As a remote-only company, Howard Development & Consulting has worked with many different collaboration tools — both internally and embedded within our clients. And in our experience, the one tool that’s used more widely than any other is Slack.
If you’re reading this blog, it’s likely that you’ve used Slack yourself — and that you have strong feelings about it, for better or worse. We love Slack, but it’s not without its faults. In fact, we don’t use it internally (we prefer Basecamp for all of our internal communication) but we’re often asked to join shared channels in our clients’ workspaces and we’re always happy to oblige.
So why do we love Slack so much, even though we don’t use it ourselves?
Because a tool is only useful if people adopt it, and Slack’s simple user interface, customizable settings that integrate with your personal workflow, and widespread use make it more likely that teams will use it. And anything that gets teams talking more often makes it easier for them to align on their needs, communicate their requirements, and collaborate with us on the best ways to execute on them.
The new abnormal
It’s not just us who love Slack. Their paying customer base has grown by 35 percent and their revenues by 39 percent year-over-year, largely due to the worldwide shift to working from home because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Many of us have been forced to fundamentally rethink the way that we work, organize our teams, and connect with our clients. Slack has made it easier for teams to transition from the office to home, giving distributed team members a virtual shared office to replace their physical one.
For example, Slack organizes conversations into user-created channels. A channel is typically created for each topic of conversation, such as a client or project, and then any user who wants to participate can join (unless the channel is made private, then it’s invite-only). Messages within each channel are then automatically archived and searchable.
This is critical for both business as usual and in extreme circumstances, like a pandemic. With an [email] inbox, each employee has a small, fragmented view of organizational knowledge. But with channels, everyone at the company can see a rich history of questions answered, decisions made, data collected and documents created.
(However, it can be very easy for your workspace to become overloaded with too many channels — creating one for every topic may make organizational sense, but it can also dilute conversation if they become too fragmented.)
Ok, but why?
One of its more enjoyable features is that it functions as more of a “pull” app than a “push” one — that is, rather than being notified of every new message, you can customize the types of notifications you receive and for which actions. This lets you scale your notifications back so that the onus is on you to check the app when you reach a logical break in your work.
Messages in a conversation are archived and you can backread when you set aside the time to. This is in contrast to tools like email where a new email notification often imbues you with a sense of obligation to interrupt what you’re working on to check it and reply.
If another team member needs you urgently or directs a message to you specifically, they can either send you a private direct message or use the @ symbol and your name to flag you in their message.
Keyword alerts, muting specific channels, and setting up do not disturb times, where you don’t receive any notifications at all, are more steps you can take to customize Slack to your specific needs.
Slack also offers a seemingly endless number of integrations with other third-party apps to help you extend and customize its functions even further. There are options for communications, project management, development, marketing teams — and almost any other you can think of. Using these integrations, you can send and receive notifications to and from project-specific channels in Slack to your other productivity tools of choice.
For example, if you use Trello to help manage your projects, you can create a new card by typing a specific command in Slack. Similarly, you can link to existing Trello cards, make updates, and receive notifications in Slack when an update is made in Trello.
Slack is also more than a chat tool. Audio calls, video calls, and screen sharing are all native features within the app and third-party integrations extend these functions further.
In this new reality of remote work, we’re committed to making it as easy as possible for our customers to use the tools they know and love from within Slack, including apps for calls and virtual meetings. We want to ensure users can stay connected and get caught up with a quick call without leaving the context of a project in Slack. Over the past month we’ve seen almost 350% growth in native Slack calls and use of apps such as Zoom, BlueJeans and Cisco Webex Meetings.
But part of what makes Slack such an effective tool is what also gives it a bit of a learning curve. Basic tasks, like sending and receiving messages, are easy but customizing settings, configurations, and exploring app integrations to incorporate them into your personal workflow can take a little time. And if your business is adopting Slack for the first time, your team’s particular rules of engagement will likely need some time to evolve organically.