As we spend more time indoors, we’re finding new platforms — and new ways to use old ones — to keep in touch, whether it’s for work or with friends. This is the case with Slack, an instant messaging platform that functions somewhere between email and SMS. Designed for fast communication, Slack became an important tool for many workplaces long before everyone started working from home. But you can use it for just about anything: friends, group activities, clubs, or online communities.
Slack has a free version and offers several paid plans. You start by setting up a workspace (that’s your main work area and contains your network of contacts) on Slack. In your workspace, you create channels that are similar to chat rooms or group chats. In those channels, you and your friends/family/team members can text chat, exchange files, integrate with other apps like Google Docs and Office 365, and even have audio or video chats (although if you’re using the free version, you can only get a on-one video chat).
However, if you’re new to it, Slack takes some getting used to. Here we’ve put together a step-by-step guide to get you started – we’re using the web version, but using the desktop app is a similar experience. Please note that the instructions below may differ depending on whether you are using a free or paid version.
Create a new account and workspace
As we just said, when you use Slack, you start with a main workspace and then create a variety of subspaces (known as channels) for your conversations. You can belong to more than one workspace, but you must create a separate account for each workspace.
We’ll discuss how to join an existing workspace a little later. Let’s start by looking at how to create a new workspace.
- Go to slack.com and select “Try for Free”.
- Enter your email address. (If you are using a personal email address, you may be asked to use a business email address. Don’t worry – just enter your usual email address.)
- Slack will ask you to verify your email with a code. Go to your email account, get the code, return to the Slack registration page and enter it.
- You will then be invited to create a workspace. Slack can also suggest an existing workspace that you can join (assuming someone has already invited you to a workspace).
- Click on ‘Create a workspace’. Slack will ask you for the name of your company or team; what it really asks for is a name for your workspace. Type a name and click “Next”.
- Slack will ask you to enter a name for a project you are working on. Enter it and click “Next”.
- On the next screen, you can enter the names and email addresses of people you want to add to your Slack workspace, and Slack will send them invitations. You can also use a shareable invite link. If you’re not ready to invite someone yet, skip this page. (If you click ‘Skip this step’, you may get a popup asking you to add members now. Don’t worry, you’ll have the chance to add people later.
- You may have noticed that your Slack workspace is built on the left. Your channels will be listed here, while Direct Messages will list everyone you’ve sent a private message to.
- That is it! You can now open Slack in your browser. If you use Slack regularly, it might be a good idea to download the desktop app for Mac or Windows so you can use the app separately from all the online work you do. There are also apps available for iOS and Android.
The first time you open Slack in a browser or as an app, you’ll probably get an automated walkthrough that shows you some of its features – it’s worth taking a minute or two to see what’s what. A few things to start with:
- Select “Add teammates” in the sidebar to invite people to your workspace.
- Hover your cursor over the word “Channels” on the left until you see the plus sign and click on it to add a new channel.
Join an existing workspace
To join an existing Slack workspace, you need to get permission from whoever manages that workspace. Usually they will send you an email invitation that you can use to join, but there may be other options. In some workplaces, anyone with an email address from a specific domain can join, and in some cases you can verify your account with your organization’s single sign-on program (such as G Suite or Okta).
If you received an email invitation:
- Click “Join Now” in the email.
- You can sign in with an existing Google or Apple account or enter your email address. If you choose the email route, you will be prompted to enter a name and create a password.
- Once you’ve created the account, you’ll be taken to that Slack workspace.
To join without an email invitation:
- Go to slack.com/get-started
- Enter your email address and click “Continue”.
- Go to the email Slack sent you to get the confirmation code and enter it in the spaces provided.
- Slack opens a window where you can create a new workspace and see which workspaces you’re part of and which you’ve been invited to.
While most Slack workspaces are limited to people who have been invited to do so, there are a few public workspaces nearby. You can find lists of these by following interest groups or by checking out resources such as r/SlackHangouts and Slofile.
Update Jan 28, 2022, 9:30 a.m. PT: This article was originally published on March 30, 2020 and has been updated to reflect changes to the Slack interface.