6 Things You Need To Know Before Using #Slack

2019 Update

Since writing this post our team has 100% migrated to using Slack, as have our partner businesses Devhouse and House Digital. In particular now that our teams are not all based in the same office or working the same hours, we find that Slack is becoming increasingly useful, as we move away from ‘instant’ communication and more towards ‘asynchronous’ communication.

We have also taken advantage of the numerous integrations options that Slack offers to create channels in our workspace that alert us when we have missed calls, messages through the contact form on our website, or when a team member updates our internal Wiki.

One thing we have learned over the past year or so is that seperating conversations into channels is really important. For a while we fell into the trap of using the ‘General’ channel for most of our discussions, with the reasoning that we only have a small team and therefore don’t need to worry about having different channels so much. Unfortunately this led to a few instances of key information being missed, so we’ve rectified this now and have individual channels for things like Leads, Marketing, Tickets and Cat Videos. It definitely makes life easier!

What you need to know…

Slack is becoming an increasingly popular tool for teams of all shapes and sizes. The basic structure of Slack is pretty simple – you organise your team conversations into either public or private channels, depending on what is being discussed. Sharing files is easy, and it has a great search function that allows you to filter based on a number of criteria. It does away with the need for often clunky internal communication software like Skype or the now redundant Communicator app, and provides a refreshingly modern alternative to Microsoft’s Yammer product. Best of all, it’s mobile friendly for teams that are on the go.

Slack User Interface Screenshot
“Slack is good for teams that are spread out, work flexible hours, or want to promote lots of discussion and communication.”

1. Slack is not for everyone.

One of the traps that people often fall into with versatile apps like Slack is using them outside of their intended purpose. Slack is designed for communication, not management. It is for sharing ideas, discussing strategies, and sharing documents – but it is not for tracking tasks or projects. If you want a tool that does both they are out there, or you can look at integrating your Slack team with a project management app such as Asana or Trello. Before you decide to commit your team to adopting a new piece of technology, ask yourself these two things:

  • Do we need it?
  • Why do we need it?

It might seem pretty silly, but businesses will often look at solutions like Slack when the real issue is actually far more ingrained. If your team members are already sitting next to each other and having daily meetings, they’re not field based and they don’t work wildly different hours – why aren’t they communicating already? Perhaps the issue is not communication, but other business processes that need to be looked at. However, if your team does struggle to communicate face to face due to physical constraints, a solution like Slack might be just what the doctor ordered.

2. Limitations

The free version gives you pretty decent functionality compared to the premium plans, with the main difference being the level of security and secrecy you can achieve. On the free version, you can’t grant users “external access” so you won’t be able to invite vendors or clients to one particular channel, for example. You get 5GB worth of file storage, which is usually enough for most small businesses. You can also integrate up to 10 apps or services with the free version, which is one of the biggest attractions of Slack – there is an impressive number of integrations available in the App Directory.

3. User Interface

The Slack interface is fairly basic, with customisable colours and an easy to navigate sidebar layout. Channels are your main way of filtering data, and you can write directly to them by using the appropriate hashtag, just like on Twitter or Instagram. If you have mostly younger and/or tech-savvy team members, this interface will seem fairly familiar and intuitive. Users who don’t use much social media may find it a bit more of a challenge due to the lack of structure.

4. Privacy

On the free Slack plan, you can still deactivate members who leave your team and it won’t remove their messages. This is pretty useful, because it means your team’s message history will still make sense when you read it back. All the messages and files they posted will remain archived and searchable. If you want to delete things, it will need to be done manually before deactivation. Administrators can set different levels of access for different team members and you can also control who is able to invite new members to your channel.

5. Flexibility

While Slack is not great for project management, it does offer very easy integration with some of the other tools that are. Trello, Asana and Wunderlist are all quite simple to add to your team to create shared lists or projects. Something to keep in mind is that as a direct competitor to Yammer, Slack doesn’t integrate particularly well with Microsoft products. If your team already uses Google Calendars it’s great, but if you are looking to link to an Outlook calendar (for example) you might run into some problems.

6. Analytics

The search tool in Slack is pretty powerful, but other than that it doesn’t really offer much “out of the box” in terms of tracking or analytics. It is definitely more of a communication tool than a project management tool, so I would recommend integrating with another service if this functionality is important to you – and if it is, make sure you’re not trying to use Slack for something outside of it’s intended purpose!

Are you interested in setting up a Slack team for your organisation? Or perhaps you already use it, but haven’t explored the many options for app integration! Don’t forget that if you need help with rolling out new software or training staff on new systems, we offer a range of solutions for Perth small businesses. Get in touch with us to speak to myself or one of our team about boosting your business productivity!