Instant messaging apps have been around for a while now. The good (or bad) old days of Windows Live/MSN Messenger and Skype were great for one to one chats or smaller group discussions but searching chat history was intermittent and it always had a casual, non-business feel to it. More recently, Yammer became a popular choice as it allowed cross-team communication, you could always retrieve a chat history, have personal or private chats, upload documents…..the list went on. Microsoft OWNED this space for business! Of course nowadays, the choices are endless: WhatsApp, Viber, Facebook Messenger, Snapchat, Line, HipChat, Basecamp; the list goes on.
When Wink Reports kicked off in 2013, some colleagues of mine introduced Slack as the internal comms platform of choice, and we haven’t looked back. Initially we started with the free version to really get to know it and have since moved on to one of the paid subscriptions. Our Slack implementation hinges on three pillars: Users, Channels and Integrations.
Right from when a new team member is first inducted into the Wink Reports team, Slack becomes a part of their day. EVERY team member uses it all day every day on their desktop, via a browser and on mobile devices on the go.
We don’t just have internal team members using our Slack discussion boards though, we invite key external people (such as development contractors, our outsourced marketing team and client project owners) to certain channels for their contribution to discussion, collaboration and awareness of all goings on that concerns them. Slack calls people with an email address different to firstname.lastname@example.org as “Guests” and this requires an upgrade to a paid subscription, where the benefit of ensuring everyone is always on the same page far outweigh the minimal investment made.
Once all your required users are on Slack (both internal and external), they can engage in direct messages, which are visible only to the two participants. Some things need not be made public and so keeping quick chats ‘direct’ between two users is an excellent way to retain chat history while not annoying or distracting other team members.
We recently enabled the native Calls feature also. Calls allows for two or more participants to voice and/or video chat (just like Skype) but allows for call information to be logged and retained right within Slack. At the time or writing Calls is still in beta but so far our experience of it has been excellent, in terms of both call quality and productivity enhancement.
It’s well documented that 93% of communication is non-verbal, and so obviously outside of calls, ALL communication on Slack falls into this category. We’ve found that the use of emoji is a fantastic way to infer tone in discussions, as well as motivate, congratulate and celebrate with other team members. A future study on the right amount of emoji must be on the cards for an academic somewhere, but right now we’re guilty of emojification ;)
While we like our team to be as productive as possible during their work time, it’s equally important to switch off after a big day so as to rest, recharge and then do it all over again the next day. To facilitate this, we use the Do Not Disturb feature in Slack across the board from 10:00pm – 8:00am each day. This basically means that while messages can still be sent, recipients and channel members won’t be notified of those messages until the Do Not Disturb period has ended.
Tips on Users:
- Make Slack part of inductions for new team members
- Invite Guests to the channels you need them to contribute to
- Use Direct Messages & Calls
- Go nuts with emoji
- Use Do Not Disturb ‘zzz’ time
Out of the box, Slack gives you some channels to start with, namely “General”, “Random” and one or two others. As a starting point it’s a good idea to rename or change these immediately, as you don’t want important discussions getting lost in general or random channels that don’t mean anything to anyone.
We’ve structured our channels around our organisational operational structure, namely #Marketing, #Sales, #Delivery, #Our-Team and #Admin. These channels form the foundation of our use of Slack and make searching, retrieval and focus of discussions that much more efficient and effective. These channels are public and most of our team members can view, if not contribute to them – this is fantastic as it ensures everyone is always on the same page and the old adage “no one told me” just doesn’t exist. We also have other public channels setup that are more focused on bot integrations, but more on that later.
We also utilise private channels. The ones we have setup are for #Hiring, #Board-of-Directors and #Shareholders which obviously contain sensitive content that only nominated team members can access.
Beware being channel creation-happy though. Any more than 7 public channels and 3 private channels (for us) is overkill. You want to give your team and guests clearly defined realms in which to collaborate and communicate. Having too many channels can mean your channels don’t really reflect your business and can be counterproductive by making searching more difficult and creating apprehension for users as to where to post and chat. If your business runs client projects often for a reasonable duration (eg. greater than three months) then establishing project-specific channels would be a good way to keep the communication focused.
Another advantage of channels is the ability to store, share and retrieve documents. This can be done by linking document management services like Google Drive or DropBox but you can also do this natively right within Slack. We use this for sharing and distributing documents such as team-wide presentations and customer specs.
Tips on Channels:
- Rename or remove the default Slack channels on signup
- Structure your channels to reflect the way your business is organised or the way you operate
- Ensure your team can at least view appropriate public channels – “no one told me” should not exist
- Utilise private channels for sensitive discussions
- Don’t set up too many channels
- Utilise the document sharing feature
The final point of our Slack implementation is integrations (with other software products we use). Slack integrations are so important to us that we often base a decision on whether to adopt a new app or not based on whether it integrates natively.
As at the time of writing we have twelve integrations live with more being added all the time. Here’s how our team use integrations within the channels:
Our Marketing channel is mainly used for our team to collaborate with our external agency, however all posts that go out on the @winkreports Twitter account are auto-posted here too. This enables all team members to review messages that are being communicated externally but also to know when to jump over to Twitter for a like or retweet. Keeping all team members constantly aware of our branding and external communication keeps our brand values front of mind in our day to day activities.
Our Sales channel has two key integrations, with Wink Reports itself for notifying us of new users, and with Stripe for notifying us each time a credit card charge is applied to a customer. You might find it odd that we make the Stripe charges/revenue public however this transparency is a real motivator for team members when they see their efforts being rewarded by happy customers. When credit card charges are unsuccessful (eg. Because a customer’s details have expired) notifications flow through into Slack and gives the team a valid reason to contact a customer and potentially re-engage after what may have been a long time without direct contact.
The Wink Reports integration is also important in this respect. We’re fortunate to have new users come to us directly, as well as from our partners. When a user comes to us directly, the team are given an opportunity to open discussions with them about their requirements and develop a strong working relationship right from the outset. There’s nothing like feeling loved ;)
Our Delivery channel is slightly different from the others in that we use it strictly for product improvement and support related discussions – no integrations! Obviously this is the focus of our business and so we actually have another dedicated channel called Delivery-Robots which integrate all of the following bots and allows the Delivery channel to remain uncluttered:
- Google Drive – notifications are posted when folders or documents are added, renamed or deleted
- Wink Reports – we post graphs and metrics of some key Wink Reports platform usage statistics for the day, such as number of reports run, number of emails sent etc as well as other snapshots from KPI reports used internally
- FreshDesk – notifications are posted when new support tickets are created
- DataDog – exceptions to predetermined metrics on monitoring of our servers are posted
- PivotalTracker – notifications are posted when new stories are added to our development schedule
- BitBucket, GitHub and Django – notifications are posted when a range of actions are completed by our Dev team, such as code check-ins, code reviews
The Our-Team channel is the go-to place for discussing all things related to Wink Reports personnel. This can be as broad as upcoming scheduling of 360o reviews to where the next team social event will be held.
The only current integration with this channel is our shared team Google Calendar. Every Monday morning an automated post appears in this channel notifying everyone of the team events that are on for the week. A further notice is posted on each morning of an event. This is particularly useful as it keeps all team members aware of where their colleagues are or might be for the day which reduces time spent trying to schedule one on one time or meetings.
Another integration that we make use of is with Google Hangouts. Simply typing /Hangout into a Slack channel chat starts a Google Hangout and enables participants of that channel to attend the Hangout.
We hope you’ve found this blog post to be helpful. There’s so much more to Slack that we haven’t covered here. Things like notifications including sounds and the search tools are so good that they require their own dedicated articles.
How do you use Slack? Let us know here.