Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past year, you’ve probably heard of the meteoric growth of Slack: a killer new messaging tool. Slack is not just a cool, gimmicky thing that everyone has to try out. Personally, it’s one of my favorite tools of all time, and I’m a tough judge. Even though I’m a technology person, I am not seduced by shiny new gadgets; I only adopt new tools if they help me.
When you describe Slack, it’s difficult to make it sound differentiated from Skype or other communication tools. So let me frame it this way: it eliminated 75% of my need for email.
Email is the bane of my existence. More accurately, email was the bane of my existence now that I have Slack. Post-Slack, email is now merely a minor irritant, used exclusively for external communication.
Slack allows you to instant message other people in your organization. This sounds like nothing new, but it’s different than Skype because all of your conversations are quickly accessible, searchable, and well-organized. Everything that goes into Slack is archived, and retrieval at a later time is very easy.
Slack also has a very robust file sharing feature, which is why it puts email out of business for internal communication. It gets rid of the need for attachments back and forth. Once you send a coworker a file, you don’t have to ever upload the document again. You simply “share” it with another person. This tiny little feature is actually quite a powerful interaction which needs to be experienced. Searching for documents is also piece of cake.
Slack also integrates with a lot of tools that we use on a regular basis, especially videoconferencing tools like Appear.in or GoToMeeting. A lot of times, we’ll type messages back and forth and then initiate a video call when we need to sort something out face to face.
Channels are where Slack really starts differentiating from Skype. Any user can set up a channel and invite any of the users to it. It’s like a group chat, with a long life expectancy for specific work issues.
In a law firm context, you could easily create a unique channel for each matter and invite the right employees to that channel. You can get notified on your desktop or your smartphone when someone updates the channel. You also might have special projects you’re working on, like a marketing initiative or CLE. Setting up unique channels for these is very useful.
We have two company-wide channels, one for important team announcements, and another called “random” where people post all sorts of, well, random things. It’s become a hangout of sorts. A big part of our company culture are some of the now-legendary conversations that took place on #random.
Channels can be public, meaning anyone can join, or private, subject to invitation only by the owner.
This may sound superficial, but Slack’s ability to effortlessly incorporate emojis into a message (or to react to a message with emojis) is a big deal. You can’t see a smile over text, so these little icons go a long way towards lightening the conversation and communicating intent.
Perhaps Slack’s success is due to the effortless and engaging user experience. It is fun and easy to use. Every interaction, from uploading a file to upvoting a reaction, is well thought-out and conducive to immediate adoption. It is a very simple tool to roll-out company wide.
Slack works in a web-browser, desktop application, or smartphone application. Users have tight control over the actions for which they can be notified, making Slack as invasive or passive as they’d like.
The one thing to keep in mind is that Slack is organization-centric. You cannot invite anyone on the system if you do not want them to talk to others or view public channels. Therefore, it is not a cross-organizational tool. You cannot share your files with clients, for example. For that, you are still better off with Sharefile, Box, or a legal software with a client portal like Rocket Matter.