If you’ve spent any time listening to podcasts in the past year, you’ve no doubt heard ads for an app called Slack, the instant messenger slash collaboration hub taking businesses by storm. Like the brainchildren of most tech companies, it’s the product of pivoting — that thing you turn to after the thing you initially set out to do fails. Considering its origin, and the seachange it’s begun to effect following its public launch five years ago, that feels delightfully appropriate — Slack was built to streamline communication and replace coworking’s most loathed accessory: the work email. Corporations have been “pivoting” to the platform ever since.
Currently Slack is one of the world’s fastest growing startups, utilized by companies ranging in size from the mom-and-pop shop to the Silicon Valley juggernaut: Salesforce, eBay, HBO, Inuit, and even NASA have all turned to it. But why all the fuss?
The answer to that is simple. Writes Jeff Bercovici for Inc., “In survey after survey, knowledge workers report email and meetings as their biggest drains on productivity.” A report recently released by global, software giant Adobe backs this up: on average, people spend 3 or more hours each day checking work email. It’s such an issue that one Fortune writer has equated email to a tyrannical force — a description that doesn’t feel far off the mark.
Chat tools, on the other hand, require far less thought and attention than your work inbox. Gone are the hours spent sifting through emails that don’t require a response to find the one email that does — as well the time it then takes to craft a robotically formal reply (as the format calls for). Gone, too: the estrangement of waiting a day for a response to your reply.
Over the past decade we’ve all become accustomed to the flexibility and instantaneity that texting offers: dash off a quick question, get an equally quick answer — no thumb-twiddling required. No one’s going to send an email while waiting in line at Starbucks (there’s just not enough time to compose it), but they’ll certainly fire off a text or two. Slack plays on that inclination. It is pushing back against the drudgery of most intraoffice communication by enabling the modern worker to pivot away from email’s isolative delay, and towards a real-time (and human) conversation. When you’ve got a project that calls for a coworker’s two-cents before you can continue, a quick answer means you get back to work more quickly, too. Slack provides that instantaneity, and that instantaneity is empowering. (The company motto is “Slack: Where Work Happens.”)
To help facilitate this work, much in the way of the old school chat room, “[c]ommunication in Slack happens in channels, organized by project, topic, team, or whatever makes sense for you.” A few years ago, Buzzfeed had a channel devoted entirely to the smash hit musical Hamilton, and employees at Gawker have one dedicated to sharing bad tweets. The sort of camaraderie found from discovering shared interests helps teams build an identity and foster a community. Everything everyone says in public channels is visible and available to anyone. (Private messages are a feature as well.)
The incentive of this kind of communication is not just transparency, but collaboration. In a way, the channels become an corpus of all of the work a team does. Employees can search what’s already been said to find answers to their questions, or reach out to their team/the company at large for help. It’s a hub, bringing all work discussions together under one roof. One of it’s greatest draws: you can invite clients to relevant channels, too. With everyone in the kept in the loop in real time, you’ll reduce the amount of time you spend in meetings.
The collaborative nature of channels also makes it easier to share project files. One of the most frustrating side-effects of collaboration is that sometimes people end up working off of old documents. (Often, this is because emailed attachments get quickly buried in a back and forth chain.) As a solution, Slack has integrated with more than 1,500 other apps, including G-Suite, Dropbox, Asana, making it a breeze to distribute the most up-to-date files with anyone who might need it — clients included.
Chat tools can be so effective, some companies have stopped using internal email entirely. In fact, Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield hasn’t sent a work email in 8 years. One has to wonder… what do you even do with all that saved time?
There’s really only one way to find out.
Contact JNT TEK for ideas on how you can use innovative collaboration tools to increase your business’ productivity.
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