Getting up to speed with Slack

We love Slack here at The Times. Within our team, it has totally replaced email, and now everyone knows what everyone else is up to. It’s enhanced our collaboration and openness, and made it faster and simpler to catch up and get started on any project.

But we have found that other desks are a little more hesitant. We’ve encouraged other departments to get Slacking along with us, and though they love our instance and following along with what we’re doing, they are yet to be convinced of the value of contributing themselves.

Recently we’ve started a project which, having used the platform for a year now, we think Slack would be perfect for. As with any project with lots of people working on it communication can be a challenge and making sure everyone has access to the information they need without filling their inboxes unnecessarily often proves to be harder than it should.

So as a result we put together our more friendly version of the classic business proposal format: a Slack one-pager. In less than 500 words we tried to get to the core of how exactly to use Slack for the uninitiated. Though the company do a great job of selling the project to techies like ourselves, for the ‘But email does that’ crowd, we found you may need something a little more cheatsheety. A guide to finding the value behind the tool that we enjoy every day. We’ve shared it below, and would love to hear how you’ve brought Slack in across your business if you’ve found similarly hesitant users.


Starting Slacking

Download the Slack app from the Mac App Store, and on your phone. Set up your notifications so it only notifies you if you get mentioned like on Twitter with an @ prefix. (You can also do this for keywords like ‘cake’ or ‘tea’…)

Set up your name and profile picture. Not only does it make the place more homely, it lets everyone put a face and name to your slack name.

Join all the channels you are interested in. Over time, work out which ones you actually pay attention to. Star them to keep them near the top by using the dropdown under the channel name.

Don’t feel you need to keep on top of everything. One of the advantages of Slack is its visibility to communication. The only disadvantage is feeling overwhelmed. Scan or skip chat that’s happened while you’re away. Pay attention to your mentions.

Channels are cheap, communicate freely

If you are not just asking where someone is, or something concerning just them, talk about it in a channel. It’s useful to communicate publicly in order to keep everyone in the loop. If you want to continue a conversation offline following a meeting, or put some notes together: make a channel for it.

Use private groups to communicate between two or more people. Opening a private group doesn’t cost anything, so if you need to chat something over with two or more people that for some reason can’t be discussed in a public channel, open a group.

Everything in one place

Slack works best when you commit to it as a team. It should be the first place you think to put documents and assets, and the first place you think to search for them. Slack archives everything you write into public channels and allows you to search for them with fine parameters. You can even search inside Google Docs that you link to via Slack.

Leave conversations when they finish

When you’re no longer needed in a group or channel, leave it. You can always rejoin the channel later, or recreate the group. If you need someone in a conversation who is not in the channel, you can mention them and have Slackbot invite them automatically.

Advanced use

Learn the slash commands

You can invite people to channels by typing /invite <username> and leave channels by typing /leave or /close. Start with a / and see all the commands available.

Paste code snippets and post meeting notes

You can create text snippets which automatically format code by pressing CMD/CTRL+RETURN when pasting into a channel. You can also create posts, which are fully formattable with Markdown, to share meeting notes and large updates.

Integrate with GitHub

You can integrate your Slack with GitHub, JIRA and other services by visiting the integrations centre. This allows you to automatically see in a Slack channel when issues get updates or commits get approved.