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Top Slack app tips, tricks and hacks for power users

Top Slack app tips, tricks and hacks for power users

Slack is a powerful collaboration tool in its own right, which means it also has a lot of hidden ways of doing things. Here’s how to get the most from it from users who know it best.

Credit: Magdalena Petrova

Slack users tend to be passionate about the popular collaboration tool. “Slack has changed the way we communicate internally,” said Rob Shapiro, senior director of product strategy for Muck Rack, a digital PR and journalism platform. Slack’s easier access to shared files, discussion areas and notifications “made our team smarter, faster and more in tune with one another,” he said in a recent interview.

That passion also tends to lead users to find ways to get even more from the app, which can be downloaded for Windows here, for Mac users here and for Linux here

We asked people from the Slack user community (as well as the company itself) for their top tips, tricks and hacks. These are 18 of their favorites.

(Note: The majority of these are aimed at desktop users, though some of the Slack tips apply to the mobile app as well.)

Use underscores and short descriptors for private groups

Use a consistent naming convention across your organization, such as a short abbreviation for departments or teams. For example, use #mkt for marketing. Add an underscore and a short descriptor for the channel, too, such as #mkt_facebook, said Todd Thibodeaux, president and CEO of CompTIA, the nonprofit technology industry trade association. The naming convention helps order the channels in your list, and the underscore can help make the channels easy to read and find.

Use Cmnd K/Ctrl K for fast navigation

“I couldn’t count how many Slack channels I’m actively participating in, not to mention direct message threads,” said Fred Schebesta, CEO and co-founder of Finder.com, an independent comparison platform and information service. He’s a heavy user of Command + K (for Macs) and Control + K (for Windows) to quickly jump between channels. With this “Quick Switcher” keyboard shortcut, a search box appears. Start typing the name of the person or channel you want for quick access.

Slack quick switcher Slack

Command + K (for Macs) and Control + K (for Windows) allows you to quickly jump between  Slack channels.

Jump to Direct Messages

Command + Shift + K on Macs and Control + Shift + K on Windows is another handy Quick Switcher shortcut because it enables you to jump directly to the Direct Messages menu, said Brad Shaw, owner of Dallas Web Designs. “I find this shortcut especially handy when creating a group chat with multiple members,” he said.

Set reminders for messages you need to answer

Sometimes you’ve got a few seconds to read a message, but not enough time to respond at length. Maybe you need to do a little research before you answer, or you’ve glanced at the message as you head into a meeting and can’t respond immediately.

“I frequently set reminders for messages I can’t attend to right away but need to come back to,” said Schebesta. Hover over a message and click the *** Show message actions icon, scroll down to “Remind me about this,” and choose when you want to be reminded. Slackbot will bring that message back to your attention at the desired time.

Don’t overdo the ‘@’ symbol

Before posting a message in a channel, ask yourself: Does everyone on this channel need this information? “Judicious use of @here, @channel and @username can help you make sure that the right people get notified about information, instead of making it available to everyone,” said Emily Wiese, vice president of Digital Skills for Skillsoft, an online training platform. “Remember that notifications pop up on all devices every time you use an @,” so think twice about how you use it, she added.

Don’t overdo private messaging

Only use private messaging in Slack when a) the message is directed to a specific person, and b) it’s irrelevant to a specific project, Wiese said. “This is key to maintaining transparency and ensuring efficient communications.”

If a conversation is relevant for a subset of a channel’s audience, create a new sub-channel instead of a private message with multiple people, Wiese said. When the discussion is over, use the “/archive” command to archive the sub-channel.

Merge email with Slack

Astro has added its email assistant Astrobot to Slack and added Slack messaging to the Astro email apps for Mac, iOS and Android. That kind of integration means you can reduce time toggling between email and Slack.

Astrobot and slack integration Astro

Astro has added its email assistant Astrobot to Slack.

“Astrobot will ping you with new emails and you can reply, archive and delete email within Slack,” said Allison Tetreault, marketing manager at Toast, a cloud-based restaurant technology company. Astro integrates Slack with Gmail and Office 365 email accounts. Plus, “you can search your conversations across Slack and your email inbox for any topic,” she said.

Slack offers other options for integrating email into its service.

Move ongoing email threads to Slack

When an email thread continues for more than two or three rounds, it’s a good candidate to move to Slack, which is often more efficient than traditional email. Wiese said that when an email thread gets too long, she creates a new Slack channel on the topic and invites colleagues who were in the email thread to continue the conversation on Slack.

Integrate Slack with other apps

Slack works well with tools such as Zapier and IFTTT, which automate actions in the app that are then triggered by actions in a connected service.

For example, whenever a Google Sheets spreadsheet is updated, Zapier will automatically notify all interested parties via a Slack message. “This hack saves me lots of steps,” said Andrew Hoag, founder and CEO of purchasing-software service Teampay. 

Teampay also automatically sends new email notifications from specific inboxes, such as support and sales, to Slack, so that “team members can discuss questions and issues that might come up before responding to the customer,” Hoag said.

Perform specific searches

Search modifiers in Slack help you find specific messages or content easily. For example, adding in:channel to a search phrase narrows the search to a specific channel; adding during:month narrows the search results to that month; or adding to:me focuses the search on direct messages sent to you. For more, see Search in Slack. (This suggestion came from Slack.)

Slack search Slack

Search modifiers in Slack make it easier to find specific messages or content.

Easily edit or delete sent messages

If you sent a message prematurely or by accident, or want to correct it, just press the Up arrow on your keyboard, said Wesley de Souza, a senior developer for Work & Co., a digital product agency. To delete a message you’ve sent, hover over it, press the Up arrow, delete the text, hit Enter, then hit Enter again to confirm.

Note: Team owners can limit editing options to a specific time period after a message has been sent or can disallow editing or deleting sent messages completely.

Clean up your space

When Slack channels have a lot of messages, links, attachments and GIFs, things can get messy. To keep you focused, use Slack’s Compact theme, de Souza said. The theme hides member profile photos and uses less white space between messages. Follow these steps to change your message display settings in Slack.

Use stars and pins for organizing

When you receive information you’ll need later, such as important contact details, a documentation URL or an important file, star the message by clicking the hidden star to the right of the time the message was sent, said de Souza. (The star is visible when you hover your cursor to the right of the time stamp.) You can then find the information later using the “starred items” pulldown. Use Stars to also create ad hoc to-do lists, and unstar items when a related task is complete.

Similarly, for easy access later on, you can pin key messages and files to the details pane in a channel or direct message using the Pin to #channel feature, accessible from the *** Show message actions icon. Here’s how to pin messages and files.

Create custom emojis

If none of Slack’s emojis work for you, make your own. You can add one for every team member’s avatar, for instance. Here’s how to create a custom Slack emoji. (This idea was suggested by Slack.)   

Slack custom emojis Slack

You can make your own custom emojis.

Mute noisy channels

Some channels may be important to you, but you don’t need to see their constant stream of notifications. For those channels, Schebesta uses Slack’s channel-muting feature, which you can find at the top of a channel by clicking on the gear icon to open Channel Settings. Alternatively, you can type /mute into the message box in the channel. You can easily unmute a channel, too, by clicking the muted channel icon beside the channel’s name.

Take advantage of Slackbots

Third-party Slackbots can “add a lot to your Slack experience,” said Marcus Harjani, co-founder and CEO of celebrity site FameMoose. He recommends two: Nikabot ($5 per user/month), a Slackbot that tracks team members’ time, and Busybot (free to $4.16 per user/month), “an excellent tool for task and team management, for organizing events and assigning tasks.”

Other third-party tools to consider include Kyber (free) for managing projects, tasks and meetings, and Workbot ($499/month and up) for automating workflows. (Both tools were suggested by Slack.)

Nikabot Nikabot

Nikabot is a Slackbot that tracks team members’ time.

Recognize when it’s time to actually talk

Slack messages may involve decisions that have to be made. Or a thread may just go on too long. In those scenarios, hit the call button, open a WebEx session and have a quick face-to-face conversation, said Wiese.

WebEx is among the videoconference apps/services that integrate with Slack. Others include Blue Jeans, Google+ Hangouts and Skype.

Know when to ‘slack off’

Like any communications tool, Slack can be addicting. It’s tempting to check your Slack messages while in meetings — but it pulls you away from the others in the room.

At Envato, a Melbourne, Australia, tech company, members of one team start each meeting by declaring that they’re slacking off — literally “We started doing this because we wanted to really engage with one another and the content of our discussion and too often found ourselves distracted by Slack,” said Adrian Fittolani, general manager of content. When that happens, team members can become “way less effective and less present,” and it feels “less respectful of colleagues when someone asks your opinion and realizes you’re miles away.”

You can snooze all Slack notifications during meetings or intense periods of work, when you need to stay focused. In addition, Slack’s Do Not Disturb feature will prevent notifications on weekends or other times when you don’t want work to intrude. Here’s how to turn on Slack’s Snooze and Do Not Disturb settings.

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