What is Slack for?
You may be old enough to remember mIRC. If so, Slack is like that but for business.
If you have no clue what mIRC is, then Slack is a way to text chat with your team over the Internet, grouping the discussion into multiple channels.
What is Slack NOT for?
Slack is not a project management tool. Instead is a remote communication tool. While you could use it to manage simple, short projects, you will miss the ability to create tasks, track progress, and reach your goals for more complex ones.
Why use Slack?
I have been working remotely for over ten years now. And I would communicate with my clients over email. This approach was generally OK if only two people were involved: the client and me. As soon as someone else wanted to join the conversation, it would get complicated very fast! Here is why:
- How could they read the context of the previous discussions – that are now buried in an old email that they don’t have access to?
- How could they filter the information if it is not organized into topics?
- There is no guarantee of an email being delivered. When an email gets lost, a lot of awkward “didn’t you get the memo?!” situations ensue.
The Power of Slack
Slack does more than getting the information out of your email and into a team-accessible-space.
It has a robust notification and ignore system. Taking the time to learn about and properly configure the notifications can make or break your Slack using experience. Suppose you choose to get notified about everything. In that case, your phone will constantly buzz at you, driving you crazy, which inevitably leads to shutting down notifications altogether, which means you’re shutting down slack and choose not to communicate. Not good!
The key is to fine-tune what you get notified about and create distraction-free time for you to do productive work.
It’s tempting to think that everybody on the team is just a text chat away, but unless your purpose is to chat, you won’t be terribly productive.
Some jobs may require you to monitor and respond to Slack constantly. Some brainstorming or research phase of a project may require that you keep your eye on Slack. But for the rest of the time, turn everything off except private messages from your boss and any emergency or announcement channels. When you’re done for the day, make sure you set slack on “Do Not Disturb” (you can automate this if you have fixed work-hours).
Slack Workspaces are another powerful concept, although super confusing when you first start.
To clarify this for you, think of it this way: You don’t have a Slack account. What you have instead is an account inside a Slack Workspace. Why is this important and confusing? Because each workspace has its own password, even if you use the same email to access all of them.
It’s like working for three companies, each has an access key card with the same picture of you but a different code on it, so you cannot use the same key everywhere. Similarly, each Slack Workspace has its own password and email. Why is this important? Because it enables you to use the same tool for multiple teams and projects and still keep everything separate within the same program. Pretty neat!
Finally, because the conversations are grouped into channels, it is easier to focus only on what you care about and mute (or leave) the other channels. This feature is essential in long projects with large teams.
The downsides of Slack
When I stumbled into Slack one year ago, I thought it was the answer to all of my professional and personal problems! I would use the SlackBot to remind me of important things; I would use channels to organize personal notes; I would use emojis to simulate a project management environment. Oh, the nerdiness!
It was fun for a month until it because evident that Slack is is to be used for effective communication, and that’s it :).
Some misuse of Slack by not understanding its purpose:
- project management – use Trello or Asana, or BaseCamp for this
- collaborative documents – use Google Drive, Or DropPox Paper (Yes, I know about Slack posts, but they are a far cry from a truly collaborative document platform)
- file-sharing – again, use DropBox, Google Drive, or OneDrive – yes, you can share files on Slack, but I think they added this feature just so to make it easier to fill up your free quota :). Sharing images, small spec files, and generally whatever is small enough to be an “email attachment” could be OK. But for anything larger, use a proper file sharing tool.
Misuse of Slack by not understanding team communication.
There is a reason Slack adds by default a “random” channel. It is the channel that allows that team member who always has something “fun” to say or share to be safely ignored while they can “express freely.” If you delete that channel or don’t clarify what it is for, expect your “announcement” or “emergency” channels to get spammed.
Be mindful when sending a text and notifying everyone: will this boost the team’s productivity or just create a barrage of distractions. Nobody wants to wake up to 99+ slack notifications that have nothing to do with them doing their work that day.
Misuse of Slack by not knowing the tool
This problem is probably the biggest and most annoying drawback, and it also prevents a team from adopting Slack. You need to learn the tool and follow the agreed protocols.
It’s like driving on the streets: we need to trust that you know how to handle your car, and you understand that a red light means stop! Learning the tools and the rules is what makes for a smooth drive (or Slack experience).
Read an article or two about how to use Slack like a pro. It will take you 30 minutes, and you’ll ace it. It will make you feel super confident and become the Slack guru. But most of all, you will be able to create value for your team with clear and smooth communication.
I am adding this here because, so far, I have a poor experience with Slack video. The lag is so significant that it was impossible to have any meaningful conversations with my collaborators. I am sure this will improve in the future.
A completely free alternative to Slack that works in the same way, is Discord. The name is unfortunate since discord is not what you want on your communication lines.