Chances are you’ve been living under a rock—or at least Donald Trump’s hair—if you’ve not heard of Slack.
A quick refresher: Slack is a collaboration platform that is the brainchild of CEO Stewart Butterfield, who helped create Flickr back in the day. Butterfield and his colleagues—Eric Costello, Cal Henderson and Serguei Mourachov—had originally set out to design a web-based game called Glitch. To expedite their workflow, they built a simple and powerful chat mechanism. Glitch eventually went the way of the dodo bird, and the four entrepreneurs subsequently realized they wouldn’t be able to work as effectively without said chat mechanism.
Lo, Slack was born.
Since its emergence from beta in February 2014, Slack has continued to make headlines as both user adoption and market valuation climb at impressive rates. Most recently, it was reported that the web-based collaboration tool attracts upwards of 750,000 users a day—which is part of the reason Slack achieved a whopping $2.8 billion valuation earlier this year.
The other part is pretty straightforward: Slack is an awesome tool, and professionals across all verticals are putting it to use. Already, folks from HBO, the New York Times and even NASA have used the service to streamline communications and transform their day-to-day operations.
But perhaps what’s most interesting about Slack is the fact that, according to Butterfield, there isn’t a team on the planet that uses Slack more than the San Francisco-based company itself does.
“It’s interesting: I was talking to a couple of people who formerly worked at Twitter last night at dinner. And they were talking about how little, ultimately, the people who work at Twitter overlap with Twitter’s most ardent users: 17-year-olds in Philadelphia who tweet 15,000 a week,” Butterfield said in a recent interview. On the other hand, those who work to build and improve Slack are constantly immersed in the platform themselves, so they can relate completely to the end-user community they serve.
Still, Slack is just a digital communication tool. As such, it lacks the ability to completely displace face-to-face conversations altogether (at the very least, not everyone is an expert at conveying the true intents of their thoughts via the written word). With that in mind, let’s take a look at five instances where it makes a heck of a lot of sense to use Slack:
1. You need answers quickly.
Got a quick question? Shoot your team members a quick message in a message, channel or private group discussion. They’ll be able to answer quickly from any connected device—no matter where they happen to be. Slack allows you to collaborate synchronously.
2. You don’t need answers quickly.
Need to ask a colleague a question but finding it difficult to track that person down? Use Slack to send him or her a message. If your colleague is online, he or she will be able to respond immediately. If that person is traveling or otherwise disconnected, he or she will get back to you the moment they can. Slack allows you to collaborate asynchronously.
3. The subject matter is pretty straightforward.
Remember, not everyone can write with the clarity of Hemingway. If you’ve got to discuss something that’s a bit esoteric or heady, you might want to consider leaving the digital world behind for a moment and instead communicate the old-fashioned way. Lots can get lost in translation when you communicate via text over the web, so save the more complex discussions for in-person get-togethers.
4. You have a great idea and want feedback from the whole team.
Eureka! Did you just come up with the next best thing since sliced bread? If so, chances are you’ll want to share your fantastic idea with your coworkers. Not a problem! Slack was built for such things. Head over to the relevant channel and wait for your colleagues to start chiming in at their earliest convenience.
5. You want to share useful information.
Stumble across some new market research? Want to share details of the upcoming company happy hour? Find a mesmerizing cat .gif that you absolutely have to show everyone? You can use Slack to share all of those things, too. In fact, teams may want to designate channels that are dedicated to sharing both interesting work-related factoids and non-work-related items. Everyone’s human, after all.
That Said, Slack Won’t Solve All Your Communication Problems
It bears repeating: You are a human being, not an aggregation of data points. When we communicate digitally via the written word, a lot of what makes us human—inflection, intonation, gesticulation, etc.—gets lost in translation.
So while Slack may certainly help your team refine many of its daily processes, by no means will it altogether displace the Holy Grail of communication: face-to-face conversations. Be sure to manage your usage of Slack or any comparable service. Never forget some conversations are much too important to take place the digital world.
Remember, there’s no shortage of collaboration platforms out there. Slack works wonders for many teams, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it will definitely work wonders for yours.
But if you do find yourself using Slack in the near future, make sure to remind yourself that you’re a not a machine. You don’t want to get sucked up in the digital world forever. Good news: Slack helps you “be less busy”—the company’s motto—so if you play your cards right, you may find yourself having more time away from your devices after all.