Slack, the popular workplace communication tool, now has a Workflow Builder to help you automate recurring tasks. Here’s what it is, what it can do, and how you can use it.
Workflow Builder is only available on Slack’s paid plans: Standard, Plus, or Enterprise. If you’re on its free plan, you’ll need to upgrade to use Workflow Builder, although you can get a free trial of the paid plans if you want to play with it.
What Is Workflow Builder?
Workflow Builder allows you to define a trigger, and then a sequence of actions. When the trigger is activated, the sequence of actions occurs. Using one of Slack’s examples, the trigger action might be when a new person joins a channel. The sequence of actions could be to automatically send her a direct message with useful information and a short form for her to introduce herself to the other channel members.
You can choose from the following triggers:
- Action menu: Someone manually selects the workflow from the channel menu.
- New channel member: Someone joins the channel.
- Emoji reaction: Someone reacts to a message with an emoji.
You can have as many steps in your workflow as you want, but you must choose one of the following:
- Send a message: To a person or channel.
- Send a form: To a person or channel.
Even though these are simple triggers and actions, you can still build quite complex workflows, such as approvals or data gathering. Slack’s next planned addition is support to trigger workflows using an API. In theory, this means you could use services like IFTTT or Microsoft Flow, to start a Slack workflow or build a trigger into your own app.
For now, though, all of Slack’s triggers and actions are internal.
How Can You Use Workflow Builder?
You create a workflow, and then publish it when you want it to be available for others to use. To start, click the arrow next to your workspace name to open the main menu, and then click “Workflow Builder.”
In the Workflow Builder panel, click “Create Workflow.”
Give your workflow a name—others will see it, so make it descriptive. After you’ve named your workflow, click “Next.”
Choose a trigger action to start the workflow. For this example, we’ll use “Actions Menu” because we want people to be able to use this workflow whenever they need it.
The next step will vary depending on which trigger you choose. If you select “New Channel Member,” you have to choose the channel on which you want the workflow to run. If you choose “Emoji Reaction,” you have to select the emoji you want to trigger the workflow.
Because we chose “Actions Menu,” we need to pick the channel in which people can start the workflow, and then name it so they can select it. After that, we’ll click “Save.”
The workflow is created and displayed in the “Workflow Overview” page. Click “Edit” to edit the details. For an “Actions Menu” workflow, you can change the name of the workflow and the channel in which it appears, but you can’t change the trigger action—you have to create a new workflow to do that.
Now, you have to add one or more actions for the workflow to execute, so click “Add Step.”
You can choose to “Send a Message” or “Create a Form.” For our example, we’ll click “Add” next to the “Create a Form” option.
In the “Create a Form” panel, you type a title and a question, and then select the type of question it is from the following options in the drop-down menu:
- Short answer
- Long answer
- Select from a list
- Select a person
- Select a channel or DM
For our example, we’ll choose “Select From a List.” We also add a value to the list of options, and then click “Add List Item” to add another. Repeat this until you’ve listed all the options from which you want someone to choose.
You can use the buttons on the right to move items up and down or remove them from the list. You can also choose a “Default Selection” (if you want one) from the drop-down menu underneath the list items.
After your question is complete, you can make it required, and then add another one. You can add questions until your form is complete, and then choose the channel (or person) to which you want to send the results.
When you’re done with your form, click “Save.”
The “Workflow Overview” now shows the step you added. Click “Add Step” to add more steps until your workflow is complete.
When the workflow is ready, click “Publish” at the top-right of the page.
A panel that says your workflow has been published appears with a confetti shower.
A message is posted in the channel to let everyone know you’ve published a workflow.
We added our workflow to a channel for anyone to use, so the Workflow symbol (the lightning bolt), is now visible. If you click the icon, your workflow will be visible to everyone, and they can click the icon to select and use your workflow.
When you click your workflow, the form you created is displayed.
To edit or change your workflow, click the arrow next to your workspace name to open the main menu, and then click “Workflow Builder.”
The Workflow Builder panel opens.
To edit your workflow, just click it. Click the three dots on the right to open a menu that allows you to perform other actions, like unpublishing or deleting the workflow.
Over time, we expect Slack to add even more functionality to its workflows. In the meantime, though, it’s a useful tool to improve communication and collaboration.