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How to Supercharge Slack for Powerful Workplace Collaboration

By Shaumik Daityari

A few years back, the primary mode of communication for a team was via mailing lists (for example, those old Python mailman lists — remember those?) As time passed, Google Groups came to the rescue, and managing threads for team communications became a lot easier. Teams all around the world began to use it, and most were happy with its features.

In recent years, however, tools like Redmine and Trello have arrived, providing greater control over projects — with features for project management a step ahead of forums.

At IMG, IIT Roorkee, we used Google Groups as our primary mode of communication, until we realized the time had come to take it to the next level. That’s when we decided to go with Slack.

Slack is a collection of chat rooms, both public and private. It helps confine all your team communications to one place. If that was all it did, it would still be very useful, but it does so much more! If you’re interested, here’s an excellent article on the backstory of the app.

Getting Started

If you are the team lead, just head over to Slack and create your team. You can then invite your team members.

Slack Home Page

You can create public or private chat rooms, with the option of one-to-one messaging as well. There are mobile and iOS apps, which keep you connected on the go.

Chat Rooms

Here’s a bonus — you can customize almost everything. For instance, this is our customized message while the app is loading.

Message

“Channel i” is the name of our intranet portal, hence the message.

One reason why I prefer Gmail over any other email is its powerful search feature. With Google Groups, all the communications were confined to my inbox — and searching for something was very easy.

I dedicate a section of this post to search because the search feature of Slack is very useful. Just one search box lets you search everything that is visible to you, including attachments.

Searching

Custom notifications

You receive a notification when someone mentions your name, or when someone mentions all the members in a channel (@channel), but you can go one step ahead and set up notifications for keywords.

Highlight Words

One downside is that this can create a lot of notifications, especially when you use a smartphone app. However, you can tone them down by lowering your notification level in ‘account preferences’.

Usage Statistics

If you’re an admin of your team, you have access to usage statistics about your team.

Usage statistics

Unfortunately, you’ll need to upgrade to a paid plan if you need detailed stats. But the free version gives you enough for a small team.

Third Party Integrations

What takes Slack to the next level is the ability to add third party services. Slack recognizes that it’s just a communication tool and teams would depend on other services (like GitHub, Asana, Buildbot or Dropbox) for their day to day activities. By enabling these third party integrations, Slack helps you connect to all these services from a single place.

List of Integrations

Here are three of my favorites.

1. Hubot, the chat bot

At IMG, we have integrated Hubot, the programmable chat bot made by GitHub. Slack has support for Hubot, and you’ll need to know a little CoffeeScript to make custom commands.

You’ll need to deploy Hubot to Heroku and then add the third party integration on Slack. Here’s a list of steps you can follow. You could have a look at GitHub’s documentation to deploy it to Heroku. We call our bot “Hodor”.

You can make your bot do simple things like list the top ‘x’ articles on HackerNews.

Hubot Reads the News

Or add a mustache to someone.

Moustache Me

You can program your bot to do some fun things to. Remember iRobot?

Three Laws of Robotics

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. Let’s play Hangman now, shall we?

Hubot Hangman

2. GitHub — track your repositories through Slack

Often, developers integrate a mailing list with their Git repositories, which leads to a mail for every new commit. With Slack, you can integrate it with the application. All you need to do is specify which repositories to monitor, and select the the channels that are linked to the updates.

Activate GitHub under Integrations in Slack, and connect a GitHub account to it.

Github Integration

After you have connected a GitHub account, you can link repositories (and optionally branches too) to a channel and select the events that trigger a message. In this case, we go with the default events. Here’s how the updates appear:

Github Notification

3. Google Drive — share files easily

Another useful third-party integration is a cloud-based file sharing system. Sharing files among your team mates is a necessity, and if your team uses Slack, why open a different service for sharing files?

Integrating Google Drive is easy. All you need to do is activate the integration and connect a Google account.

Google Drive Integration

Once you’ve successfully integrated it, all you need to do is paste a link to the file, and anyone on the channel can access it.

File Link

Slack can also be integrated with Dropbox, for those teams that prefer Dropbox over Drive.

More third party integrations

Slack provides more than 60 third party integrations at the time of writing this, and they are continuously adding more! Therefore, it’s not feasible to cover all of them. However, I will mention a few more that may be important for the functioning of your team.

Many developers use Travis CI to inspect any code that is pushed to the central repository. This helps in the process on continuous deployment. Slack provides an integration to link a channel to Travis CI and post the messages of the inspections on every push.

Sentry is a service which logs errors in your applications. This integration helps in reporting real time errors in Slack.

Pingdom is a tool that checks the uptime for your website. You can configure Slack to get Pingdom reports and post them on a channel.

Many organizations (SitePoint included) use Trello for project management. You can add this third party integration to link your boards to Slack. Asana, an alternative for Trello, is also available on Slack.

Final Thoughts

Slack is a wonderful tool. If you don’t use all its features, it could function as a great chat application, but at its full power, it’s just so much more. It may be too early to say this (since Slack launched just over a year ago), but Slack seems like it’s here to stay.

You may still be using Google Groups or ancient mailing lists, but I hope I have made you realize what you are missing without Slack. So when are you trying it out?

Do you use Slack? What are your favorite integrations and customization tips?

  • http://garage-interactive.com edwintoh

    We’re using Hall (www.hall.com) which is free and allows 3rd party integrations too. HipChat is also quickly catching up in terms of featureset and stability.

  • krike06

    We used Lync (still are in some ways) but we wanted a better chat system that allowed both private and public discussions. Slack is the first we tried and … well it’s the only actually. It’s amazing what you can do with it, I just love it

  • Martin

    There’s also Kato.im.

  • http://appsapps.info/ app

    Slack is a whole lot like IRC on steroids. :D

  • Claude

    We use this service (gdrive2slack@optionfactory.net) to further enhance google drive to slack integration: all your docs changes (created, modified, shared, deleted) are reported to a slack channel of choice. I also tried zapier.com but it only notifies on doc creation.

  • http://getkisi.com/ Alex Shamy

    This is great – have not seen a better GitHub integration than this. Another one to check out is Slack/KISI as a doorbell and remote unlock system for when your team is stranded in front of the office: https://getkisi.com/slack

    Thanks for sharing!

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