people can create a Slack workspace for free, though there are paid versions for more advanced features and support.

A workspace in Slack is the home to the whole team. Users in a workspace will populate the directory, and all of them will have the means to directly communicate with one another through direct instant messaging.

Slack desktop application.

While the ability to communicate directly with individuals is a basic means for teams to coordinate, the teamwork and Slack workspaces also support Channels, which are shared group chat rooms for members of the workspace.

These channels can be dedicate to specific teams, projects, discussion topics, or whatever else you choose. Access to the channels can be given to anyone in the shared workspace or restricted to only users invited by the creator of the channel. They can also be left open for users to join at will.

Using Slack Messaging

If you're starting a Slack workspace, you can invite new users to your workspace, but you'll need to receive an invite if you're the one joining an existing workspace. You'll create an account with specific login credentials to individual workspaces. You can be members of multiple workspaces and be signed into multiple workspaces at the same time.

The default layout of Slack lists Channels and direct messages in a menu on the left side of the application or browser page. The main window shows the chat thread of the channel or direct communications. Yo can see any available history of the thread depending on the type of account. Free accounts can only have a limited amount of history stored.

From the side menu, you can begin new direct Slack messaging with other members of the workspace, search for existing Channels to join, or create new Channels and add members to them.

Inside direct messages and in Channels on paid accounts, you can start voice and video calls. Screen sharing tools are also available. However, which features are supported depends on the operating system used and having an up-to-date version of Slack.

The Slack app for iOS and Android only supports voice calls, with no Slack video chat or screenshare options.

Advanced Features of Slack

If Slack were a simple chat client, it wouldn't be nearly as popular as it is today. Where it stands out as a powerful communications tool for teamwork and collaboration is in all the extra features, tricks, and integrations available within the platform.

You can alter your notifications settings on a granular level, letting you be part of many busy Channels within Slack without being distracted with constant notifications. You can limit notifications to show only when you're mentioned in the channel, or only when specific words are used that may relate to the work you do. You can even control notifications on an automatic schedule, perhaps disabling notifications outside your regular work schedule.

In a similar way, teams can use specific words as a way of getting one another's attention for specific issues. Users can directly call one another out by typing @[user's name] into a chat message, helping ensure they check into the conversation in that channel.

You and our teammates can also easily share files, pictures, and more directly in Slack. Slack keeps track of the content shared in Channels and direct messages so they're easy for users to find. The search bar can help you find specific chat messages or shared information.

One fun tool to bring a little levity to a work chat is the ability to instantly share GIFs and use a wide variety of emoji, including animated emoji. Pasting the URL of an online GIF into chats automatically shows the GIF to other users. Meanwhile, Slack supports small, animated emoji, and you can upload your own emoji to use throughout the workspace.

Slack App Integration

For even more advanced functionality in Slack, workspace administrators can integrate other apps with Slack. Google Drive and Dropbox are optional integrations for streamlined file-sharing. Various bots are available that can handle an assortment of things, from Human Resources-related tasks to pulling in data from external tools or creating quick surveys. While these app integrations aren't a core part of Slack, they make the platform far more versatile than other apps dedicated solely to communications.