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How we Work part 3:
Slacking… on?

How we Work is an ongoing series where we talk about the software and services we use every day to communicate, collaborate and generally get the job done. In this third instalment, we’ll take a look at Slack, an online space where everyone in the organization gets together to talk.

Slack-logoCommunicating around the office, across different offices and across continents can get a little challenging. So it is that we’re always on the look-out for tools that make things easier.

We’ve tried a bunch but recently, we’ve settled on Slack.

Settled on Slack doesn’t quite do it justice. We were really happy to find a secure IM and cross-team communication platform that just seems to get it. That’s flexible enough to bend effortlessly to how we work and so well thought out that it makes it look easy. That doesn’t require a lot of training for people to get started. Whose “rules” for use within the team can be created at a high level and / or that can evolve naturally.

Slack’s tagline is “be less busy.” We like that for its simplicity and its ambition.

At its core, Slack is a web and mobile app that lets teams communicate. It’s kind of an instant messenger client, but it goes beyond by being one-to-one, one-to-several and one-to-many. It’s also very flexible, allowing for integrations with a whole host of web apps that teams already use.

When sharing files in Slack (another strength of the platform), you have the option to send to an individual or to a group. Any comments added will be part of the file on Slack and said file can be searched for (and more importantly, found) at any time.

Teams divide up into their own channels to discuss the stuff that relates to said team. Channels each have their own purpose. Some have rules in place to preserve the original intent of the channel. For example, we have an #all-company channel that’s supposed to be used like an all company email list. Which is to say, sparingly and only when it’s something the whole company needs to hear.

Screenshot 2014-07-23 15.43.32We have over 30 of these channels that the company and various teams use. Some are work related, some are social and others are a place to discuss things that are tangentially work related. People join the channels that relate to them, whether personally or professionally.

The basic division we use for channels is this:

#brand

These channels are for discussion and sharing of things that directly relate to a specific brand. In #brand-ting, for example, we share release notes, planned improvements, any issues that the team needs to be aware of and so on.

#share

These channels are intended for sharing ideas, tips, tricks and things along those lines. For example, in #share-marketing, you’ll find everything from slide decks on why content marketing fails, (That should read why SOME content marketing fails, right? – Ed.) interesting examples of companies doing social media, PR, marketing or customer service right, insights into Google Analytics and the various other platforms we use every day.

You’ll also find stuff like this tongue in cheek ad of someone trying to sell a 1999 Holden Barina. Or at least, you would find those things if you worked here and subscribed to the channel.

Direct messaging

Screenshot 2014-07-23 15.37.48Channels cover the one-to-many aspect, direct messages deal with one-to-one. Pretty much everyone is logged in to Slack at all times. Previously, we were using a mix of Skype + Google Hangouts, iMessage and a host of other things to keep up with each other. Since we standardized on Slack, things have become a lot simpler. There’s something to be said for having pretty much anyone on the team available with just a couple of keystrokes.

#team

#team channels are a place for people working in a particular division to share and discuss the stuff that’s relevant to their work. It’s hard to categorize what gets posted in these channels as it’s all over the map. The #team-ting-cx (CX being customer experience, our new-agey way of saying customer support) would have everything from lunch schedules to questions to team troubleshooting to requests for some friendly advice on how to deal with a particular ticket, for example. The “rules” for these individual team channels are typically set by group consensus, with a few foundational things thrown in by the channel creator.

#topic

0036373653261_500X500#topic channels run the gamut. #topic-mobilenews (created by yours truly, #topic-winning), for example, is a place to share what’s going on in the industry at large, as well as Ting PR wins. Everything from Verizon’s cutting off free LTE for Chromebooks a year before they said they would to T-Mobile’s John Legere swearing a blue streak. #topic-reddit is, much like reddit itself, a mixed bag of interesting and fun stuff. It’s also where you’d go to learn that Ting is also the name of an anti-fungal foot spray.

Private groups

These are private spaces for the cliques that naturally form anytime you get a couple of hundred people together. More though, they’re a sort of IM space where multiple people can be in on a single chat.

Integrations

A big part of what makes Slack awesome is its integrations. Slack can work with Asana (which we talked about in the previous instalment of this series), Dropbox, Google Drive, Google Hangouts, Mailchimp and many others. There are integrations for everything from Pivotal tracking to on-call scheduling with Pager Duty, help desk integration with Zendesk (which we’ll talk about in a subsequent instalment of this series) and many, many more.

How these integrations, well, integrate with Slack varies. Dropbox integration, just for one example, treats a Dropbox link pasted into a channel or chat like a file attachment. Documents can be read, pictures viewed and videos and audio files can be played right in Slack.

Success in Slack

We’ve found success with Slack by creating logical spaces for people to share and communicate without being overly prescriptive about how these spaces are used. For the most part, it seems people self-censor to ensure that channels like #all-company don’t get overrun with a bunch of chatter. Teams seem to naturally create their own spaces in which to communicate and share, and shared spaces are generally pretty lively.

A lot of what happens in Slack requires actually being there. Everything is stored and archived and is accessible with a quick search. Still, the information passing through is quite transient. Searching typically requires knowing what you’re looking for; the beauty of Slack is in the fact that a bunch of people are sharing a bunch of stuff and having discussions along the way.

As Tucows and Ting continue to grow and change, Slack helps to foster corporate togetherness like no company picnic can.

We still have company picnics though.

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