Slack was already a popular messaging app in workplaces across the country, but the dramatic increase in the number of people working from home has made it even more essential. From smart ways to manage your notifications to customising the interface, here are 15 tricks you should know to make Slack work for you.
1. Compose messages instantly
Slack is currently pushing out a major redesign, which you’ll see in the next couple of weeks if you haven’t already. If you do have the new look in your browser or in your desktop client, you’ll see a new compose button (a pen inside a box) shows up next to the name of the current workspace.
Click this to start writing something. It saves you having to navigate to a particular conversation or channel, because you can select this from the top, like you would an email. If something distracts you before you have chance to finish your thought, the message is saved in the Drafts link on the left.
2. Put up a Do Not Disturb sign
It’s easy to get overwhelmed with notifications and alerts on Slack, but there’s a Do Not Disturb mode to keep it all in check. When you activate it, you won’t hear any sounds or see notifications on any of your devices, and your co-workers will see a little sleeping symbol at the side of your name.
Click the bell icon (or the clock icon on the new interface) up in the top left corner to choose a time duration, or pick Do not disturb schedule to have it turn on automatically. This is useful if you work in a different time zone than the rest of your colleagues. You can also activate it by typing “/dnd” followed by a time period into the Slack chat field.
3. Get reminders from Slackbot
Slackbot knows all kinds of tricks and can be as useful as Siri or Google Now by leaving you reminders. Open a direct message conversation with Slackbot, type “/remind” into the chat field, and then leave some reminder text and a time. You’ll see a confirmation message on screen.
You can also leave reminders for other people and specific channels (just type “/remind” on its own to see various ways in which you can leave messages). If you want to see all of the reminders that are currently active, type “/remind list” into the chat field (you can delete them from here too).
4. Organise channels more easily
You can quickly find yourself a member of dozens of Slack channels, and the interface update that’s rolling out now aims to make it easier to manage them—after all, it’s unlikely that every channel you’re in is of equal importance or equally busy. You can order channels as needed, and split them into groups.
Most of this is handled through drag and drop. You might want to list all the channels most crucial to your job right at the top, for example, and push the social and idle chit-chat ones further down. As in the current version of the Slack apps, you can also star channels using the icon at the top of the channel page.
5. Use Slack’s advanced search operators
As with your regular search engine of choice, you can use operators to narrow down your searches in Slack, which is helpful for finding items in busier channels. For example, type “has:star” inside the search box to look for all starred messages, or try “from:username” to look for messages from a certain person.
To see all of the operators available to you, type “+” in the search box: You can find messages in or to a particular channel, restrict your search to a particular range of dates, and look for messages with links in them. Related and recent searches pop up underneath as you continue typing.
6. Sync your status to your calendar
Slack prides itself in the number of third-party apps and integrations that it supports, and if you use calendars in Outlook or Google Calendar, you can use them to sync up your status automatically—people will see that you’re in a meeting without you having to set your status manually, for example.
To get this set up, you need to install the Outlook or Google Calendar app in Slack (if you have the necessary permissions), then switch to it using the navigation menu on the left inside Slack. Select Turn On to enable the sync feature straight away, or you can enable it later from the app settings.
7. Learn the Slack keyboard shortcuts
From Photoshop to Gmail, keyboard shortcuts can help you be more productive, and there are plenty to play around with in Slack, too. For example, if you just typed something and noticed a mistake, press the Up arrow to get back to it. There’s a full list on the Slack support site.
The quick switcher shortcut is useful, too: Press Ctrl+K (Windows) or Cmd+K (Mac), then start typing to jump to specific channels or threads. You can use the Esc key as an easy way of marking all the messages in the current channel or conversation as read, or Shift+Esc to mark everything in an entire workspace as read.
8. Share your time zone and status
You might work in a team with members all over the globe, and in those situations it can be helpful to know when everyone is working. It minimizes the risk of you disturbing them outside of office hours, and also gives you a good idea of when they might be able to respond to requests.
To set your own time zone so other people can see it in Slack, click the name of your workspace (top left), then Profile & account and Edit Profile. To set a status, which can include more details about your working hours or your current location, click the Status field on the Profile & account panel.
9. Add your own emoji
Everyone loves emoji, and you can add your own by opening up the main menu (the down arrow next to your workspace name), and choosing Customise Slack. The options you see here will vary depending on how your team’s account has been set up. You can add customised loading messages from here, too.
All you need to set up a new emoji symbol is a picture of said emoji and a shortcut name for it. Anything you create will be available for everyone on your team to see and will be added to the custom tab of the emoji menu (click the smiley face to the right of the message field to see all the available symbols).
10. Set up highlight words
Highlight words let you get Slack notifications when specific keywords are mentioned, whether it’s your nickname, a project you’re working on, or just a new TV show that you want to discuss with your colleagues. You’ll get alerts about these in the same way you see mentions and direct messages.
Click the name of your workspace (top left), then choose Preferences and Notifications. You can enter as many words as you like in the My keywords box, separated by commas (and keywords aren’t case-sensitive). You can tweak these terms at any point if you’re getting too many or too few alerts.
11. Tidy up the feed
Image and link previews are part of the appeal of Slack, but if you’ve got particularly GIF-happy colleagues or there are a lot of links to wade through, then your screen can get very busy very quickly. Type “/collapse” to hide all image previews in the current channel and “/expand” to bring them back.
There are a host of helpful commands that begin with the slash symbol—just type “/” in the message field to see them all pop up. Some of them may have been added by the people who set up your Slack channel, and any third-party plug-ins and add-ons will have similar commands of their own.
12. Format the text of your messages
If you need help getting your point across, Slack supports the usual text formatting tricks found in many messaging apps. Put asterisks around words you want to bold, and underscore marks around anything you want to appear in italics. The tilde symbol (~) on either side adds a strikethrough effect.
If you need to create a message that goes on for several lines, then use Shift+Enter to add new lines without posting the message. It’s also possible to create blockquotes by preceding text with an angled bracket (>). To carry the blockquote across several lines, use three angled brackets (>>>).
13. Keep your place in a channel
You can keep your place in a channel with an Alt+click (Windows) or Option+click (Mac) on a particular message—this marks it and all subsequent messages as unread, so you can easily jump back to it later. A long press on a particular message brings up the same option (and several others) in the Slack mobile apps.
To change the way that Slack automatically marks messages as read when you jump back into a particular team or channel, open up Preferences from the main Slack menu, then choose Mark as read from the left menu. By default, Slack marks everything in a channel as read once you open it up.
14. Change the look of Slack
Slack has a distinctive default colour scheme, but you don’t have to settle for that look if you don’t want to. From the main Slack menu, choose Preferences and then open up the Themes menu. There are eight preset ones to choose from, or you can set up a different combination of colours yourself.
You won’t suddenly change the colour scheme for everyone in your company or team—only you will see the new look—and each team that you’re a member of can have its own appearance settings, which can make life easier if you’re jumping around a lot between different Slack teams in one browser or app.
15. Link to particular messages
Right-click on a time stamp, click on the options menu to the right (the three dots), or on mobile long press to copy the link for a specific message. You can bookmark this or drop it back into the channel, for example, enabling you to quickly remind your co-workers exactly what they’ve said in the past.
You can paste Slack links into Slack conversations and channels, too, which will show the message, who posted it, and the timestamp in an indented form, as well as a link to jump to the original message. One way this can come in handy is making it easier to link conversations across multiple channels.