Slack, a Digital Open Office

I was first introduced to Slack during my internship this past summer at a very small startup that used Gmail as their email client of choice; an already significant step-up from my previous Outlook experiences.  A few weeks into the summer, during our weekly team call, one of our founders mentioned that a number of his Remote Year colleagues have been using Slack to stay in touch with their coworkers based in far-flung places around the world.  We decided to give it a try and make a concerted effort to use Slack for our interoffice communications for a week.  With our headquarters in New York, a few team members in San Francisco, and our founder working in a new city every month, it seemed like we could benefit greatly.

After two days of playfully chiding each other that this email or that Google chat message should be redirected to Slack, we were all fully hooked and couldn’t imagine going back.  It quickly became apparent why Slack has taken off as quickly as it has across a host of industries reaching (as of June, 2015) 1.1M active users with nearly 30% of those contributing to their $25M annual recurring revenue since its launch in 2013.  Their latest $160M funding round in April brought their valuation to a soaring $2.8B.  Of the many reasons why Slack is quickly gaining ground on traditional email and winning against other office communication tools, three stand out as key.

First, Slack is exceedingly company-friendly and easy to trial.  In just a few minutes, you can set up a free account for yourself and an unlimited number of coworkers.  If you like what you see, you can upgrade for $8/month per user to get robust search functionality and access to a panoply of integrations.  For a total of $15/month per user, your support and uptime guarantees are increased.  Additionally, unlike Salesforce and many other SaaS offerings, you only pay for active users, so you no longer have unused licenses burning cash while collecting dust.

Second, Slack is quickly establishing itself as a nexus for managing productivity tools across the organization.  With over 80 established app connections available at the click of an “Add to Slack” button, users can funnel notifications and data from a host of tools across departments into the single, easy-to-use, Slack environment.  Managing your storage, development, support, marketing, and numerous other functions from a single app makes Slack exceedingly useful and sticky.

Finally, and most importantly, Slack truly enhances the free and easy flow of communication across an organization of any size or type.  It’s so easy to lose track of important information in the overwhelming flood of unnecessary and/or meandering threads that leave us desensitized to notifications and buried in unread emails.  The powerful search capabilities in Slack allow you to quickly find the pertinent information you’re looking for.  Additionally, the ability to easily create, subscribe to, and opt-out from channels or topics allows you to self-select what you spend your time on and stay informed where your attention is needed.  Furthermore, having a free-flow of information within a company allows for greater communication across the organization and helps level the playing-field for employees working remotely.

The ability to pop in and out of office conversations gives you the benefits everyone looked for in an open office floor plan without the added joy of overhearing every phone call on your floor or smelling your cube-mate’s lunch.  While Slack may not be the immediate end of email people have been forecasting for years, if we can get a few more walls and a few less decibels around the office, I’ll call it a big win.

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5 thoughts on “Slack, a Digital Open Office

  1. It’s funny that after using Slack, I’ve been wanting tagging capabilities in every single one of my other messaging apps. I think the utilization of “tags” really makes Slack so useful. It’s one of those things you didn’t know you needed until you used it; can’t be unseen. That being said, do you think that Slack has the capability to knock out the typically assigned “work email?” Because in its current capacity, email is fragmented communication, whereas Slack becomes a hub of communication…Thoughts?

    1. I definitely think, for interoffice communication, Slack can easily take over 95% of traditional email communication and relatively easily consume the rest. Aside from forwarding a few emails from external partners and customers that we could have channeled through Slack with an extra few clicks, all messaging and email within the office dropped off completely (to my knowledge) after a few days of introducing Slack. The only other email I sent to the team for the rest of the summer was my “thanks and keep in touch” email on my last day, and I sent that from my personal email.

  2. Slack is awesome. It’s a favorite amongst tech startups, but especially in the software development community. They’ve exploded on the scene. Their acquisition of ScreenHero is also pretty important. Both of those applications are open on my computer at all times!

  3. I had a similar experience as you at the company I interned at this summer. After switching to Slack (from Hipchat, actually, which we didn’t effectively use), I noticed the email volume going down and that I could aggressively manage the email volume down even further. I wonder if this means that if the companies that make the dominant email products (Microsoft Exchange, Gmail) will become “losers” if they don’t actively compete, either by improving their current “chat” products (Office Communicator, Google Chat/Hangouts) or creating something new.

  4. Thanks for this post! I had never heard of Slack, and looked into it after reading this. I’d have to try it out to know for sure, but the way you describe it, it sounds like it would be an amazing solution. I’ve always been incredibly frustrated by the relative difficult of organizing and searching in Outlook (it’s gotten a bit better over time, but still not great), and office chat solutions in large firms (like Lync) are okay but not well-integrated with the rest of one’s communication.

    I do wonder, though, whether less tech-savvy, more traditional and larger workplaces are ready for something like Slack. Specifically, would it require a different mindset and culture of communication — more flexible, perhaps less formal, etc? Also, it sounds like a great tool within the office, but I’d be curious to see how easy it is to integrate external clients, partners or customers, or whether it would still be necessary to rely on more traditional email. In any case, I’m sure that existing workplace communication solutions will have to start working on integrating different communication capabilities (email, teleconference, chat, scheduling, document sharing and editing, etc) more effectively as people come to expect one-stop solutions.

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