What we learned from using Slack for the first time
Slack is a cloud-based collaboration and messaging tool for business. It was launched in 2013 and has an estimated eight million daily users.
According to devotees, Slack increases productivity, communication, and transparency within an organisation. But there have also been concerns that it can become addictive.
It’s free to trial Slack – and isn’t going to break the bank if you see its value and want to continue – so it’s no wonder that many business owners are keen to give it a try. Here’s what they’re letting themselves in for…
Fewer meetings and more conversation
“I would describe Slack as an internal communication system. But rather than just being business-to-employee, it’s also employee-to-employee,” said Catrin Lewis, head of global engagement and internal communications at employee engagement platform Reward Gateway.
“We’ve had it in place for about two years now and it was amazing how quickly everyone adopted it. It feels like we’ve been using it forever.”
“It has reduced the need for unnecessary meetings because we can just connect instantly at any time,” Lewis said.
“In my team, we used to have meetings once a week or every two weeks and you’d wait for this hour-long chance to get together to discuss whatever it was that needed talking about. With Slack, we now have constant meetings where we’re firing questions across to each other and talking all the time.”
To be clear, when Lewis says “talking” she means messaging; by “meeting” she means that these live messages enable the team to communicate in much the same way that they would if they were face-to-face.
Reward Gateway employs a very high proportion of millennials – a demographic that this way of working seems to suit especially well.
Set up three or four Slack channels to start with
To start with Slack, businesses first make “channels” based on things like departments, projects and so on. Employees can join these channels and browse or add to the messages by using either a laptop or a smartphone. Private channels can be started, too.
As well as messages, users can share files by dragging and dropping them. All of the content of these files – as well as the content of all earlier public messages – is searchable.
“You probably want to start with three or four channels,” said Rachel Carrell, CEO of after-school childcare company Koru Kids.
“Then start adding to them and customising them to whatever you need. You can have channels about specific projects or about different sectors of your company: fun ones, serious ones, channels for customer feedback and more.
“The coolest thing is that there is so much integration with other tools, and you can do a lot of automation with these.”
For example, every time certain kinds of review about Koru Kids are written, they pop straight into their customer feedback channel on Slack. Once it’s in the channel, the whole team can see it.
“We’ve also set up various dashboards and metrics so that we get data popping up regularly in relevant channels, and that means everyone can feel the pulse of what’s going on within the company,” she said.
Slack has helped with efficiency, too. Previously, employees’ data analysis projects would sometimes overlap with those of other workers. By posting all projects to a new “insight and analysis” channel, colleagues can build on each other’s findings rather than accidentally replicating them.
Use Slack to connect bigger and global teams
Koru Kids first tried Slack several years ago when Carrell’s team was just four or five strong, but it was abandoned in favour of WhatsApp groups.
As her team grew, however, Carrell felt that WhatsApp was inadequate for their needs. They revisited Slack, which she feels is especially well-suited to teams of 10 or more.
For Lewis, Reward Gateway without Slack now seems unthinkable.
Within three weeks of introducing it, something like 300 channels had gone live within the company. And the benefits stretch way beyond communications.
Slack has helped disparate members of the workforce to connect with each other using a Slack app called Donut. Donut randomly pairs up employees with someone else from within the company – even as far afield as one of their offices in Australia or the US.
“The idea is that you get to know that person a bit better and you also learn more about the company and what people do,” said Lewis. “I can’t physically cross paths with people on the other side of the world, so Donut is making that happen in the virtual office space.”
Another benefit of Slack is that it’s made it easier for Reward Gateway CEO Doug Butler to respond to Glassdoor reviews about the business – something he likes to do in a timely fashion.
These reviews go straight into a Glassdoor channel within Slack. The members of that channel can give Doug important information – “a global perspective” – about different aspects of the business. This enables him to write an informed response.
Without this, someone would need to keep an eye on the Glassdoor website and then send new reviews out to relevant members of the company for input. The reviews would eventually work their way up to the boss’ office.
Slack can be addictive
While Slack is certainly impressive, it isn’t perfect for everything. According to Lewis, Slack can’t be used for high-level discussions or in-depth feedback – Reward Gateway make sure these still take place face-to-face.
Staff need to know when to step away from Slack, too. They’re encouraged not to look at it in the evenings or weekends.
For Carrell, this is the biggest issue with Slack: it can be addictive.
“It can lead to people not being able to concentrate if they need to do something for a few hours that requires deep concentration,” she said.
“You have constant interruptions in terms of notifications. And when someone has tagged you, it’s very hard not to go and have a look at it.”
There are, of course, rival products to Slack. Two of the best-known competitors are Microsoft Teams and Workplace by Facebook.
The former is the newer of the two. It’s likely to be of interest to anyone with an Office 365 licence since it can easily be integrated into the Office eco-system. According to fans of Teams, it’s a strong alternative to Slack.
Workplace, meanwhile, might best be described as Facebook for business. It has a familiar interface, and some companies like this – other say it is confusingly similar to the company’s social media site.
Want to find out about more tools that can boost productivity? Read Six business leaders share their favourite productivity tools.