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How to send private messages and make calls in Slack

While Slack began as a workplace instant-messaging tool, over the last few years it has become popular as a way for anyone to keep in contact with a group of friends, colleagues, or family. It now even offers a way for groups to create in-the-moment “huddles,” in which two or more people can move from text to audio — if you’re on a paid plan.

Although Slack is largely intended for group collaboration, it also has tools if you just want to chat one-on-one with somebody. Here, we’re going to go over some of the ways you can have a private text, audio, or video conversation with one other person via the free version of Slack.

Text conversations

Using the Slack desktop app:

  • If you’ve recently sent a personal message to someone, you’ll find their name in the left-hand sidebar under “Direct messages.” Click on their name, type your message in the box at the bottom and press enter / return to send.
  • If the name is not in the sidebar, click the + next to “Direct messages.” Type in the name of the person you want to send a message to. As you type, the person’s name will come up in the results (assuming they’re in that Slack workspace) and you can click on it. Type your message in the box at the bottom and press enter / return to send.
  • You can also start a message by clicking the pencil icon in the top left corner of the screen next to your workspace and username. Enter the name of the person you want to message in the bar at the top. Write the message in the box at the bottom of the screen and press enter or return to send.
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Using the mobile app:

If you want to continue a previous conversation, or find someone you’ve already conversed with, tap on “DMs” on the bottom of the screen to find a history of your direct messages.

You can also tap the pencil symbol at the bottom of the Home screen. This will bring up the “New Message” screen with a list of people you’ve previously messaged with; either select one of those, or type in the name of a person you want to send a direct message to.

Voice conversations

Slack also has a built-in calling feature. On the free version, you can do voice and video calls, but only with one other person. If you have a subscription to one of Slack’s paid plans, you can also do group calls with up to 15 people and share your screen on a video call.

Using the Slack desktop app:

  • Open up a direct message or a channel
  • In the top right corner, click on the phone icon
  • Click the camera icon to start video. If you’re on a paid plan, you can use the “Share Screen” icon as well.

Using a mobile app:

  • Begin a direct message with the person you want to converse with
  • If you’re using an Android device, tap on the information icon on the upper right. If you’re using an iPhone, tap on the person’s name at the top of the page.
  • Tap the call icon to start a call (the person will get a notification that somebody is trying to call them)
  • If you want to make it a video call, tap the camera icon
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Last spring, Slack introduced Huddles, which are meant to be audio conversations that you can immediately jump into during a text conversation with one or more people (as opposed to the audio calls, which are just a bit more formal). Unfortunately, they are only available if you have a paid account.

If you do, it’s very simple to start a Huddle. (Note: you can create a Huddle with a single person, a group of people, or a channel; for this particular article, we’ll concentrate on one-to-one conversations.)

Using the desktop app:

  • Make sure you’re in a text conversation with the person you want to huddle with
  • At the bottom of the left column, there will be the Huddle icon on the left of the person’s name (it will look like a broadcasting mic) and a toggle on the right. Use that to toggle the Huddle feature on, and you should immediately be able to converse.

If you’re using the desktop app, you can add running captions during a Huddle.

  • While you’re talking, just above the Huddle icon, you will see text telling you who is speaking, and beneath that, text saying how many people are in the Huddle. Click on that second line.
  • A pop-up will show you who is in the Huddle; the person speaking will be highlighted. Click on the three dots in the upper right corner.
  • Click on “Turn on captions”
  • You’ll get a larger pop-up box that will show captions for the conversation.

While there was an occasional hiccup when two people spoke simultaneously, we found the captions were largely accurate.

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Finally, you can share your screen during a Huddle by clicking on the monitor icon to the left of the toggle.

Using the mobile app:

  • Make sure you’re in a text conversation with the person you want to Huddle with
  • Tap on the Huddle icon on the top line, to the right of the person’s name

And that’s it! Unfortunately, the captioning and screen-share features are not available on the mobile app.