Productivity
slack tips

A guided tour of the newest Slack improvements

Senior writer Matt Haughey explains what’s new and what’s moved in the latest Slack desktop experience

Author: Matt Haughey1st April 2020

For many users (and soon, everyone), Slack looks a little different. We’re rolling out a simpler, more organised experience that will help everyone to get the most from Slack. But if you’ve used Slack for months (or years), the new look and feel may require some adjustment. That’s natural – quite a bit changed in the interface refresh.

There are a lot of good reasons for this refresh, and we think you’ll love it. To speed up your adjustment period, we put together this quick guide. It will help you to find everything that you need and give you a few ideas for how to use all the new options.

Search is now in one central spot

The old Slack interface had two different search bars. One just searched for channels and conversations, while the other was for the content of messages and files. Occasionally, you searched using the ‘wrong’ one and had to re-run your search in the correct area. Confusing, right? Now there’s simply one universal search that automatically runs your query across channels, users, messages and files from a single location at the top of your app.

Try this shortcut: for those of you who use keyboard shortcuts to navigate Slack, Ctrl/cmd T or K will still open a search box that is aimed at channels, and the new keystroke Ctrl/cmd G will open a search box that is focused on message and file content only.

Discover key content at the top of your sidebar


Gone are all the buttons and menus at the top of the app that led you to content such as files and a workspace directory. Now there’s a more manageable (and predictable) home for those items at the top of your sidebar, where you can easily jump between them as needed.

Starred items are now called Saved

In the new list of items at the upper-left side of the app, you’ll find Saved (with a new bookmark icon). It used to be called Starred and was located elsewhere, and although you were able to mark either a channel or a message with a star, doing so did different things in the app.

Now it’s a bit clearer: Saved items are the messages and files that you want to track privately in your own list that is located in this menu, and Starred channels will continue to show up under a header in your app’s channels.

You can add any message or file to your Saved list by hitting the bookmark icon that pops up in the action menu when you hover the mouse over a message.

Introducing sections: folders for organising your channels

Channels being organised into sections in the Slack sidebar
Perhaps the most important new feature on all paid Slack subscriptions is custom sections. I can’t emphasise enough just how much this can improve your productivity. If having to track a large number of channels has ever overwhelmed you, now you can create any number of descriptive folders to organise (and collapse) them.

My personal set-up includes:

  • A top-level ‘Red phone’ or ‘Top priority’ section for my two or three most important channels and DMs
  • A team section to track my projects and committee assignments
  • A section of channels related to my division in the company
  • A section dedicated to recurring team- and company-level announcements

Take some time to organise your most vital channels at the top, and group related channels below with labels that make the most sense to your work. People in sales might create a list of all their accounts and clients and keep them near the top. Software developers can do the same with their own projects and add another collection underneath it for team-wide updates on the codebase.

Mentions & reactions: the new activity feed


A handy feature from the old Slack interface was the activity tab, which tracked each time you were mentioned by username or received an emoji reaction to your messages. This same info is now neatly folded into the Mentions & reactions section of your sidebar.

If you prefer to view this on the right-hand side of your app, like the old activity tab, click on the icon shown above. This will dock the mentions and reactions feed as you move through channels and other views in the app.

People: your new employee directory


The People view, accessible through your sidebar, is a full employee directory (and when your colleagues upload a profile photo, a fantastic-looking one). Clicking into each profile reveals a flash-card-like bio that will help you to get to know your colleagues.

The search box at the top will account for any text that is mentioned in someone’s profile. So if you need to find your CEO’s executive assistant, a search for ‘assistant’ will likely find the person that you need.

History is easier to find


At the top of the app, to the left-hand side of the search area, is a clock icon. This will give you a list of all the recent conversations and channels that you’ve seen in Slack. I’ve found myself relying on this feature often. Who sent me a DM right before I left for lunch? Oh right, it’s in my history, four items down from the top.

The adjacent arrow buttons help you to move forwards and backwards in your history (much like a web browser), but there’s nothing quite like being able to see your last ten locations with a single click.

Track your drafts

Slack’s new Compose button
Use the Compose button to write new messages that you don’t immediately have to send. They’ll all wind up in your Drafts list, where you can write out longer ideas in several sessions or test out formatting before you send a big announcement to a group.

Unlike the way Drafts behaved before, when you start a message in a channel but leave it unsent, the channel will no longer move around in your sidebar. Instead, it will remain right where it was, and add a new entry to your Drafts.

Try this shortcut: hit Ctrl/cmd N to create a new draft from the keyboard.

Take more actions from the message composer


The message composer got another refresh too. In addition to the existing message formatting options, you’ll find a new shortcuts menu on the far left-hand side and the attachment menu on the far right-hand side.

Starting a Simple Poll through the actions menu in Slack

The lightning bolt shortcuts button will give you a list of actions that you can take using the apps that you’ve installed in Slack. You can run Workflow Builder automations from there as well, and the bolt icon will light up with colour when a workflow is available to use in the channel that you’re viewing.

Uploading a file, or sharing one from a cloud provider, is done by clicking on the paper clip icon on the lower right-hand side. While this used to be on the opposite side of the composer, the functionality is still the same.

Try this shortcut: tap Ctrl/cmd U to upload a file from the keyboard.

Final notes

If you ever get stuck, help is at the top right-hand side of the app. Click the circled question mark to access our help centre or leave feedback for our support team.

Once you have given these new features a whirl and got comfortable, we believe you’ll find Slack even easier and more enjoyable to use. And as always, changes like these are born out of valuable user feedback. Drop us a note or tweet us at @SlackHQ to share yours.

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