As originally published in the American City Business Journals.
Now that Millennials make up the majority of the U.S. workforce, fostering collaboration in the workplace isn’t just a matter of productivity; our ability to attract and retain top talent rests quite heavily in the tools we offer, and how effectively our teams are able to work together.
In response to this trend, many well-intentioned businesses have already made strides toward beefing up their capabilities – as they identify a need, they build new applications into their workflow. This seems to go pretty smoothly, until one day you wake up and find that you have:
- One product for instant messaging
- Another product for video conferencing
- Another product for file sharing
- Another product for virtual “water cooler” talk
- Another product that does a couple of these things in a slightly different way and no one is really sure why it’s around
- An overflowing inbox for all other internal communication that doesn’t quite work in any of the above media
- An entire company full of confused employees who are being bombarded with notifications from half a dozen different places all day every day
My company was in this same boat; in the spirit of embracing and exploring new technologies, we wound up with way too many packages and no clear strategy for how we were leveraging them.
Enter: Slack, a communication tool that grew from 1.25 million users to 4 million users in just one year. This product had the potential to boil our 5 collaboration tools down to 1, and we were seriously intrigued.
We signed up with the free version, we started a pilot with members from each of our functional groups, and we poked and prodded to our hearts’ content. Three months of fiddling later, here’s my assessment of the product.
- Everything's in one place. Your internal email, your instant messaging, your internal video chats, and your water cooler talk all have a place in this package. For those of us in Application Overload, it’s really quite refreshing to not have to waste time jumping back and forth from product to product (and, in some cases, to not have to pay for those subscriptions anymore).
- Catching up is a breeze. I don’t know about you, but never-ending email chains that end up branching off into five separate directions are not really my idea of effective communication. With Slack, you set up “channels” for different projects or teams or client accounts or whatever, and all communication is stored there in chronological order. If I need to be part of a conversation, I can join the appropriate channel, read through all messages from start to finish, say my piece, and exit the channel as I please. Simple and streamlined.
- Mobile access is seamless. Mobility was one of my team’s top priorities for a new solution, and Slack delivered. The mobile app is clean, intuitive, and about as functional as the full desktop app. And, if you allow notifications on the mobile app (which you can customize so as not to be overwhelmed), it shuts off your email notifications – a small but thoughtful gesture.
- Search functionality is robust. Once this package becomes your hub for company communication, there’s going to be a LOT of information floating around; I’m guessing my company will end up with over 100 active channels at a time. I was worried this would be difficult (if not impossible) to navigate… until I played with the Search feature. Messages and documents are indexed and searchable, and you can narrow your hunt by date, person, and channel.
- Integrations are sophisticated. There are integrations with tons of productivity apps (ToDoIst, OneDrive, Salesforce), fitness apps, HR tools, marketing tools, security tools, and on and on. You can create integrations with even MORE apps using IFTTT. And, as if that weren't enough, they have an open API which will allow us to integrate our own proprietary CRM.
- Development is ongoing. The Slack team launched video chats during our pilot, and I’ve heard whispers that read receipts (which I would love to see) are on the way, too. The package is being enhanced constantly, and I’m excited to see what improvements they make next.
- Collaboration falls short with file sharing. If more than one person needs to touch a document, you’re going to have to use an integration (Google Docs, Dropbox, etc.) for it to work well. Slack allows you to share a document within a channel, but you’ll have to share a new version if you make any updates. This isn’t any worse than passing a document back and forth over email… but it isn’t any better, either.
- You probably won’t find yourself with any “slack.” I would definitely say that I’m more efficient after moving most of my communication over to Slack (which is, of course, nothing to sneeze at). But that doesn’t translate to me having a bunch of time to spare – it translates to me spending my day buried in Slack rather than spending my day buried in my other applications. In other words, the tagline “be less busy” isn’t really ringing true for me.
The Open Question
Since my company provides IT support, the vast majority of our people are savvy enough to troubleshoot any problems they encounter. We haven’t had to contact Slack support, so I can’t comment on their responsiveness at this point.
The Final Ruling
Ultimately, our team’s consensus after the pilot phase is that we should move full steam ahead with implementing the package company-wide. The gains we’ll make in efficiency and flexibility are undeniable, and the enthusiasm across our pilot group only grows as continue to take root.
As much as I’d like to throw the rest of our team in the platform today, I’ll practice what I preach and take the implementation slowly. We’ll plan the rollout, schedule training to get everyone up to speed, and ditch all those other products for good.
And then we let the magic happen.