What Is Slack and How Does It Work?

Get the most out of this teamwork collaboration tool

Slack is an all-purpose communication platform and collaboration hub with instant messaging, voice and video calls, and a whole suite of tools to help groups share information and work together. Slack has standalone applications for Windows, Mac, Android, Linux, and iOS, and it also operates in web browsers. Here's a look at how Slack works.

Slack offers Free, Standard ($6.67 per person per month), and Plus ($12.50 per person per month) plans for organizations. Larger enterprises can contact Slack for Enterprise tier pricing.

Slack Workspaces and Channels

A Slack workspace is your team's home, similar to a dashboard. Groups or teams of people can create a free Slack workspace, and then consider upgrading their Slack plan if they find themselves in need of advanced features, such as unlimited workspaces and guaranteed uptime.

Workspace users populate a directory, and all users can communicate directly with one another through instant messaging.

Slack desktop application.

Slack Channels are shared group chat rooms for members of the workspace. Users can communicate with the entire team or certain team members in various Channels. Dedicate channels to specific teams, projects, discussion topics, or whatever else you choose.

There's no limit to the number of Channels a workspace can have, even in Slack's free version. Share messages, files, and tools in a Channel.

A Channel creator can give Channel access to anyone in the shared workspace or restrict access to invited users only. For example, team members working on a dedicated project can have their own Channel, while the entire team can access a Channel about common issues.

When you join a Slack workspace, you'll create an account with login credentials. It's possible to join multiple workspaces and log into all of them at the same time.

Using Slack Messaging and Calls

If you're creating a new Slack workspace, invite users to become part of it. If you're joining a workspace, you'll need to receive an invitation first. Once you're a member, messaging in Slack is easy and intuitive.

When you're in Slack, you'll see a list of Channels and direct message contacts on the left side of the page. Select a Channel or a direct message between you and another member, and you'll see the messaging history in the center window. The free Slack plan allows storage of 10K worth of message history, while paid plans store more.

From the side menu, start direct message threads with other members, add a message to a Channel, search for more Channels to join, or create a new Channel and invite members.

Desktop Slack versions allow voice and video calls, as well. The free Slack version supports only one-to-one calling, while the paid versions allow up to 15 participants. The paid versions also support screen sharing.

Slack's iOS and Android mobile apps don't support video chat or screen sharing.

Slack's Advanced Features

Slack is more than just a simple chat client. Its array of collaboration and teamwork tools really set Slack apart as a powerful communication tool. Here's a glance at some of Slack's advanced features.

Notification Settings

Alter your Slack notification settings so you can be part of many busy Channels within Slack without being distracted with constant notifications. 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.

Control notifications on an automatic schedule, as well. For example, you may want to disable notifications outside your regular work schedule.

Team Tools

Teams can use specific words to draw a team member's attention to a certain issue. Type @[user's name] into a chat message to alert someone to an important conversation they should see.

Easily share files, pictures, and more between team members directly in Slack. Slack keeps track of the content shared in Channels and direct messages, so it's easy for users to find and reference this information. Use the search bar to find specific chat messages or shared data.

Add some levity to work chatting by instantly sharing GIFs and using emojis and animated emojis. Paste the URL of an online GIF into chats to share it with other users automatically. Slack also supports direct integration with Giphy. Or, create your own custom Slack emojis.

Slack App Integration

For even more advanced Slack functionality, workspace administrators can integrate other apps, including Google Drive and Dropbox, to streamline filesharing. Use a variety of bots to handle other tasks, such as 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 communication.

To learn more, visit Slack or download Slack for Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, or Android.