Not that long ago, if someone had told me to image a work environment where you communicate with your colleagues via Twitter, where email has disappeared, and you drag collaborative project steps around a virtual white-board, I would have you said you were mad. If you had also said these business tools were free, I would have just stopped listening.
However, it’s true. This is the way one portion of my work life runs, and that’s inspired me to blog about a couple free tools that could help you work more efficiently with your colleagues. I’m talking about an app called “Slack” which has been a buzz in the starup tech world and is now breaking out into the rest of the world. I’ve become such a fan of Slack, I’d even call myself a slacktivist.
To tell you what it is, let me tell you how I started using it. When I’,m not consulting for my own firm Productle, I put my time in a social enterprise I’ve co-ounded. My cofounder at social enterprise HearToday.org, last February sent me an email. The team at that point had four of us working in three locations plus time working from home. We had practically no funding and needed something to stay in touch with each and the different strands of our product – especially with some folks prone to late night work and some of us working part-time. We tried Slack, with one sentence as the only guidance for signing up:
What you might expect me to say at this point is “ and we never turned back, it was amazing” blah blah blah. But no – the answer was that I had cognitive load. Cognitive load is the phenomena where you just have enough going on in your head that you don’t want to add another in. So I kept using email. Months passed, I was given a prod and gave Slack a go. From then I never turned back, and it’s now my favoured method for communicating with my colleagues.
So what is it? Here’s how the lead designer Andrew Wilkinson described it:
“Slack acts like your wise-cracking robot sidekick, instead of the boring enterprise chat tool it would otherwise be.”
Slack is a free instant messaging tool (think Facebook messenger, Google chat, Skype for business) that you use with the team. Basically, instead of emailing you use Slack instead. Attached images appear within the conversation, along with documents and weblinks. However, instead of the folder structures you get in emails, you use hashtags called “channels”. So, an email chain in a Corporate Fundraising team about cleaning up Constituent Codes can be tagged with “Data Clean-up”, “Corporate Team” and “Constituent Codes”. If I need to come back to the chat for any one of these topics, I don’t need to scour my inbox, folders, sent-items. Instead I search by channel. Or search by a bit of text and use the channel or associated image to help me find that text. If I want to add someone to the conversation, I just add their name to it. That person then gets inserted to the chat AND has the history so far to help get them up to speed.
The net impact is that a huge volume of email clutter is removed, and automatically organised as nice, visual messages.
If you manage a fundraising database, you might use these channels for example:
· #REHelp – whenever a conversation about RE suddenly needs some input from an RE expert, then just add this channel. The database manager gets pinged a notification on their phone and can chip in straightaway without a background email having to be written up. (Did I mention that Slack works on Macs, PCs, and various mobile devices)
· #DatabaseFeatures – the database experts can post blogs about the system which other users can subscribe to for more information.
· #Updates – for warning users about the system being down and new features.
· #Imports – just for the (big) chat about the finer details of import. It then becomes a nice reference source for tracking back on the finer details. You might even save favourite import headers here, to be able to grab them easily.
Of course, use isn’t limited to technical stuff. If you work with events, your Slack channels might include the events by name, as well as topics that cut across them such as #FindingVenues, #EventVendors or #RiskAssessment.
As an application, Slack is always changing – exciting, vibrant. It’s got pictures of your colleagues. I think it makes it fun to use work email! Further reading on the cute design of Slack is recommended if you make applications at all. There are lots of articles about helping you get the most out of it: Here’s some for you.
There’s lots happening about automation and Slack to keep an eye on too. This article describes a system to get Slack to ask project team members for daily project updates. I think thisis wherer Slack can get really powerful – for instance by asking people doing data entry for you how they are getting on or what their Batch totals currently are, allowing multiple people to monitor this. I’ve seen software for consultants to log their time via Slack – maybe someone will build something for volunteering time too?
And we also like that it’s FREE! You do have to pay if you have more than 10,000 messages, but that is normally enough for a small team. There are a number of other collaboration tools – starting from free – and I’ll talk about some of these, such as Trello and Basecamp, in future blogs.
So, you can see I’m a Slacktivist. I’ll hold off on describing more for now and sign-off with this question. Would you use Slack to discuss donors? The argument against is that donor data should be accessible for them to request should they do so. The argument for is that we share donor information (decisions, plans) on email all the time. Ifyou use a web-based fundraising system, an option is to paste the URL for the donor into a channel instead of their name, but that feels cumbersome. Where do you stand? And would you use Slack at all?