Slack hacks: the ultimate (Hoxby) guide to using Slack
SLACK MAKES WORKING REMOTELY IMPRESSIVELY SIMPLE. BUT ONLY WHEN YOU KNOW HOW TO GET THE MOST FROM IT.
March 5, 2020
As a freelance community spread across over 40 countries, we know a thing or two about remote working. And over the last five years, we’ve figured out how to do it right. One of the tools we trust most is Slack – you just need to know how to get the best out of it.
For the uninitiated, Slack is a collaboration tool that replaces email to help you and your team work together seamlessly. It’s designed to support the way people naturally work together, so you can collaborate with people online as efficiently as you do face-to-face. That’s why it works so well for remote teams.
The biggest issue with Slack is that it can get quite overwhelming – with multiple ‘channels’, ‘messages’ and ‘teams’, it can easily become a time-drain instead of a time-saver. So we quickly realised we’d need to help Hoxbies joining our community get to grips with it. The result? A comprehensive guide on how to use Slack (the right way). And it’s been so helpful, we wanted to share it with you too…
The Hoxby guide on how to use Slack (without it taking over your life)
Slack is where we live. We know how to make it into a remote team's best friend. So here’s everything you need to know to make it work for you too.
What’s in this guide (click the link to jump straight there):
Install the Slack app
These tips assume you’re using the Slack app on your laptop rather than using it in a browser (or via the mobile app alone). If you’re not, why not download it now? The UX is much nicer than the browser version.
Take control of your Slack notifications
If you do one thing to make Slack work for you, make sure your notifications are set up to add value to rather than disrupt your day. Here’s how:
- Click your name at the top left of the app
- Select ‘Preferences’ in the dropdown menu
- Set-up the various notifications as best fits the way you work… although we recommend the following:
- Change the ‘Notify me about…’ section to ‘Nothing’, or at the very least ‘Direct messages, mentions & keywords’. Slack gets really noisy and if you have the app installed, you’ll get in the habit of checking it periodically to see what you’ve missed, without the need for notifications
- Set ‘Do Not Disturb’ hours that match when you work. So if you don’t work mornings, disable notifications until the afternoon
- In the ‘Sounds & appearance’ section, disable as much as you can. The red dot badge can be just as distracting as a pop-up notification
- If you’re worried about missing anything important, change the final setting on the page to send you email notifications once an hour. You’ll only get these if you are specifically mentioned so you won’t get inundated
Top tip: To pause notifications at any time, click the bell icon in the top left of the app. You’ll see a range of pause options and links to the notification preferences page.
There’s more: If you’re working on a project or a cause, you may want to be notified about messages in the related channel while keeping your notifications generally quiet. Here’s how.
Tell people your name; show your face
Editing your Workspace Directory profile is the easiest thing you can do to help your team members get to know you and quickly find you. Here’s how:
- Click your name at the top left of the app
- Select ‘Profile & account’ in the dropdown menu
- Your Workspace Directory listing will appear in the right-hand column of the app; click the ‘Edit profile’ button
- Enter your full name and display name
- Upload a profile photo in the space provided (whatever you use for LinkedIn or Twitter will be the right dimensions)
- In the ‘What I do’ field, give your areas of expertise and a guide to when you work. For example:
- Head of PR – usually online UTC 09:00-12:00 Monday to Wednesday; 09:00-17:00 Thursday; off Friday
- Enter your phone number, choose your timezone and (if applicable) add your Skype ID
- Don’t forget to click ‘Save Changes’
Set your availability & status in Slack (including emojis)
Get into the habit of updating your status to tell others whether you’re available. This can be done in two ways:
- Availability: active or away? On Slack, the dot next to your name indicates whether you’re online or offline
a. If you’re online, you’ll automatically be set as ‘active’ and others will assume you’ll be reasonably responsive to messages. Once you leave Slack, your status will change to ‘away’. Once your ‘Do Not Disturb’ hours kick-in (set in ‘Notification preferences’), your availability will change again to reflect this
b. If you’re online but don’t want to appear to be, simply change your status to ‘away’ by clicking your name at the top left of the app then ‘Set yourself to away’ in the dropdown menu that appears
- Status – It can be useful for others to know where you are when you’re not available, not least when you’ll be back (especially if you are currently working with others on a project). To be more specific, set a status (and, if you like, an accompanying emoji) by…
a. Choosing ‘Set a status…’ from the dropdown menu under your name
b. Either choosing one of the default options (e.g. ‘In a meeting’) and using the ‘Clear after’ option to specify for how long your status should remain…
c. …or setting a status by entering some text into the ‘What’s your status?’ textbox
d. Personalise your status further by clicking the emoji icon and choosing something appropriate
e. Set a suitable ‘Clear after’ time, then click ‘Save’
You can clear your status at any time by clicking ‘Clear status’ in the dropdown menu under your name at the top left of the app.
If you use Outlook, you can integrate it with Slack to automatically update your status based on your calendar (e.g. it will change it to ‘In a meeting’ if there’s a meeting in your calendar). If you use Google calendar, Oliv is a third-party app that allows you to do the same. Another option for Google cal users is CalendarBot. Be warned however: it costs $2.50 per user per month.
Get to know & join Slack channels
Think of channels like rooms of people with a common interest. Join channels to listen to or take part in the conversations in that ‘room’.
- To find channels that are of interest to you, click ‘Channels’ in the left-hand app menu and you’ll be taken to the ‘Browse channels’ area
- Here you’ll see all the channels available to join. Sort the list on ‘Members (most to fewest)’ to see which channels are most popular
- Click on a channel to preview it
- If you like what you see, click the ‘Join channel’ button
- This will add the channel to your list of channels in the Slack app and list you as a member
- Rinse and repeat until you have joined all the channels you’re interested in
Learn when to use threads (hint: it’s most of the time)
You’re now ready to join the conversation. Before you do, make sure you’re clear on when to join in at channel level, join in via a thread, or send a direct message to one or more people.
When to use a channel
Starting a new conversation, reigniting an inactive conversation, or notifying everyone in a channel about something they really, really won’t want to miss? Start your conversation at channel level by simply clicking into the channel and starting to type.
When to use a thread
Taking part in an existing, recent conversation? Use a thread.
If you’re the first one to respond to a message, hover over it and select ‘Start a thread’ from the menu that appears.
The thread will open on the right-hand side of the Slack app; you will see a ‘Reply’ textbox into which you can enter your message. Share your pearls of wisdom and click ‘Send’ when you’re done.
If a message has already generated replies, you’ll see a count of replies and the avatars of those that replied underneath the message.
Click the count of replies and the thread will open. Scroll down to see what you’ve missed and to add your reply. Resist the urge to check the ‘Also send to’ box as this makes the channel noisier than needed.
You will automatically ‘follow’ threads you have participated in and will be notified of new responses (in line with your notification preferences). Your threads will appear at the top of the left-hand app menu.
When to use a direct message
Direct messages can be sent to one or more people (up to 8) and are private, seen only by the invitees.
Click on the + icon next to ‘Direct messages’ in the left-hand app menu and use the ‘Find or start a conversation’ textbox to search for the person or people you want to contact. Repeat until you have added everyone.
Click ‘Go’ and a new message will be created, into which you can start typing. (Or, if you’ve messaged the individual or group before, you’ll see your old message chain.)
Your direct messages appear towards the bottom of the left-hand menu. To remove a direct message from the list (perhaps an exchange with someone you’re not in regular contact with), click the cross icon next to their name.
The message history won’t be deleted so if you ever message that person again, you’ll be shown the full message chain. And don’t worry, the person whose messages you have removed from your list won’t be notified about it!
The How tos
Write a message: top tips
It’s easy. Once you’re in your chosen channel, thread or direct message, just start typing! But here are a few tips to help you along the way.
Edit / delete messages
Want to edit or delete something you’ve said? Immediately after sending the message, click the up arrow and either edit or clear the message.
Alternatively, hover over any message you’ve written and click the ellipses / ‘More actions’ icon, then either ‘Edit message’ or ‘Delete message’ as required.
Others in the channel / thread / direct message will be able to see that you have edited the message but not how.
Format long messages
Click ‘shift + enter’ or ‘alt + enter’ to add line breaks in long messages.
React to a message with just an emoji
Want to respond to what’s been said but don’t have the right words? Use an emoji! Hover over the message and click the emoji / ‘Add a reaction’ icon.
Click this to open the emoji selector. Pick an emoji or search for something suitable then click your chosen emoji to add it as a reaction. The emoji will appear under the message. (Added the wrong emoji? Click it again to remove it.)
Respond to an old message / share a message
A good way to respond to an old message but ensure that others get to see your reply is to share the message while adding a response.
Hover over the message and click the arrow / ‘Share message’ icon. In the pop-up that appears, select the current channel in the ‘Share with’ field and then enter your response in the textbox; click ‘Share’.
To share a message elsewhere, simply select the channel or person you’d like to share with in the ‘Share with’ field.
Mention individuals; address an entire channel
If you want to mention a specific person in a channel or thread, click or type the @ icon and start typing the person’s name to find them and click ‘Enter’ when you do. That person will be notified of your mention.
If you want to notify everyone in a channel of your message, include ‘@channel’ in your message… but use this very sparingly! Only messages that really can’t be missed should include ‘@channel’ mentions.
To notify only active members of the channel, add ‘@here’ to your message. But again, use with caution.
What happens if you @mention someone not in a channel / direct message?
- In a channel… the people won’t be notified, but you’ll have the option to invite them to the channel, or do nothing (in which case, they won’t be notified of your mention)
- In a direct message… the people won’t be notified or allowed to join the conversation. Only @mention the Hoxby in question so that others know who they are, not so they will be notified
Catch-up on what you’ve missed using ‘All unread’
Turning on the ‘All unread’ view is a great way to ensure you don’t miss a thing on Slack, without having to check-in every five minutes. Here’s how:
- Click your name to the top left of the app
- Select ‘Preferences’ from the dropdown menu
- Click ‘Sidebar’
- Check the box next to ‘Show all unread’
Now, you’ll see an ‘All unread’ link at the top of your left-hand app menu. When clicked, you’ll see all your unread messages in one place.
You can share files on Slack within channels or direct messages. Here’s how:
- Drag and drop a file into Slack or click the + icon next to the message field
- Add a message about the file if you like
- To change the file’s name, click ‘Edit’ next to the current title
- Underneath ‘Share with’, choose where to share the file
- To share a file later or to keep it private, untick the box next to ‘Share with’
- Click ‘Upload’ when you’re ready
Using Google Drive
At Hoxby, we use Google Drive for file sharing so we integrate Google Drive with our Slack accounts. It makes file creation and sharing that little bit easier and means you can get notified about changes to your file within Slack, if you like. Here’s how:
- Visit the Google Drive page in Slack’s App Directory
- Click ‘Install’
- Click ‘Add Google Drive app’
- Select ‘Authorise’
Once you’re ready to share a Google Drive file, choose from one of these options:
- Drag and drop it directly into Slack
- Copy and paste the link into the message field
- Upload the file by clicking the plus icon next to the message field
Search for stuff
From anywhere in the app, go to the ‘Search’ textbox at the top right of the app and enter your search-term. Right away, channels, members and suggested search terms will appear for you to select. Choose one or click ‘enter’ to run your search.
You’ll be shown a page of search results, on three tabs: ‘Messages’, ‘ Files’ and ‘Channels’. Click into the one that’s most relevant to what you’re searching for and either use the right-hand filters to refine your search (particularly useful for searching within channels) or browse for content that looks relevant.
Pin & star stuff you want to find easily
Pinning and starring content in Slack is a great way to help yourself and others find content at a later date.
If you manage a Slack channel, it’s a good idea to pin any files or messages that will always be relevant to that channel. Here’s how:
- Hover over the message or file you want to pin
- Click the ellipses / ‘More actions’ icon
- Select ‘Pin to #channel-name’ (or ‘Pin to conversation’ if you are in a direct message)
- Click ‘Yes, pin this message / file’ to confirm
- A message will appear in the channel or direct message letting others know you’ve pinned an item
View pinned items in a channel by clicking the pin icon under the channel name at the top of the app.
Starred items are your own personal bookmarks and can be used to save anything you want to refer to again: channels, messages or files. Once you have starred items, they will appear in the ‘Starred’ list in the left-hand menu and under the star icon at the top right of the app.
To star a channel…
Click the star icon underneath the channel name at the top left of the app.
To star a message…
Hover over the message and click the star icon on the pop-up menu.
To star a file…
Hover over the file, click the ellipses / ‘More actions’ icon, then select ‘Star file’.
Get notified about specific channels
If you’ve turned off most or all Slack notifications, you may still want to be notified about activity in specific channels, especially if you are working on an active project. Here’s how:
- Click into the channel and then click the cog icon at the top of the app
- Select ‘Notification preferences’ from the dropdown menu
- In the page that appears, change the notification preferences as you see fit
Ensure you don’t forget about Slack messages you’ve read or sent
Slack can remind you about all kinds of things, but at the most basic level it’s very easy to ask it to remind you about messages you have read (if you want to remember to take action) or sent (if you want to chase someone for a response). Here’s how:
- Hover over a message or a file
- Click the ellipses / ‘More actions’ icon
- Hover over ‘Remind me about this’, then choose a time frame from the list
Make a call
On Slack you can do more than just converse in writing. You can connect face to face with via voice and video calls. You can even share your screen.
To make a call, click into a direct message or a channel and click the phone icon at the top of the app.
If you’re in a direct message, the call will start right away and the people you’re calling will get a pop-up notification. If you’re in a channel, you will be asked to confirm you want to make a call and, optionally, give it a name.
Anyone in the channel will be able to join by clicking ‘Join this call’.
Leave a channel
If you’re in a channel and it all gets too noisy, or the conversation is no longer relevant to you, you can always leave. Before you go, why not check out Slack’s guide on how to reduce noise in Slack?
Now, if you still want to leave…
- In the channel, go to the cog icon at the top of the channel
- Select ‘Leave channel’ from the dropdown menu
- If the channel is private, you’ll be asked to confirm that you want to leave
That’s it. Come back at any time.
Do other cool stuff
- Set reminders for yourself or others (how about a reminder to take a break?
Jenefer Thoroughgood is a freelance consultant, specialising in digital media and engaging customers to develop great products. She’s part of the Hoxby community.