Now that we’re spending more time indoors, we’re finding new platforms — and new ways to use old platforms — to stay in touch, whether it’s for work or with friends. This is the case with Slack, an instant-messaging platform that functions somewhere in the space between email and text messages. Designed for quick communication, Slack became an important tool for a lot of workplaces well before everyone started working from home. But you can use it for pretty much 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 (which is your main area of operations and contains your network of contacts) on Slack. In your workspace, you create channels, which are like chat rooms or group chats. In those channels, you and your friends / family / team members can text chat, exchange files, integrate with other apps such as Google Docs and Office 365, and even have audio or video chats (although if you’re using the free version, you can only do a one-to-one video chat).
If you’re not already familiar with it, though, Slack takes some getting used to. Here, we’ve put together a step-by-step guide to help you get started — we’re using the web-based version, but using the desktop app is a similar experience. Be aware that the instructions below may differ depending on whether you’re using a free or paid version.
Create a new account and workspace
As we just said, when you use Slack, you will be starting with a main workspace and then creating a variety of subspaces (known as channels) for your conversations. You can belong to more than one workspace, but for each workspace, you have to create a separate account.
We’ll deal with 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. (If you use a personal email address, you may be asked to use a work email. Don’t worry about it — just put in your usual email address.)
- Slack will ask you to verify your email with a code. Go to your email account, retrieve the code, return to the Slack registration page, and enter it.
- You will then be invited to create a workspace. Slack may also suggest an existing workspace that you can join (assuming that somebody has already invited you to one).
- Click on “Create a Workspace.” Slack will ask you for the name of your company or team; what it’s really asking for is a name for your workspace. Type in a name and click “Next.”
- Slack will ask you to type in a name for a project you’re working on. Enter it and click “Next.”
- On the next screen, you can enter the names and email addresses of people you’d like 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 anyone yet, you can skip this page. (If you click “Skip this step,” you may get a pop-up urging you to add members now. Don’t worry about it; you’ll get a chance to add people later.
- You may have noticed that your Slack workspace is being built to the left. Your channels will be listed here, while “Direct messages” will list anyone you’ve sent a private message to.
- That’s 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 that you can use the app separately from any online work you’re doing. There are also apps available for iOS and Android.
The first time you open Slack in a browser or as an app, you will probably get an automated walk-through showing off some of the features — it’s worth taking a minute or two to see what’s what. A couple of things to start with:
- Select “Add teammates” from the side column to invite people to your workspace.
- Hover your cursor over the word “Channels” on the left side until you see the plus sign, and then click on that to add a new channel.
Join an existing workspace
To join an existing Slack workspace, you’ll need to get permission from whoever administers that workspace. Usually, they will send you an email invitation which you can use to join, but there can be other options. Some workplaces allow anyone with an email address from a specific domain to join, and in some cases, you can authenticate your account using your organization’s single sign-on program (like G Suite or Okta).
If you’ve received an email invitation:
- Click “Join Now” in the email.
- You can sign in with an existing Google or Apple account or type in your email address. If you choose the email route, you’ll then be asked to put in a name and create a password.
- Once you’ve created the account, you will then be taken to that Slack workspace.
To join without an email invitation:
- Go to slack.com/get-started
- Type in your email address and click “Continue.”
- Go to the email Slack sent you to get the confirmation code and enter it into the appropriate spaces.
- Slack will open up a window that lets you create a new workspace and shows you which workspaces you’re a part of as well as any you’ve been invited to.
While most Slack workspaces are restricted to people who have been invited to them, there are some public workspaces around. You can find lists of these by following interest groups or by checking out resources such as r/SlackHangouts and Slofile.
Update January 28th, 2022, 9:30AM PT: This article was originally published on March 30th, 2020, and has been updated to account for changes in the Slack interface.