Did you know you can automate several tasks you’ve probably been doing manually everyday, directly in Slack?
Things like sending stand-up check-ins, helpdesk forms, welcome messages, status updates, and sending info are just a few of the many use-cases for Slack’s new workflows. You’re probably thinking, sounds cool, but that’s way too complicated. The short answer is “Nope, it’s not”.
Slack has greatly improved it’s workflows over the past year. Some tasks that I would have normally used Zapier for in the past, I can now simply do directly in Slack. Since Slack owns a majority of my communication, it makes sense to automate parts of the workday in it.
In this article, I’ll walk you through some of the most common functions of Slack workflows. I’ll show the workflow builder and the steps for you to easily get started.
Here’s how to use Slack workflows:
- Open Slack Workflow Builder
- Explore workflow examples
- Choose a workflow template
- Add workflow steps
- Use workflow variables
- Maintain workflows
Slack workflows are a way to connect tasks together so that routines and processes become automatic. Some common examples include making a standup reminder with follow up prompts, initiating a helpdesk or support request, or sending a message to a Slack channel when a new lead is captured.
Processes that used to require using an external tool to automate, now can be done directly in Slack. Your team can collabrate on the workflow steps, eliminating the burden of maintaining multiple third party tools.
The first step in getting started is opening the workflow builder from your Slack workspace.
Note: This option is a premium Slack feature and requires a paid plan.
- Select your workspace settings (top left)
- Select “Tools” on dropdown
- Select “Workflow Builder” from the menu
Slack provides a number of ways to quickly get started. The default Slack workflow templates are:
- A warm welcome for new teammates
- A way to triage requests
- Daily stand-ups & check-ins
- A quick way to send info
- A status update for the team
However you are not limited to these templates, you can also start a workflow from scratch.
Let’s dive into what each of these templates look like in practice. At a highlevel there seems like so many use-cases for each one.
Slack lets you send a welcome message when users join any Slack channel. After choosing the template, the setup to get started is simply choosing a Slack channel.
Slack lets you customize the message sent to the person joining the channel or the channel the person joined. This workflow would work well for starting onboarding or simply for helping new people feel welcome.
Have you ever been frustrated with questions or requests that have no context whatsoever? No? …Just me? Alright, didn’t think so.
The reason I’m a huge fan of triage requests or helpdesk actions is that they help flush out the context of people’s questions. The text fields can be marked as required, so users can’t skip out on important details.
While it may feel like a lot of steps to setup, you can easily just click next 3 times and be done with it. But in the interest of learning something new, here are all the steps you’ll go through. The first step in creating a helpdesk request is choosing a name and channel. This action will appear in the “shortcuts” section of Slack or otherwise known as the lightning bolt.
After you’ve selected a name, you’ll need to add a few questions to ask the user. The responses are recorded as variables and can be used in the next workflow step.
The useful thing with variables is that they can be funneled into another workflow step, such as contacting a person on call or sending a message to a channel. The variables are collected from the submitted form and can be included in your message.
I remember when stand-up bots were all the craze. It seemed like everyone was making one. Now it’s an integral part of Slack. Now we just need a bot that automates answers.
Emoji reactions are no longer just for fun, they can now be used to start a workflow. I can’t wait to see all the office pranks of people setting up workflows that are connected to common emojis.
If you’ve struggled to gather updates from your team, now you can simply automate the process. You can choose a date and time to send the message and have a form appear asking certain questions. You can have the responses sent only to you via a direct message if needed or to a Slack channel. Whatever floats your boat.
Each workflow has a number of steps or building blocks. You connect pieces together to achieve an outcome.
Slack provides two kinds of steps, “Send a form” and “Send a message”.
When you add a form as a workflow step, it lets you choose various options for asking a question.
The options available for a Slack workflow form are short answer, select from a list, select a person, select a channel, and long answer.
The more interesting of the group of options is the “select from a list”. Slack lets you create a number of list items for the users to select from.
Forms are highly customizable and can replace a large amount of internal tools/processes that exist in excel or docs.
Sending a message is a good way to notify people of the variables you’ve collected via a form or a shortcut. The step has a text area where you can modify how the information is displayed. In the next section I’ll go over how to use variables, but for now all you need to know is that variables are the highlighted blue text.
Slack provides a preview of the message as it will appear in the channel. Notice how the variable is replaced with the data that the user selected. Pretty neat!
If you ever needed a Slack reminder with a custom interval, such as 3 days a week, or only on the last day of the month, your quest is now over. Workflows that send messages can be scheduled to run with an almost limitless amount of schedules. Similar to how you schedule recurring events in google calendar.
The Slack app store provides many different type of integrations. Some apps include custom workflow steps that allow closer integration with their services. You can find them by clicking the “More apps with steps” button from the “Add a workflow step” dialog.
Slack workflow variables are how information is communicated across the workflow steps. They are made from a previous workflow step such a form where the user responded to a question. So if you had a form question with a short answer, the text the user entered would be in the variable. When your message is sent, Slack replaces the variable with the original text.
Part of the “send a message” workflow step provided by Slack is the ability to insert variables into a text area.
To insert a variable:
- Edit the “Send a message” workflow step
- Select “Insert a variable”
Workflow variables are highlighted with a small down arrow drop-down. Clicking on the variable lets you choose a different name. It’s best to choose descriptive names, so the next person who has to maintain the workflow can figure out what its intended purpose is.
The workflow builder provides an overview of all the workflows you’ve created. It’s easy to update steps and manage each of your workflows.
There are a number of ways that Slack workflows have already taken the tedious parts of the job away and it’s exciting to see what they’ll continue to develop.