Pro Slack tips–12 things you may not know about Slack

I bet you use Slack every day. I also bet you don’t know everything it can do to make your life easier. A colleague​ and I chatted recently about how some of our best Slack discoveries really help to keep us organised now that we know how to use them.

On our respective gigs we’ve both noticed that many colleagues are not aware of some really useful Slack features, and we wanted to share what we’ve learned. Here are our favourite Slack tips for staying organised.  

If you’re a “black belt” Slack user, please feel free to skip, otherwise this blog should help you understand how to use Slack effectively. There are also some great notes on how NOT to use these in our very own EE Slack guide here.  

1. Slack Sections

A common complaint we hear about Slack is from people being overwhelmed by the number of channels they need to follow.  Sections may be the answer.

Put simply, Sections allow you to group related channels in the left hand menu and then expand and collapse them to focus on the priorities.  For example, we have Sections for things like “Admin”, “Team Channels” and “Alerts”.

Slack’s guide to using sections can be found here.

2. Scheduled Messages

We recently found out that Slack messages don’t have to be instant. Instead, you can schedule messages to post the following day, or at a time when notification pings won’t disturb colleagues who might be working on different time schedules to you.

Slack’s guide to using scheduled messages can be found here.

3. /giphy

Giphy is a great Slack app that can help replace a bit of the fun that sometimes goes missing when working remotely. My colleague and I have both worked for a team that claimed they could communicate exclusively through gifs. That team has had a big influence on how we have worked elsewhere!  

Of course, some people could find this annoying, so use wisely.  There is a time and a place to use them, although in our case it’s every time and every place!

This is a great blog showing a number of things you can do with /giphy including how to add your own captions.

4. Saved Items

Did you know you can save Slack messages and access them from the Saved Items option in the left hand menu?  An obvious use case for this is to save posts that you often refer to.  

We have also found saving Slack posts super useful for maintaining a to-do list.  When short of time, we save posts that we need to respond to and action.  Once we’ve dealt with them, we simply un-save the message.  

Image source from Slack https://slack.com/intl/en-gb/help/articles/360042650274-Save-messages-and-files-

5. @here and @channel

People love to be drawn to channels by use of these two Slack commands.  Don’t be shy of using these repeatedly if people are not responding quickly enough.

There are some great notes on how to use these in our very own EE Slack usage guide.

6. /remind

You know when you suddenly remember something important but don’t have the time to action it there and then? One of our favourite Slack tips is to use /remind to send reminders to ourselves or to a channel. You can create one-off, or recurring reminders, like our weekly note to our team channel that we need to review blocked stories.

Slack’s guide to using /remind can be found here.

7. Search – ctrl-g or command-g

Some Slack pro tips are incredibly useful for saving time, especially if your team has been using Slack for a while. Knowing how to search Slack efficiently to see if an issue has come up before has really helped when we’ve needed to troubleshoot a problem. 

There are a number of ways to search Slack history but our favourite is ctrl-g.  This brings up a search bar and some helpful filters in the results, such as dates. Make sure you know how to search in a specific channel and for specific people.

If you’re confident of finding something in a channel or DM that you’re currently in, you can use control-f or command-f and Slack will add the conversation name in for you

Slack’s guide to many other good shortcut keys can be found here.

8. Workflows

Workflows have been revolutionary for us, helping us automate solutions to communication problems and to stay on top of recurring tasks. Here’s a couple of examples where we’ve used them:

  • Team member onboarding when a new person joins a team channel

This Slack tip nicely welcomes a new person to the team, helps remind the existing team members of various tasks they need to do, and then starts a private conversation with the new team member with several snippets of information to help orientate them.

  • Weekly silent stand-ups when teams have a day of quiet

Some teams have started to show a desire to have meeting or call free days to allow them to really focus. To help with that, you could create a workflow encouraging team members to write something in a thread and arrange coordination as needed.

Slack’s guide to using workflows can be found here.

9. Bookmarks at the top of channel

Pinned messages are a good idea but can become irrelevant over time if not pruned regularly. Bookmarks at the top of a channel are even better. They’re always in sight, and serve as a quick reference guide to needed information quickly without becoming too burdensome.

Slack’s guide to using bookmarked links can be found here.

10. Integrate with Google Calendar

Integrating with Google Calendar helps keep me organised, giving me a view of my day at 8am and then notification of an upcoming calendar entry. New invites appear and can be accepted or rejected, and the upcoming calendar entry also allows you to change your response. The integration also updates your Slack status with the calendar icon which can help people know you may not be available.

Slack’s guide to integrating with Google Calendar can be found here.

11. Huddles

I wasn’t sure about Huddles until I joined a team that loved using them and now I am a convert. They’re very handy when you just need that impromptu quick conversation with someone, don’t need to be on camera and don’t need to screen share (although you can). They’re great for encouraging informal connection.

You can start a huddle in a channel, a DM or a group chat. If you need someone else, you can just add them and the person is notified that they are being invited.

Slack’s guide to huddles can be found here.

12. A word about email integration

Whilst Slack email integration does exist, it’s not something I advise using. There are so many good reasons to avoid email, and if you put into practice the Slack tips here, your communications might never need to leave the app!

What we really think of @here and @channel

OK, we give in. It does work brilliantly when you want someone to appreciate the need for a prompt response, but of course we don’t advocate spamming your teams. Well, not in channels with a high number of people. Maybe limit yourself to using this Slack tip in team channels with no more than10 people – but use it sparingly!

​Now you know how to use Slack better, share this blog with your teams to see productivity really improve. And let us know in the comments or by sharing on LinkedIn if you have any other Slack hints and tips we might have missed. 

​Finally, a big thank you to co-author, friend and colleague Martyn Thompson.

This is the story of how HMRC, an organisation able to trace its roots back to the Middle Ages, used technologies such as Slack to meet the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic.

In March 2020, HMRC Digital was busy—very busy.  Teams were working hard to support the acute spike of work that always accompanies the preparations for the new tax year.  Then Covid-19 hit.

In the early days of the national lockdown, everyone at HMRC Digital understood that the sudden and enforced shift to fully remote working had to be achieved without disrupting business as usual.  And just as teams were adjusting to those new ways of working, the Treasury announced an unprecedented range of Covid-response schemes (including ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ and the Job Retention Scheme, otherwise known as ‘furlough’).  Getting these efforts launched quickly and sustainably was crucial, if colleagues, friends, and neighbours were going to continue to pay their mortgages and feed their families.

The award-winning outcomes HMRC Digital delivered during that strange and difficult period depended on teams being able to collaborate effectively while physically separate.  A major part of achieving this relied on getting the most out of HMRC Digital’s tools of choice, one of which was Slack.

Separate but Together

When Covid-19 forced the country into lockdown, HMRC Digital  was already using Slack. This was a crucial rock on which to build effective remote-first ways of working. Indeed, preserving the human element of work was deemed essential for HMRC Digital to succeed.  

Slack had helped HMRC Digital colleagues – 60 teams comprising some 1,500 people across eight locations – move their conversations out of siloed email inboxes into shared channels, thereby creating an archive of discussions and decisions. Tapping into the collective knowledge of the organisation had become simple and seamless. And when the pandemic struck, communities were strengthened despite physical separation. Slack enabled colleagues to react to good news around the organisation in real time, and celebrate shared successes, regardless of where they were in the country.  And throughout the public health crisis, HMRC Digital used Slack to collaborate with its external partners in shared channels at the right time, in the right way—and that included Equal Experts,  which introduced Slack to HMRC Digital in the first place.

Busy Bees

Equal Experts is a leading software consultancy, and an enthusiastic user of Slack since 2016. In its most popular channel there are now over 2,000 users, which is all the more remarkable because it only employs 800 people! Slack is the glue that binds together the organisation’s complex network of employees, associates, clients (past and present) and external partners.

Part of the value Equal Experts brings to its engagements is the cross-pollination of best practice. In that spirit, it shared with HMRC Digital its experiences with Slack, including advice on how to get the most out of the tool, such as establishing:

  • “Ask” channels, so people can request help and advice
  • “Temporary” channels, so people can gather around an urgent idea or challenge 
  • “Community” channels (e.g., by location or by tool), to help people share news and connect with one another
  • “Public” channels (the default at Equal Experts), so people can freely share knowledge, celebrate  successes, and even tell jokes!
  • “Private” channels, used when sensitive information is being shared

When HMRC Digital made the decision to adopt Slack, Equal Experts gave the organisation one last piece of advice: rely on your people to self-organise. That is, colleagues should be trusted to only join (and stay in) channels that are relevant and useful to them. While writing lengthy guidelines on using Slack can prove handy, and every once in a while it might be valuable to nudge people toward or away from certain channels (or behaviours), the core spirit of autonomous decision-making is crucial.

After HMRC Digital started using Slack, it began to realise the channel-based messaging platform’s value in the context of its unique situation, and HMRC Digital employees made it their own. In doing so, they laid the critical foundations that they’d rely on later, when the Covid-19 pandemic hit.

To Infinity and Beyond

Remote first.  Peak BAU demand. New ways of working. Massive, unexpected challenges. All these factors could have combined to be detrimental to HMRC Digital’s performance over the past year. But making clever use of tools such as Slack has helped keep the teams safe, happy and productive. In fact, the teams at HMRC Digital have excelled across the board, achieving outcomes for the nation above and beyond expectations. They’ve won multiple awards, including the ‘Best Public Sector IT Project’, and were highly commended for the ‘Best Use of Cloud Services’ by the BCS (The Chartered Institute of IT). Furthermore, the platform team earned a 97% satisfaction rating from customers, prevented billions of pounds of potential fraud, and received personal notes of gratitude from both the Prime Minister and the Treasury.  That is a remarkable good news story, and we all need those now more than ever.