Using Slack to Improve Team Communication
Originally posted on Liquid Light
By Mike Street
Slack is a hugely popular communication team tool which has grown from strength to strength over the last year. It was publicly released in February 2014 and has recently been valued at $3.8 billion. For such a “simple” idea (and one that started off as a web based game) Slack’s fanbase is loyal and big - with well over 500,000 2.3 million daily active users.
We adopted Slack in November 2014 and haven’t looked back since. Liquid Light are a relatively small agency, with about 12 employees. Everyone is in the same room so having conversations and keeping up to date on happenings isn’t too difficult - however, not everyone wanted to be interrupted to watch a video of a dog that can’t catch food (or discuss web technology related topics - which is what we are really doing, honest!).
Having Slack meant people could catch up as and when they wanted, and not miss out on anything important. We also use it for a “when you have time” nudging system - if a designer requires a developer's help, for example, the developer can act on it when they are ready, without breaking their train of thought or flow.
As an agency, we regularly need to share documents and links and so the natural response was to email the information. However, that meant that your inbox was filled up with links and conversations and the unread count quickly became daunting.
Using an Instant Messenger (IM) of some sort was the obvious solution - convincing everyone was not. Slack was the IM of choice as it was easy to set up and is one of the better looking apps - geared towards businesses and agencies. It is also customisable with a wide range of integrations from Google Drive to simple commands we can use in code.
Slack suggests designating a day for people to try out to see if the concept works. We picked a day where the office was slightly quieter as a small beta test group. The general feeling was good - although it took a week or so for everyone to get in the habit of using (and even opening) Slack.
Slack has the concept of channels (or rooms). Slack channels are visible to everyone in the team, although not everyone has to be in every channel. They are generally there for a topic of conversation, this means the conversation has a loose direction - meaning your important company announcement doesn't get lost in a bundle of cat videos.
As a web agency, we tend to utilise channels quite a lot. We have a #general channel for team announcements and things to note and a #random channel for non-work related chat. #development, #design and #marketing channels ensure topic related links and conversations don’t get drowned out by noise. We also have project specific channels, so staff working on a project can talk without annoying the rest of the team.
Integrations are really the things that make up Slack. Its ridiculously easy to create your own integrations, or even easier to use existing ones. Integrations are what turn Slack from just an Instant Messenger to a central, informational hub for your team. All the apps and integrations can be found in the App Directory.
Some of the integrations we have include Giphy - instantly add a humorous (or sometimes not-so) Gif to any conversation - this normally helps with context or to visually express how you are feeling. We have the Trello integration configured (along with more than 29,300 other Slack users) - this helps with projects keeping the team on the project channel up to date with what is happening on Trello. We also have several bespoke integrations for various tasks using the Ingoing/Outgoing webhooks (a way to programmatically talk to Slack) and Hubot (an interactive bot) integrations - the most important one being TeaBot - a roulette style tea designator (to stop those petty arguments).
It’s not just web agencies that are utilising Slack - I’ve spoken to a few different industries as to how they use the chat platform and how they have it set up.
I got in touch with a Real Estate Consulting business, who use Slack for keeping up to date with business news. They tend to use it just for it’s IM features - using only a couple of channels and one integration (Giphy of course!) but with only roughly 6 staff, they don’t really need too much fluff.
On the flip side to the small Real Estate company, I spoke to Paul Stanton from Jadu - a software development company. They have over 70 staff spread over 4 international locations plus additional remote workers. Their impressive 140 channel count ranges from #general and #user-experience channels down to project and customer oriented channels. Their integrations are more status, task and customer focused - using Jira, HeyUpdate and FrontApp.
I also spoke to someone who helps run inbound.org - a community for marketers. The site is very forum focused, but the team behind the site uses Slack to keep in touch. Similar to the Real Estate Consulting business - they purely use it for its IM benefits, having configured no integrations and have channels for the developers, marketers and general chat which is often generated when you put more than one person in the same room!
Slack is also used not just for work. There is a whole world of Slack communities and non-work related chat rooms slowly growing, where you can apply to be a part of all kinds of conversations, depending on your interests.
There are communities for CEOs, people who want to talk about music or film, travel and photography communities, a place for recruiters or a conversation for people just looking to be happy. I’m even part of a community who use Slack to get feedback on their beta product.
Communities of all sorts are cropping up and they are a great way of talking to people you would never normally communicate with, discovering new techniques or bands or interacting simply with other people.
I haven’t come across another app that’s quite like Slack. Many come close but there doesn’t appear to be quite the community and buzz around any other IM app. Alternatives that many have mentioned to trying before using Slack include Fleep, HipChat, Google Hangouts, Facebook Messenger and Skype - but ultimately everyone I spoke to settled on Slack for their communication.
Recently, start-up Gitlab has created Mattermost - a self-hosted version of Slack. From what we've seen it's not as slick, but certainly has it's benefits.