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Everything You Need to Know to Get Started With Slack

Everything You Need to Know to Get Started With Slack Credit: Slack.com

Having trouble getting people to respond to your emails lately? They may not be slacking off — instead they're probably busy chatting it up with co-workers in Slack.

This collaboration tool has quickly become the go-to service for connecting with colleagues in both small and large businesses. It's simple to start up and use, making it accessible for employees at all levels of computer literacy.

Here are some details to get you going if you're new to Slack, along with highlights of key features that everyone on your team will want to know about. [See Related Story: Microsoft Teams vs. Slack: Which Is Right for Your Business?]

Slack is built for teams, and that's the premise behind the original structure. It's free to create one — you need to select a name for the team and a password, and then you can invite other collaborators.

It's easy to accumulate membership in multiple teams if you're a freelancer or work with several different organizations that create Slack teams. Even some families have latched on to Slack as a way to keep everyone on the same page. Its growing popularity means that familiarity with Slack is essential whether or not your business currently uses it.

Starting is easy, and from there you'll find plenty of customization choices for how your Slack organization looks and works. Credit: Slack.com

Creating a Slack team is pretty straightforward. You give your team a name (it can't be reused with an existing team) and you're off. You can invite others through their email addresses to be members. There is desktop software for Windows and Mac, along with mobile apps for iOS, Android and Windows Phone.

Within a team, you can break things down more specifically with channels. Depending on the type of account you opt for, there will be additional levels of access to your teams for freelancers or other outside contributors who aren't on your payroll.

At the free level, you have limited app integration and can only search your last 10,000 messages. If you're a sole proprietor with some occasional help or a very small business that doesn't need extensive records, then you should be fine. Slack says the unpaid level will always be free, without any sort of time limit to convert to a paid plan.

Larger businesses will want to opt for the standard or plus plans. Additionally, Slack recently established an enterprise grid option for larger companies that want search and other connections across multiple teams and channels.

One of the reasons that Slack has grown in popularity is the number of third-party apps it can integrate. You can connect the service to Google Drive, Dropbox, Salesforce and numerous bots. Slack even offers its own Slackbot that tries to liven up the conversation or help you find key features. These can extend what you do with Slack to make it more than just a chat room.

One of the most popular connections is with Giphy. By typing "/giphy," you can throw in a gif that gets the point across in a way that sometimes mere words can't do. If you manage your team's Slack account, you can turn this feature off to keep things from getting a little too zany.

Each individual user can customize the design of their Slack application and have visibility of the main chat room. Learning to @mention another user is essential, particularly if you have a ton of different conversations going at once.

The best organizational technique is to group different teams into channels. Whether it's a different vertical within an umbrella business or just more focused conversations, organizing your channels is key to helping everyone not be overwhelmed by a cluttered mess of chats.

Working in Slack is significantly faster if you learn the hotkeys for the commands that you use the most. The company keeps a running list on its blog. Here are some of the key shortcuts you'll want to know about.

Working in Slack is significantly faster if you learn the most useful tricks. Credit: Slack.com

The shortcuts are very similar on Mac and Windows desktop versions. If you're using a Chromebook, the Windows keyboard commands will be the ones you want to use.

One of the longest-sought feature upgrades to Slack was the ability to have threaded conversations. They've finally arrived, and it appears the wait was worth it, because the solution is really well thought out.

You can tuck away a thread and not bother with it if it's not one you're a part of. They were also implemented in the Slack mobile apps to make maximum use of the limited screen real estate.

Cost and learning curve are usually the major factors in deciding if such a critical piece of software should be deployed widely. Atlassian continues to ramp up its HipChat service, and Microsoft Teams may be the more compelling option if your business uses Office 365. But Slack's funding and ambitions will continue to make it one of the top choices when it comes to keeping your team conversations all in one place.

Editor's Note: Looking to make the most out of Slack? Check out these third-party Slack apps on our sister site, Tom's IT Pro.

Derek Walter

Derek Walter is the founder of Walter Media, which offers writing and content strategy services. He is also the author of Learning MIT App Inventor: A Hands-On Guide to Building Your Own Android Apps.