Overview

Often said to be the “Email Killer”, this tool is a messaging platform for teams that can bring all communication together, by creating a team space, where you can add channels, which are different folders/topics and send images, or documents to the whole team, or DM to a particular subset. Notifications are highly customisable and the search function allows you to find relevant information quickly and easy.

As an administrator, you have more control over the tool, with the ability to manage who can do what and whether or not they can use the emojis that are available. You can also pin a message to the top of the channel, if it’s something you want to remind people about, but you do need to remember to unpin, once it’s no longer relevant.

Slack links to Toggl, so you can use it to monitor your time, as well as integrating with IFTTT, Google Calendar, Giphy, Twitter, Dropbox, Trello and Mail Chimp, to name a few, so you can use it as part of a suite of tools that you and your team use to manage your business on a daily basis.

I have recently helped out on #microbizmattersday as part of a virtual assistant team, which had VAs from both the UK and France working together to promote the day and highlight any #IGave13 posts. It was a great tool, where we had different channels for monitoring relevant tweets which automatically appeared in the relevant #channel using IFTTT. This allowed us to quickly see any new tweets and then retweet on facebook or add to the webpage that had been set up for the event.

Obviously if you are working as part of a team, just like a file structure on your file server, naming your channels clearly and appropriately is extremely important for helping your teammates understand where to go for certain information. Especially important, if you go on holiday or have an extended break, as you want your team to carry on efficiently while you are gone.

The reactions are great, if you like something, dislike, think it’s funny.. whatever, you can click on one of the emojis.. then if someone else thinks the same, they click on the same emoji and it adds to it… rather than each reaction needing its own email trail!

If you are in the middle of doing something else, the continual notifications can be extremely distracting, making you want to stop what you are doing and respond, well it did me anyway! A lot of productivity advice is to only look at your emails once or twice per day and to work on only one thing at a time as it takes between 15 and 20 minutes for your brain to switch back to the task it was previously focused on, so you may wish to put on your ‘Do Not Disturb’, either for a limited amount of time, or for a regular time each day/night.

If you do have lots of channels, then you can hide those that have had no recent activity, great for those who feel overwhelmed, if there’s too many tabs open, this would be me again! They become unhidden once someone adds anything to it, so you won’t miss any new posts even if it is hidden. If you do hide channels, enabling the ‘quick channel switcher’ will make it easier to quickly unhide them if you do want to use them again. You can start typing in the search bar and Slack offers suggestions based on what you are typing, so if you know it starts with a particular word/letter, but aren’t sure of the exact name, you can use this to find it again.

Slack has a Slackbot, which you can ask simple questions and it provides a quick response. If you have a more complicated question, there is a Help Centre with a great search facility and in-program articles, which provide information on how to get started, setting up channels, messaging etc. so you can easily pick up different aspects of the tool. You can also use the Slackbot to create private reminders for you, acting as a sort of task in your calendar, using the /remind command, which works anywhere in Slack and when the time comes, Slackbot will then send you a reminder.

Modifications can be made to messages after they have been sent, so the response might seem a little off. This is similar to those on social media, where people can delete or amend what they have said, making the responder look silly or even mean. If you trust your team, and they use it in a professional manner, then this shouldn’t be an issue.

There is no way of replying directly to a message, which is above another message in the same channel. If there are a number of different threads on a channel, relating to different conversations, then this can become confusing if you’re responding to one question, but it appears directly under a different question. You can get around this by using the @ Plus Name, but this drawback does make the choosing of channels particularly important, so that similar threads stay together.

Strengths

  • Good password – tells you how strong it is, so you can decide whether you want to make it stronger
  • Easy to set up your own team and you can direct message one member of the team or send a message to everyone
  • As long as you know someone’s email address, you can invite them to join your team, so great for creating a virtual team for sharing particular information
  • Few tips to get yourself started
  • Good security – you can ask for 2 step verification from each team member, for additional verification that they are who you think they are
  • Number of great articles to help you get started
  • Can use on PCs, tablets and mobiles
  • You can create private groups
  • You can leave or mute a channel
  • There are special characters to filter or search for relevant messages

Weaknesses

  • No comment threading
  • Can’t assign tasks to individuals, without using DM, which then means the rest of the team can’t see it
  • Doesn’t have deadlines or project management features
  • Not good for document management, as they are attached to the message, so you still need somewhere to store
  • If it’s a big team you can quickly get lots of news, but the thread can get confusing
  • You can’t assign priority to a message
  • Expensive if you need more than the basic features
  • Continual notifications can be distracting
  • Can be difficult to navigate through the different channels, making it difficult for a newbie

Costs

Free for basic application, which for a small business or soloentrepreneur is more than enough. If you are a slightly larger organisation, or if you need the additional features, such as group videos or calls, larger storage requirements, 24 hour response times, then there are 2 paid options, both based on number of users. This can then make it a more expensive option to using a mixture of an email provider, dropbox and skype. On the plus side, all these features can be found in one place, rather than having to continually swap between different programs. If you have an expanding/reducing number of people (ie project), then the pay per user can make it this quite expensive method, rather than having a flat rate charge per month.

Conclusions

A great tool for a virtual team to communicate effectively with each other, but could turn a buzzing office into a silent room, which for introverts is great, but perhaps more intimidating for extroverts! It is easy to learn, user friendly and allows additional team members to be added at any time. They can then read through the conversations and get up to speed quickly and easily. It’s a great tool for conversations and discussion, but for anyone looking to manage tasks and workflows, you’ll need something like Asana, Trello or Toodledo.

If you want to do more research

http://thenextweb.com/insider/2015/08/11/the-ultimate-guide-to-doing-anything-in-slack/
http://thenextweb.com/apps/2015/02/05/13-cool-things-might-not-know-can-slack/