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Slack: More Than Just A Chat App

Slack is quickly becoming a vital tool in the toolbelt of every work-from-home employee in the world. Just like Zoom, Slack is seeing tremendous adoption by knowledge workers forced to stay home, who still need to communicate with their colleagues and clients.

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In fact, Slack’s recent growth has been so remarkable that Slack’s CEO Stewart Butterfield sent out a tweetstorm highlighting the added stress that Slack’s network (and company) has been under in just the last few weeks. In short, Slack:

  • Set a record for simultaneously connected users (12.5 million at once)
  • Saw rapid growth in returning teams (Up 120% last week in Italy)
  • Saw large enterprises rushing to close wall-to-wall integration deals
  • Saw small businesses joining and paying for Slack at unprecedented rates

All of this, amid the global Coronavirus chaos that will surely cause the closure of many businesses - some of whom are existing Slack customers. But despite the massive market disruption, Slack customers need Slack more than ever right now.

Zoom customers probably feel the exact same way, but the two products serve different markets. Slack is primarily an asynchronous platform, a fundamentally different tool for a different use case than Zoom. Like email or Yac, Slack’s platform is a knowledge hub that allows team members to check on messages and updates whenever they get a moment.

But that’s not all Slack is useful for. Beyond the asynchronous distinction mentioned above, Slack’s platform still gets misinterpreted. New users typically refer to Slack as a “chat app” or “an email replacement”, because there’s no perfect analogy for what Slack actually is.

But here’s one that might help explain the purpose of Slack’s platform better.

Think of Slack as a lever.

It focuses energy, and amplifies it in a particular direction. The primary purpose of the platform is to improve productivity and make other software more useful.

Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield explained this idea well when he said:

“Our emphasis has been really broadly on interoperability because we would like to be the 2% of your software budget that's a multiplier on the value of the other 98%.”

In this way, Slack is more about helping teams focus by connecting all their fragmented work that exists online, and storing it in easy-to-reach places when and where team members need access. By cutting out friction, teams can spend less time searching for documents and keeping others up to date, and more time actually doing work.

Another way to think of Slack is as a single location for all communication and knowledge. No kidding, that’s what the acronym ‘Slack’ actually means.

S(ingle) L(ocation) (for) A(ll) C(ommunication) and K(nowledge).

Slack Integrations

By embracing the idea of a ‘central hub’ and by focusing on interoperability, Slack has built integrations with thousands of popular plug-ins and apps that workers use every day.

Today, there are Slack apps for almost everything you might do during a workday. Calendar integrations, design tools, and analytics bots represent just the tip of the ‘Slack Integration’ iceberg.

And what this means, is that if you use software during work, Slack can help make your job of sharing and communicating with colleagues more effective. You can quickly plug in to all the tools you already use, and share that information with colleagues within the Slack app.

Beyond Slack’s fast-growing directory of app integrations, Slack offers a few other tools that create leverage for organizations and their productivity.

Slack Video and Voice Chat

Slack’s voice and video chatting features allow for either an asynchronous or synchronous chatting experience. From within a ‘direct message’ channel, Slack users can call each other with or without video, just like a regular phone or video call.

Zoom offers similar features in their app, but since Slack’s voice and video calls exist within the app that contains all an organization’s documents, live call participants are only one click away from accessing documents they might need. No more fumbling through different tabs and windows to find lost documents while on live calls.

But in addition to synchronous calls and video chats, Slack’s library of third-party plugins also allows workers to send asynchronous voice and video messages. Tools like Recordfy and Standuply allow Slack users to share voice updates that seamlessly appear in Slack timelines just like a text message would.

This means workers can get all the context and subtle cues that live meetings and discussions offer, without needing to schedule time for a live meeting that works for everyone. Once again, all of this is posted to Slack’s searchable and archived timeline.

In fact, Recordfy even offers an option for text-to-speech transcription that makes the text versions of voice messages appear directly beneath those audio or video files.

The advantage with this approach is that talking is a faster way to communicate than writing, and reading is a much faster way to absorb ideas than listening.

Slack Workflow Builder

One of Slack’s other unique features that separates the app from competitors like Microsoft Teams, is something called Workflow Builder.

This tool offers a quick and easy way for non-technical workers to create simple workflows and automate routine functions from within Slack. In most cases, zero coding knowledge is required.

For example, one simple workflow could be a daily reminder to share your status with your team. Instead of someone manually messaging an entire channel (or even worse, sending lots of messages to lots of individuals), Workflow Builder lets anyone set up cause-and-effect triggers that collect and organize these status updates.

Built with a simple trigger of “Every morning at 9:00am”, and a follow-up message of “What are you working on today?”, Slack can automatically prompt all workers to share the things they are working on in a given day. When responses are submitted, they get aggregated in a single thread for everyone to see at their own convenience.

With Workflow Builder, Slack gives non-technical workers the leverage to create useful tools that previously would need to be built by an engineering team.

Slack Is A Lever

Now, returning to the idea of Slack as a lever makes more sense. Slack leverages:

  • External software tools by integrating them into the app for easier sharing and collaboration
  • Synchronous and asynchronous video and voice chat to help workers collaborate and quickly share ideas without the need for typing
  • Workflow builder to help non-technical workers automate routine functions

So yes, Slack is more than just a chat app. It’s a lever for more focused, productive work.