Anthony Hill, Geeks2U’s head of technology, authored the below blog for SmartCompany.
Whether your people are working across the office or across the globe, business-grade communication tools like Slack ensure everyone is on the same page.
If you’ve ever been trapped in reply-all group email hell then you know email isn’t always a great tool when it comes to coordinating teams. This frustration has driven many people to use consumer-grade chat services for work – often without the blessing of the boss – but there is business-grade services designed to do the job.
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At first glance Slack looks like most other chat-style services, as it allows you to create multiple private chat rooms called channels and add members. It’s easy to see who is currently online and to send private messages to individuals or groups. You can also share files but there isn’t a built-in document editor like Google Drive or Microsoft OneDrive.
Business users will appreciate that you can appoint a team owner and administrators to manage your Slack team, as well as edit the permissions for individuals to control who sees what. You can create open mailing list-style channels for sending messages to the entire company, along with closed channels for specific teams and projects. You can also grant limited access to outsiders such as customers, suppliers and contractors, restricting their access to relevant channels.
Slack has data retention and compliance features that can be important for businesses that work in regulated industries. It also supports two-factor authentication, offering an extra level of protection to keep out uninvited guests.
The service is platform agnostic – Slack runs in a web browser and you’ll find a range of desktop and mobile apps. To help you stay on top of things it supports pop-up, email and mobile SMS notifications, with the ability to modify your alerts for each channel to cut down on interruptions while ensuring you don’t miss important messages – which can be much more efficient than wading through your inbox.
These features alone might be enough to satisfy some business users but one of Slack’s strengths is its extensive library of plugins and integration with third-party services.
You can add bots to your channels to automatically perform a wide range of tasks – from monitoring web analytics and RSS feeds to asking project members for status updates. It’s also possible to integrate audio and video conferencing, project management, expense management, cloud storage, social media and lots of other services.
If all that’s not enough, Slack offers a programmable chat robot called HuBot, which can do your bidding. There’s also support for If This Then That (IFTTT), which is an Internet of Things gateway that lets you interact with a wide range of cloud services and smart devices.
Using Slack can be as simple or as complicated as you need it to be; it’s easy to start off small and gradually explore the advanced options. The basic service is free, with a monthly per-user subscription required to access some of the high-end business features.
If your people are struggling to work as an efficient team then Slack might be just what you need to get things running smoothly.
David Hancock is the founder and managing director of Geeks2U, a national on-site computer repair and support company.