A few months ago, our brilliant provost introduced the Slack communication app to our instructional design team. It has revolutionized the way we work, increasing our productivity in a fast, clean format. As part of a team of remote workers that spans from the Pacific Northwest to the East Coast with a couple of stops in between, I certainly appreciated being able to communicate online, but it always felt like work before Slack. We tried Apple’s Messages, but we couldn’t reliably share items 100% of the time. So, we switched to Google Hangouts. Although we use Google on a daily basis for parts of our projects, we found similar issues as in Messages and couldn’t easily communicate as a team. It also required us to either use our personal emails or create an additional one for work purposes, which got confusing when working with SMEs and other faculty members. Finally, we began using Slack and have been dedicated Slackers ever since. Here’s why.
Clean, Organized Layout
When our team used Google chat for communicating, it was another piece to manage in that so many conversation windows had to be open. Slack alleviates this by listing all contacts in a sidebar. At just a glance, you can see who is available and if there are messages you’ve not yet seen. Much like the notification bubble in many Apple apps, a small red circle either shows the number of unread messages or a dot to signify unread messages in a group message area. Your current conversation is highlighted with a teal stripe, and switching conversations is as easy as clicking on the name. You can even customize the look of the sidebar and background if you so desire.
Varied Messaging Areas
Again, being a remote worker, Slack helps me feel less isolated. With the variety of messaging options, I can virtually ask my “cubemate” a question, chat with the whole team, or communicate with SMEs one-on-one or as a group. We primarily use the messaging features in three different ways:
- Direct messages
These are the one-on-one conversations. Works like your typical messaging app. Perfect for checking in with your SME or asking your colleague how they troubleshooted an issue.
- Private groups
This is a feature our team uses constantly. We make 50-75% of our decisions through chats in our private design team group. We share items here (see below for more on sharing) and discuss team-level components. We even have a separate group sharing area for fun stuff like new music or goofy pics. This would also be useful for any type of group communication, and you could potentially have groups for each of your various types of contacts (faculty, graphic designers, SMEs, financial team, etc.) if that was fitting to your needs.
Another feature that we occasionally use are channels. These are tagged sections that communicate to ALL members who are a part of the discussion area. For example, if you wanted to notify everyone of an important change of general procedures or that you’ll be sipping cocktails seaside for the next week and will be offline. Our team is relatively small, but I could see this being useful for larger teams or groups.
Our team always had issues getting various media to upload correctly in other apps, and sometimes uploading wasn’t a choice based on the medium. Slack allows you to drag and drop virtually anything. Our team shares everything from links to Google spreadsheets or notable articles, to Word/Excel documents and code (yes, there’s a special reader just for code that doesn’t get all messed up in the process).
Sharing images/videos are even more rewarding as they load right in the app window; no need to open extra windows or download images. This also helps by not clogging our inboxes, which only hold so many messages until they are deleted. The free version of Slack archives 10,000 messages while the paid version archives an unlimited amount of messages.
Searchable message archive
This is a huge part of what separates Slack from the other apps we tried. You can search for keywords throughout the archive of ALL of your contacts. The findings are displayed nicely in a sidebar with a snippet of the conversation for each returned instance. In other apps, I sometimes felt like my eyes would be stuck scrolling forever like a slot machine when I was looking for just one small detail! It also searches throughout your individual conversations so you don’t have to open each one to find what you’re looking for.
Searchable file archive
Slack has a no-nonsense way to archive files. You can search all files uploaded by your team or just the ones you uploaded yourself. No more searching all over the place for that doc your SME wanted you to use – was it in your email, or Google Docs, or Dropbox, or Basecamp, or did you download it and put it in the wrong folder? Of course you can still link to the files in Dropbox, for example, but it also creates a quick download within Slack. As mentioned before, it’s easily searchable in the search bar.
Slack has an amazingly long list of integrations that work within the app. You can even make your own! My team only uses Google for now, but this could be really useful for developers, especially for Ruby coders and those that use project management apps.
Obviously, Slack will not be the perfect solution in all situations. However, it has made a significant positive change in the way our instructional design team works.
Liz is an instructional designer for an online college. Feel free to contact her with any questions via LinkedIn.