I’ve said it tons of times: we LOVE to talk about tools, but rarely do the tools universally work for teams. Well, folks, I think I may have to eat my words. As a consultant, I get to peek in on other people’s toolset, and I’m finding more and more that people are adopting Slack, a multi-channel team communication tool.
For years, teams have relied on tools like email, Skype, instant messenger, Basecamp, and many others to communicate project updates, changes, and general information. We’re used to an onslaught of messages coming from several directions, but often feel burdened and disorganized due to the volume, type, and urgency of the messages. We create rules about how to use the tools in order to assemble some sort of consistency, but those rules are difficult to remember (or are flat-out ignored). In return, information is lost and people become frustrated…and projects go off course leaving project managers wondering how to centralize communications. Maybe Slack doesn’t fully solve that issue, but it sure is getting close.
Slack has resolved many of these communication issues for organizations and teams alike. The tool allows project communications, collaboration, and camaraderie to happen all in one place, and it’s a beautiful thing. It’s not just any old instant messenger program, it’s a robust tool that facilitates better communication practices. And I have to say, I’m on board.Here are just a few reasons why I’m on board. (In case you are wondering...NO, I am not being paid to write this. I would never do that here. This is my honest assessment.)
“Channels” promote transparency
Slack provides simple one-to-one conversation functionality, but you can also segment conversations, topics, or projects by creating “Channels” within the tool. You can assign your users to as many (or as few) channels as you need in order to keep topics visible to the team members you want to see any individual topic. This ensures a level of transparency and collaboration that is often lost with email chains or one-off conversations. This may sound overhwhelming to some, but with notification settings and opt-in functionality, each user can find the right level of communication to be a part of—or ignore to be more efficient.
There’s no getting around it: every team uses a number of tools on each project. This means a number of notifications from various applications. What’s nice about Slack is that it integrates with other tools like Dropbox, Google Drive, GitHub, and more, so things happening outside of Slack are pulled in via notifications. They’re not automatic, you have to set them up and you can control the noise. So while some teams may want to know each time code is committed to a GitHub repository, others want to check it manually. There are ways to set up or hack the notification to make them work for you and your team.
Slack is great for quick conversations or file sharing to make a quick decision about work. Therein lies a small problem: decisions are made, and lost in a long chat history. So, as a team, you’ll want to set up your own practices for using to the tool to make sure important conversations are documented somewhere you can find them. But, it’s nice to know you can go back through history to find information discussed in Slack.
Every once in a while, someone will be working on a document and they need some immediate feedback. Slack makes file sharing easy, so it’s easy to have that conversation without using email or jumping on Skype. Drag and drop a file in to Slack, and let the collaboration begin. It’s amazing to see how quickly a question can be answered, or a document changed based on sharing a work in progress—It’s changing the way many people work.
At the same time, Slack allows developers to share code snippets. This means they can share and discuss code while the non-tech folks can follow along and learn…or ignore if they’re just too busy. If you’ve got a team of developers working on a project, you’ll want to ensure consistency. Sharing snippets can help with consistency and can eliminate hours of code review meetings by simply staying in touch about questions, practices, and ideas.
Take Slack with you
Running for a coffee and need to check in with someone? No problem—you can take Slack with you on your mobile device. It’s not only convenient, it’s easy to use and the functionality is mirrored in both experiences. The design of the app is slick, easy to use, and customizable. (The down side? You might never catch a break.)
There aren’t many apps that actually encourage team building. With the integration of Giphy and custom emoji, communications have a personality that your team can build together. Some teams create channels for lunch plans, topical news, jokes, and more. Others interject animated gifs and emoji in conversations to break silence, or to help make a point. The “fun” is what you make it in Slack, and there is a lot to be had—and there should be when you’re communicating with your team.
Slack makes it easy to be a part of several accounts. So, if you’re a freelancer working for several companies, you can seamlessly switch between accounts within the app and keep up to date on communications across teams and projects.
Plus, many small groups and communities have started Slack accounts of their own. It’s an easy way to share ideas, chat with long-distance colleagues or friends, and be a part of conversations that matter to you. Think of old-school AOL chat rooms, but more personalized and invite-only. It's pretty awesome. I'm personally using Slack in this way to keep in touch with industry friends and peers, and it sure beats email!
Make the tool work for you
Implementing team communication tools can be difficult, because you need full buy-in. The scary truth is that tools like Slack won’t work unless everyone agrees to use them. So if you decide to adopt Slack—or any other communication tool—remember that your decision isn’t just about the tool itself, its about how you’ll use it and how it will help you as a team. Slack can help you streamline your communications and optimize your workflows, whether your team is remote or under the same roof. If you’re feeling like it could be a good fit, try it for free on a project to see if it’s something your team would enjoy using.
*Thanks to benjamin on dribbble for the Slack plaid pattern