How Slack changed the way we do business

Following on from my recent post on how open offices can encourage collaboration - I thought we’d take a look at other less annoying ways to get your team working together. You know - some proper, 21st century collaboration. The kind of collaboration that’s been missing from the world since Led Zeppelin split up. Starsky and Hutch-esque teamwork.I’m talking about the cross-platform, messaging and file-sharing software Slack. A true miracle for business.I’d be surprised if your business hasn't already heard about Slack. The software (free to use, by the way) has taken the business world by storm. After launching in 2013, Slack have 3 million daily users, 77% of the Fortune 100 are now their clients, and they're raising a new round of funding that could take their worth up to $4 Billion USD. After just three years, this saccharine little messaging app has a price tag twice the size of the GDP of The Central African Republic.How could this be? What has made Slack so successful? And why am I bothering to write about it when I’m obviously so insanely jealous?Before Slack there was HipChat. Before HipChat there was Skype. Before Skype there was MSN. Slack is hardly a disruption. It’s a messenger app; it gets messages from one place to another. It’s about as innovative as shouting.So what makes Slack so good? How has it possibly found such profound success? Why is Slack suddenly every businesses' new super weapon?Perhaps it’s just timing? Now that real estate is more expensive than ever before, plenty of companies are embracing remote working. Of course, if your employees are working from home (or in some cases, separate corners of the globe) you’re going to need a good platform to keep them connected.Or maybe it’s Slack’s marketing? It helps that one of their main investors, Andreeseen Horowitz, are able to generate a metric ton of daily PR for the company and keep them in the public eye. Not to mention their ‘whack’ Zootopia marketing campaign.More likely though, is that their product is (admittedly) top-notch. A few reasons:

  • It’s several billion orders of magnitude better than email. Email was created, and remains, as an electronic replacement to a physical, paper letter. The problem with letters though, is that they pile up, are largely unnecessary and easily lost. Slack’s main marketing message is that it’s an ‘email killer’. While it doesn’t necessarily kill all emails, it certainly does a damn fine job of removing the need for any internally.
  • Slack put a huge amount of time and effort into ensuring their software offers the best user experience. The app is incredibly easy to use - and, if I might add, has a damn sexy interface.
  • Slack focus less on adding endless features, and more on adding sleek integrations. Their API is comprehensive and open for anyone to make use of. This keeps Slack from becoming overly complicated (ergo actively going against reason #1), and allows people to tailor make their Slack experience by connecting with other software they already use.
  • Slack make great use of both private, direct messages and channels. Channels enable users to come together to work together on a project, and compartmentalise messages on a given topic for ease of use. What’s more - old messages are easy to find with Slack’s search functionality.
  • Slack makes use of ‘chatbots’ - programs designed to simulate conversation - to automate a ton of tasks. For example, the app comes equipped with ‘Slackbot’, who you can ask, among other things, to set reminders for yourself or others in your team. Other bots we’ve tried out include ‘Statsbot’, which bridges the gap between Google Analytics and Slack to allow us to simply ask for our website data. “Statsbot - pageviews yesterday” I ask. Seconds later I have all the metrics - replete with graphs - without even having to open my browser. Robots are already here, ladies and gentlemen.
  • Slack is completely cross-platform. You can use it over your browser, install it on your computer (whatever operating system you use) or download the app for your phone. Slack keeps you connected with your team no matter where you are.
  • Slack has tons of emojis. People love emojis. In this bleak, tech powered future, they make us feel young again.

So without further ado, let’s have a look at how Slack has changed the way we operate at Rex.

Slack for business

Slack takes on many roles at Rex. It’s our messenger, watercooler, meeting room, bulletin board and filing cabinet. It simplifies workflows, helps us work from out of the office when we need to and helps us share industry news or other interesting articles. Basically, Slack’s greatest advantage is that it’s everything in one place. In fact, we love Slack so much, that at the time of writing, we’ve sent a total of 559 thousand messages since moving from HipChat in April last year.Slack as a bulletin board'#general' is our all-office channel for important notifications and announcements. Rather than having to fill everyone’s inbox up with ‘all staff’ email threads and their inevitable ‘reply all’ responses (heaven help me), we use #general as our office bulletin-board.Slack as a watercoolerTo save #general from a constant barrage of cat .gifs and smack-talk, we have another all-office channel for less-than important notifications and announcements. '#random' works as our office water-cooler. It’s a broad-spectrum channel where we can share articles, discuss the goings-on of the industry and generally post things that we think might interest others in the company. Like .gifs of cats.Slack as a messengerDirect messages in Slack save us time and interruption. If we need someone’s help with something, there’s no need to worry about interrupting them in the middle of something important. I can send a message to whoever, safe in the knowledge that they’ll check it when they have time and I’m not breaking their concentration.It’s also nice to have a written record of things. Getting feedback on a piece of work is particularly great over Slack - it’s a written record of what needs to be done and saves you from having to A) frantically scribble notes with a pen, or B) sheepishly ask people to repeat themselves later on down the road when you inevitably forget what they said.Slack as a communal filing cabinetWe have quite a few staff members now, so we’ve decided to pay for Slack’s premium version in order to keep our full message database. And let me tell you; we’re glad we did. One of Slack’s better features is their search functionality – allowing us to quickly and easily locate messages and files that may have been sent months ago.Each department obviously has to record and share different stuff. Operations use a Slack channel to record payment authorisations, and this has become a powerful resource to keep track of them. Developers use Slack (among other tools) to share their commits (code added to the Rex system). This makes it easy to see what’s been added to the code base recently, and by whom. Design and UX use Slack to share wireframes and mock-ups quickly and easily, which also helps heads of department look over their process. I use Slack a lot for drafts, and even record notes and files in my own personal channel.Remote working with Slack as mission control One of the best things about Slack is how easy it is to stay connected with the whole team, no matter where you are. It's a cloud based messenger, after all. Remote working is thus far more manageable. The CEO, for instance, spends quite a lot of time out-of-office, and Slack makes it easy for him to keep a finger on the pulse of the company even when he’s meeting up with clients in another state or country.As real estate agents, you should find Slack to be an incredibly useful tool for just this reason. Slack’s available on iOS and Android. Why not use it to stay up to date when you‘re out in the field? Deadline reminders, agency announcements, price updates and under-contract notifications are just a few examples of things you wouldn’t want to risk missing out on. HQ can be sure to post these to the appropriate channel where everyone who needs to is sure to see them – either as an alert on their computer or as a push notification on their mobile.Activity streams Because Slack compartmentalizes all the messages on a single project or topic, channels are great activity streams that you can use to keep track of what’s going on in a department, project or team.We have a few channels for just this purpose. There’s one for payment authorisation; we can see all the bills we’ve accumulated over the week before they’re paid. There’s one for sales; all new sales are recorded in one place so the whole company can see how we’re doing. There’s one for client operations: anyone from sales, support, accounts, or any other department that corresponds regularly with clients can post anything out of the ordinary that’s going on.We have a very transparent culture at Rex, and these channels (and more) act as huge aquifers of information that can be tapped into at any time with the search functionality - or simply used as internal newsfeeds to be scrolled through whenever we want a quick update on what’s going on.Consolidated activity streams are one hundred times better than a thousand emails all vying for attention in a hot mess of an inbox, trust me.IntegrationsWe’ve put a tremendous amount of effort into building Rex as openly as possible to allow for integrations with other products - and boy do we love seeing others doing the same.As I already mentioned, Slack is packed with integrations - and we make good use of them. It integrates with a ton of the software we use. A few more notable examples:

  • Zendesk. Our support team use Zendesk to manage their correspondence with clients. Our Slack integration with the software pushes all the emails we receive into one channel, so development, support and client operations teams all have ready access to them.
  • Jira. Jira is our bug tracking software. If we find a bug in Rex, anyone can log it as a ticket in Jira to ensure the developers are notified. These are all pushed straight into a Jira channel, so support and development are all across the status of every one.
  • Asana. Most everyone at Rex uses Asana to keep track of, and prioritise, the work they have on at any given time. It’s a ‘to-do’ list on steroids.

Handy hints

If you’ve gotten this far, you’re probably pretty interested in trialing Slack in your own agency or business. I can’t say I blame you – there’s a free version after all. But, like all messenger apps, you need to set guidelines to make sure it doesn’t descend into yet another distraction rather than a productivity enhancer.Here are a few tips to maximise Slack’s efficiency in any team:

  • Administer some common sense when sending out notifications to large groups of people. If you have a question for one person, send it to them directly. There’s no need to alert a whole channel.
  • Keep after-hours messages to a minimum. Slack is most effective on mobile if the push notifications are on – you don’t want to badger your co-workers into turning them off by sending out too many messages late at night (although the new ‘Do Not Disturb’ mode makes this far less of a problem than it used to be).
  • Try not to open too many channels. The more channels, the harder it is to decide where a message should be sent. You don’t want to bug the wrong team.
  • Make the most out of the integrations. Slack’s integrations really are what put it a head and shoulders above the competition – and there’s A LOT of them. I mean honestly, take a look at this list.  If you’re going ahead with Slack, you’re no doubt already using some of the other software they integrate with. Connect the two.
  • Make private groups private. You do have the option to have groups that are accessible by invite only. If you want a channel for confidential correspondence or records, making it private really goes without saying.
  • Tailor your notifications by channel. Obviously some channels are going to be more important than others, so Slack allows you to take full control over the notifications you receive on both mobile and desktop separately. Going on holidays? Turn all your mobile notifications off. Getting distracted by a channel that you don’t really need to be keeping tabs on? Mute it. Don’t want to miss a thing on an important project or sale? Get a push notification for every post.
  • Choose which channels you join wisely. At first, your inevitable love affair with Slack might make you want to join as many channels as possible – if one is good, fifty must be better, right? Let me tell you from personal experience, the constant barrage of notifications is going to grow old pretty quickly. Enjoy Slack responsibly.

Note: This is not a paid promotion (unfortunately). I’m only writing about Slack because plenty of Rexperts could surely use it to their advantage.In saying that, if you are from Slack and you want to give me some money or a muffin basket or something, I wouldn’t say no.UP NEXT: Using Slack in a real estate agency.

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