If you’ve been paying any sort of attention to the buzz around workplace productivity apps, you’ve probably heard of this thing called Slack. It’s an app that’s been racking up a ton of attention and press of late. Since it's launch, Slack has gotten major organizations like NASA and small growing startups to join their client ranks.

But what exactly is Slack, and how can it help you out on the job? Here’s all the info you need to know to decide if Slack should become a part of your work routine.

It’s a work messaging app

At its core, Slack is a product that allows you to create a chatroom for your entire team. In that sense, it’s not far off from being a re-wrapped and re-packaged version of traditional internet relay chat (IRC), if you know and remember what that is. Strong alternatives exist as well, in the form of HipChat, Rocket.Chat, and others.

Within a Slack chatroom you can create separate channels for different functions. For example, if your company’s product team has Slack set up, they could have a channel for developers to track bug reports, one for project managers to provide updates and timelines, one for marketers to chat about upcoming campaigns, and much more. Whatever you need to do, you can create a channel for it and assign the right people immediately.

Beyond group messaging, you can also privately message anyone on your team for one-on-one conversations. Need a quick chat with your manager? Send them a direct message on Slack asking when they have a spot of free time. Need to send a colleague a file? Directly send them an attachment without having to open up your email. And you can tag specific members of your team with “@name” to ping them directly.


It tracks all your work apps

What makes Slack stand out from the crowd of workplace communication apps is its ability to integrate with many of the other work apps you might be using. With just a few clicks and a few new channels in your company’s Slack room, you can set up all the big and important apps you’re using to manage and analyze your work.

Using MailChimp to track subscribers to your newsletter? Create a channel and integrate it with MailChimp to receive notifications when you land a new subscriber. Using Mention track people who share your company on social media? A Mention channel will ping you whenever your product is talked about. Manage projects using Asana? An Asana channel will let you know when there is activity on any of the tasks you and your team are working on. If you’re using a customer service tool, Slack’s probably integrated with that, too.

You can take advantage of any one of dozens of integrations, and doing so will put all your notifications and important information in one location so that you won’t have to log in to a dozen separate apps to get a snapshot of your work.

The fun factor

Part of Slack’s draw for many organizations is the fun factor. It’s like any other chat app - it has emojis, it can pull images and GIFs straight to your chat instantly, and your “fun” channel can live completely separate from the rest of your work channels. Some companies have a channel where people can just shoot the breeze, while others create channels solely for cute cat videos and GIFs.

Further, on a less work-minded note, Slack is great for building communities around a product, service, profession, or hobby. You can probably find a Slack chatroom for your profession, for example. And if there isn’t a chatroom to your liking, you can easily set it up and start promoting it as a place for like-minded folks to meet and keep in touch.

The alternatives

As chat apps are common for both work and personal use, Slack is not without its competitors and predecessors. The basic idea for Slack came from IRC clients of old, and many of those clients, such as mIRC, are still in use by individuals and companies. Next are the more direct competitors, like HipChat and Good Connect, that provide a more serious and business-minded approach to work chat. These are usually more expensive but more robust for enterprise-level chat needs. Other, open source versions of Slack’s featureset exist in the form of Rocket.Chat and MatterMost. They typically lack Slack’s integrations but otherwise function great for their primary purpose of communicating with your team.

Slack is best when used among small and mid-sized teams, but its usefulness breaks down as the team structure gets more complex. It’s not well-optimized for larger companies, and while it can be adapted, better options often exist for big groups. And Slack’s integrations with other products are terrific when used properly, but an overload of information flowing into various channels can make it more of a distraction than a useful service. Sometimes, all you need is chat, and Slack’s a good, but not always the best, option.

How to set it up

One of Slack’s advantages is its quick and painless setup and its limited free offering. If you’re a manager of a team, you can just go ahead and start setting it up immediately. If you’re an employee who thinks that Slack can be a great idea for your team, you can either take it to your manager and pitch it first, or you can take initiative and set something up so that you can easily demonstrate it. Either way, a free version that has a limited number of integrations, limited chat history, and fewer features.

To get started, head to the Slack landing page (or explore your alternatives like Rocket.Chat, HipChat, or mIRC) and click on “Create a new team” to get started. Sign up with your email address, follow the instructions to create your team and Slack URL, make yourself a username, and you’re in! From here, you’ll be able to invite teammates via email address, or you can go in and set things up first. Create channels for different groups within your team, connect the apps you use to track various metrics for your team, and set descriptions for each channel so everyone you invite knows what they’re used for.

Finally, invite your team, assign them to the right groups, and get started. If you’re the manager of the group, you’ve just set up a great way for everyone to keep in touch and up to date on the latest coming out of the team.

If you’re an employee, use it with a select group of colleagues for a while so that you have a great example of how it can work and help you stay productive. That way when you head to your manager with the request to expand its use or to invest in the premium subscription version, you’ll have clear evidence for how impactful it has been in your job performance.

Should you use it

At the end of the day, the big question is whether you and your team should give Slack or one of its competitors a try. The answer really depends on your business, your objectives, and the level of communication you already have among your team. Are you a coffee shop team in constant communication and always on your feet? You probably don’t need Slack. Are you working remotely and need to be in touch quickly and easily? Slack’s probably a good idea. Figure out where you and your team land on that scale when deciding whether to set up a Slack for yourselves.

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