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How to Use Slack to Keep Your Team on Track

Michael O'Dwyer| July 02 2019

| IT insights


Over the past few years, Slack has risen to be the largest collaboration tool to help teams stay on track. In this article, I will discuss how it works and some concerns about the tool.

Whatever the size of your company, communication with others is essential. Some communicate in-person on the premises, with a large part of the working day consumed by long-winded meetings. Others use videoconferencing, intranets, a CMS or CRM solution and email to share relevant updates to team or project members. Surely, there is a way to increase effectiveness and productivity?

Prepare to enter the age of business messaging and team collaboration apps. Slack is one of these and is often touted as the first; it’s certainly the largest and according to PCMag, and the most expensive.

However, with a free limited option and hundreds of possible app integrations (only 10 on the free option), Slack could well be ideal for your company, especially if you have noticed communication problems or operational delays caused by same.

Assuming you’ve reviewed Slack pricing and features and understand the security implications of cloud collaboration and messaging (only the Enterprise Grid solution has auditing capabilities in line with HIPAA compliance, for example), you’ve some idea of how Slack can integrate into existing processes.

How it Works

After sign-up, it’s time to create channels in your workspace. Private and public channels are possible. These channels (think of them as chatrooms) should reflect your operational goals. Therefore, you can have a channel for each department, project, client, team or whatever topic you like. You could have one for brainstorming or competitor research, for example.

Your aim is to ensure that relevant people are added to each channel to maximize effective communication. Some will be members of multiple channels and that’s perfectly okay. Slack itself is an effective messaging tool but its real strength lies in third-party app integrations, as mentioned previously. You can also customize data retention policies.

Review all the apps used by your company and check if integrations are available for all necessary software solutions. If not, it’s not a problem as Slack allows Zapier integration, and Zapier has more than 1500 additional app integration options.

Once configured to your satisfaction, it’s time to verify the benefits. Many try the free option in the beginning, only upgrading to paid plans as the workforce expands.

Practical Issues Solved by Slack

Some claim that messaging is more effective than email, due to the daily influx of spam and mails unrelated to projects. Slack eliminates the ‘noise’ and allows email integration if desired, via several integration options, such as Gmail and Outlook. Paid plans offer an ‘email to Slack channel’ option, where a custom email address is used to complete the task.

For companies with large teams or ongoing collaboration requirements, the availability of instant messaging and multiple apps on the same dashboard is useful but for me, my multiple desktop configuration works just fine.

Other potential issues solved (that may or may not be attractive to companies) include the following, in no particular order:

1. Assigning Blame

When projects or tasks are incomplete or have missed defined deadlines, the responsible party or parties is identified from the message history. Of course, if the delay is caused by no follow-up to clarification questions, the fault may lie elsewhere.

2. Forcing a Reply

In my experience, some managers/fellow colleagues are slow to respond to emails or completely ignore them. In a group environment, this lack of response is obvious and an indicator of the professionalism of the individual involved. In a Slack channel, a repeated request for clarification/updates etc. is sure to get a response, especially if you announce the project impact caused by delays. It’s a lesser version of ‘name and shame’ but has the desired impact.

 3. Claiming Responsibility

The days of executives claiming responsibility for the ideas of others (and reaping the rewards in the form or bonuses or promotion) could well be numbered if team collaboration apps become the norm.

4. Monitoring Security Awareness

If IT are members of channels, they can easily monitor the types of docs shared and ensure they are in line with security and compliance processes.

Some Concerns

Given that my focus is often on cybersecurity, I tend to avoid the use of cloud providers where possible. For large companies, compliance requirements may include audit capabilities. With so many possible integrations, is auditing possible? I’d recommend that potential users of Slack and similar platforms consider compliance and legislative issues. Configure everything with security in mind. If data retention is not required, configure Slack accordingly.

Avoid reliance on a single third-party provider, making sure you have a backup solution if the service goes down, your broadband is interrupted or any other network failure. Explore all the ‘what if?’ scenarios to ensure business continuity.

Ensure that all users are aware of what can and cannot be shared in the cloud or via messaging. Involve the legal department if necessary as they will be more familiar with changes in e-discovery in your jurisdiction.

In conclusion, based on reviews and my limited use of the app (on the free plan), I can state that it’s a useful tool but is not a cure-all for any inherent lack of organizational skills. Careful configuration is required to ensure all users have the optimum solution for messaging, communication and productivity. There is no universal solution that works for everyone; you must set it up to complement your activities and not the other way around. If this is achieved, then Slack will enhance productivity, regardless of industry or company size. What do you think? Why not check it out and sign up for the free plan?

Topics: IT insights

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An Irishman based in Hong Kong, Michael O’Dwyer is a business & technology journalist, independent consultant and writer who specializes in writing for enterprise, small business and IT audiences. With 20+ years of experience in everything from IT and electronic component-level failure analysis to process improvement and supply chains (and an in-depth knowledge of Klingon,) Michael is a sought-after writer whose quality sources, deep research and quirky sense of humor ensures he’s welcome in high-profile publications such as The Street and Fortune 100 IT portals.

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