Offices are so 2013: How Our Team Collaborates Using Only Slack
When I first started with Capacitr in 2013, we had our roots set in the great city of Chicago. We had an amazing loft office above a bar in a wonderful part of the city. We had great restaurants and shops right out our front door, and it was outside of “the loop,” just enough to make parking easy, yet still had the feel of the big city… it was perfect.
In the summer of 2014, our fearless leader set out for California in search of gold. Unlike the gold rush of the mid-1800’s, our “gold” came in the form of new clients that would help take the company to the next level. In doing so, he left some of us in Chicago with the opportunity to work from home full time, as long as we thought we could handle it.
I come from a very corporate background prior to my job with Capacitr, so when I had the chance to work from home at my previous job, it was really a struggle to get any work done. I was so used to having my work space and my home space being two completely different things. I knew working from home was going to be a bit of a challenge, but it was a challenge I was willing to accept.
It was rocky for the first few months trying to communicate solely through Google Hangouts and email, while barely having a project management system in place to keep track of everything we had going on. But we made it work. It wasn’t until we discovered Slack that our whole world changed.
What is Slack?
At its core, Slack is a chat tool specifically built with business communication in mind. It combines private messaging with group chat rooms in a way that is cohesive to how business communication works today.
For those of you that grew up during the infancy of the internet, you might remember a chat program called IRC (Internet Relay Chat). IRC was a chat service that used a “channel” system as a way to create group chats (chat rooms essentially). Each of those channels had operators and moderators who had different admin privileges that allowed them to kick, ban, and mute people within the channel.
These basic ideas are what Slack was built on, but instead of chatting with internet nerds (or internet pirates), it is dedicated to communication in the corporate world. It was exactly what we needed to ensure that all of the members of our team could collaborate and connect on a level unattainable through Google Hangouts alone.
How We Use Slack to Collaborate
Our core business model depends on our Online Marketing Team and our Development Team being able to bounce ideas off of each other. Without a way to collaborate and discuss issues in real time, between a team that is spread out all across the world, we were having a hard time nailing everything down. Slack has allowed us to create channels specifically for the different branches of the company so that the individual teams can chime in and discuss the topics at hand.
By having a dedicated channel for the marketing team, and dedicated channels for our different developers, we are able to effectively communicate the issues for only those specific teams as opposed to getting our marketing people involved high-level development conversations that they don’t need to be a part of, and vice-versa for the developers and the marketing discussions.
Sure, these things can also be done via skype or group chats in Google Hangouts (which we were doing), but the interface in Slack alone is worth it. Having the ability to see a clean, full-screen view of everything that is being discussed around a topic and the ability to search back and see what was being discussed previously is a huge help. Not to mention it’s instant, as opposed to Skype calls. Though Skype calls are more face-to-face, they still rely on both people being able to essentially answer a phone call. I know there is a chat feature in Skype as well, but it just didn’t make sense since, none of us were using it to begin with.
And, as I mentioned above, we used to utilize Google Hangouts for our instant messaging communications, and we still do a Monday morning video call with the whole team to go over what is going on for the week ahead and what happened the previous week, but Google Hangouts gets extremely messy when you’re working with more than one person. And it doesn’t allow for an easy way to search back through previous messages.
What it all boils down to is that Slack has a nice, clean interface, and a searchable archive, that allows us to effectively communicate our needs to the team, in real-time. Whether we’re sitting at a computer or on our mobile devices, we are all always accessible via Slack… when we need to be.
Using Slack to Communicate with Clients
Not only does Slack allow us to communicate internally within our teams, but it also allows us to maintain that direct connection to our clients as well.
We do still utilize Google Hangouts for a couple of our clients, and obviously email is our main point of contact for most clients. But we are able to invite our larger clients that require more instant communication into private Slack channels, where we can create a direct communication line that allows us to answer questions and discuss ideas in real-time.
Having this direct line of communication with our clients allows us to easily and efficiently discuss topics and answer questions throughout the day.
And I know what you’re thinking, why not just pick up the phone?
We do still have update calls with our clients, but if you’ve ever been on a conference call, you know how difficult they can be to follow, how hard it is to tell who’s talking, or how to know when it’s your turn to talk… It can quickly become a nightmare.
Our clients like knowing that we are a simple message away if they have any questions related to their current project status. Quick questions can be asked and answered in real-time by any member of the team that is a member of the channel, thus allowing for less messy email chains and less time between communications. And while we still utilize email on a daily basis, there are some times when you need an answer quickly, and even though you don’t necessarily have to respond right away on Slack (like email), we find that we’re more inclined to respond instantly than we are if an email comes through our inbox.
Slack has brought a new level of communication and collaboration to our team, more than any other productivity platform/software we have tried to utilize in the past. By having Slack open during the workday, we can be the most productive team we can be, while still being just as accessible to each other as if we were in the same room.
People ask me all the time how we can effectively work together as a team when none of us are in the same location, and the easy answer is Slack. Working from home in itself comes with a certain amount of discipline, but with a line of communication open at all times, there’s one less thing to worry about.