I believe you’ve already hired all the right people, trained and motivated them to work wonders. Together with great ideas and a steady supply of coffee, it should produce good results. But the real team productivity is all about communication. It isn’t about communicating more, but smarter — so you can get work done faster. It’s all about cutting down on the noise so they (and you as well) can focus on the tasks at hand.
Collaboration tools like Slack and Hipchat give you a way to clear all the mess.
These apps were designed to replace old-fashioned communication tools such as e-mails and reduce meetings. Moreover, they allow you to keep everything related to project workflow in one place, easy to find, and easier to manage.
Of course, there are some challenges associated with the implementation of any team-or company-wide solution but the benefits are self-evident. Companies all over the world like Airbnb, Autodesk and Squarespace have already made their choice and jumped on board. So now it’s your turn to leave the Stone Age behind and join the chat app trend.
We at MindK have been using both apps for more than a year on numerous projects and in multiple departments. We use HipChat for the majority of our projects and for internal communications, while Slack is reserved to select projects with highly involved customers.
So let us share our insights on how you can use these tools to make your day-to-day communication rock.
Make Use of Integrations
Every day your engineers have to juggle between many different apps: Integrated Development Environments, tools for project and task management, continuous integration software, code repositories, bug trackers, chat apps and so on. They all have to divide their attention between a dozen processes and lose precious time as a result.
The main reason why we decided to try out these collaborative tools is the ability to integrate them with other useful apps. Both HipChat and Slack have extensive libraries of integrations. In fact, there is such a large number of them that it’s easy to get lost, especially if you don’t know what you’re looking for.
Using our experience at MindK we’ve singled out a number of integrations that are pretty much must haves for any development team (and a few that will be handy for everyone!).
When someone working on a project makes a pull request, the app automatically posts a notification in a room/channel dedicated to that specific project. After the code review, any comments/issues are also posted in the chat.
Jenkins (alternatives: Travis CI, TeamCity) is our continuous integration(CI)/continuous deployment tool of choice. CI helps our developers discover any issues early and quickly fix them. As a result, users get their software faster and we receive helpful feedback in return.
Jenkins automatically deploys any code that passes autotests onto the server. It does so at set intervals. The Hipchat integration allows every team member to see when a new build of the project is released (together with the build link). Same goes for Slack.
JIRA (alternatives: Assembla, Gemini) is our favorite multi-functional project management tool. The integration enables each team member to see that a particular task has been assigned or is ready even without going into Jira.
For instance, every time our QA engineer detect a bug and create an issue, the team gets a notification with its description, type, priority, status, and assignee.
The extensive customization in both Slack and Hipchat ensures that you’ll get only the notifications that matter.
Trello is a nifty little tool that can help you manage teams of any kind by making to-do lists with its task cards. Without the direct access to JIRA, our clients can use Trello integration in Slack to track the progress of their projects. Create cards, set deadlines, and give assignments to your teammates without leaving the chat.
Flow is another task management tool we use at MindK and a recent addition to Slack’s impressive library of integrations. We have adopted Flow as a management tool for internal routines such as HR and marketing.
It is very similar to Trello but has a meatier UI and a handful of additional features like delegate a task, catch up (see all your tasks for today), and private tasks (for when you need to assassinate a competitor but want to keep it secret from your co-workers).
We would love to have this integration in HipChat, but it’s only available in Slack. With the Slack integration you can create and assign tasks, link projects and teams, set deadlines and more directly from your Slack channels.
We use Confluence as our internal knowledge base. It is storage for our company rules, checklists, and tech talks summaries. Its integration with HipChat allows us to manage the base directly from the chat. Search and access your Confluence from the sidebar, get notified when a page is edited or a new one is created, and share knowledge with your co-workers.
Google+ Hangouts is a neat substitution for the lack of video conferences in HipChat’s and Slack’s free plans. Create a new hangout directly from a room and send invitations to other members or guests in the room.
Hangouts is a great tool for when a client needs to discuss something with the whole team (or its parts) in real time. This erases the barriers between the developers and the customers and removes the middlemen. Ideal for people with the hands-on approach.
Google Drive is another useful integration for people who, like me, do a lot of writing or share a ton of documents. The ability to access your Drive via a chat interface means less window juggling which is always welcome.
I could’ve also written about the ever popular Giphy integration which allows you to post random gifs from pretty much every category imaginable, but we hate gifs, so you’re out of luck!
Custom integrations. You know what is even better than a large library of existing integrations?
Both apps have their own APIs that allow an experienced developer to integrate them with virtually any tool they use in their product development or day-to-day life.
Our R&D Office has integrated HipChat with Humanico, a mobile social network we developed for our team. Now we can cross-post Humanico updates as well as notify the team of the new posts in the chat.
We’ve also explored the possibilities of integrating the chat apps with various IoT devices. MindK employees can now use HipChat to track when the office doors are open/closed. This is very useful for those who want to start working early or visit the office on weekends.
Untangle Daily Communications
Integrations are cool but Slack and HipChat were originally built as team chats with the aim to facilitate communications. In this case, they are hard to beat. Not to mention that with geographically dispersed or just big enough (large?) teams, the tried and true means of communication (like emails or face-to-face talks) don’t cut it anymore.
To this end, both apps have a number of useful features.
1. Group and private chats
In both apps, you can create project-specific or general-purpose Rooms (called Channels in Slack) and add to them as many co-workers as you wish, although there is a hidden limit to the number of people you can invite to a single Team in Slack.
You can create both private and open Rooms/Channels within your Organisation/Team. Guest access feature allows you to invite people from outside of your organization and limit their access to certain rooms.
At MindK we have entire Rooms/Channels dedicated to specific projects where the team members can discuss their progress and future tasks.
We also have Rooms for R&D, QA, Code Review, a separate Room for every upcoming event (like a hackathon), and of course a general channel for company-wide announcements and casual chat.
A common complaint of group messaging platforms is that they’re a cesspool of unfocused conversation – with either too many side chats or way too much activity in a single big room. To get rid of distracting noise in Hipchat, we may set up a Room in order to plan a hackathon, invite only the team members involved, then limit all conversation about the hackathon to that chat room. Once the event ends, we just shut down the room and archive it. You can do the same in Slack.
That way, all conversations, files, and links are searchable and available when we need them, but work for that project in that room is now complete, leaving us free to move on to other projects and spin up new rooms/channels.
Sidebars allow you to easily monitor Rooms and their members. In Slack, the sidebar can become very cluttered but you can Star any Channel, Person or Thread to pin them to the top of the list. For instance, if I have no time to read a post, I star it, which stores it away for later. Clicking on the star icon at the top right corner of Slack’s window shows all starred posts. In this way, you can always have what’s important at your fingertips.
In Slack, you can also directly answer any message in a Channel by hovering over it and selecting the Start a thread button. All replies will be shown in a neat threaded format and can be viewed as a separate conversation in the right sidebar.
You can even log in multiple Teams and easily switch between them by pressing ⌘ + [team number] / Ctrl + [team number] if you want to easily interact with your partners.
Note: The free packages of both apps have a limit on the searchable post history (25,000 for HipChat and 10,000 for Slack). All the older posts are automatically deleted!
2. Video calls and VOIP
We use video calls as a substitute for face-to-face meetings that our remote team members and clients can attend. It’s an invaluable boon for geographically dispersed teams.
This feature is absent from HipChat’s free plan and in Slack you can only have one-on-one conversations for free. But with some money magic, you can have conference calls with up to 15 participants (20 in HipChat).
Instead of firing up an external service (share the link, open a tab, log in, and wait for your colleagues to do the same), you can use video chat for spontaneous, quick discussions.
HipChat also supports screenshare feature during its video calls. Just click the icon and your colleagues will see what you are doing on your screen. To achieve similar functionality in Slack you have to use some integrations.
Notifications help us to curb the volume of messages by keeping them targeted in the right places — dedicated Room or Channel instead of direct messages — and ensure important information doesn’t get lost in the project-based chatter going on elsewhere.
With HipChat you can get notifications in their web or desktop app, via email, SMS, iOS/Android app. You can customize the notifications triggers and the settings for Do Not Disturb mode within any room.
Slack offers desktop, email and mobile push notifications with greater customization. In addition to the options present in HipChat, it allows you to set certain keywords/phrases as triggers and also be notified of replies in your threads. And let’s not forget that it has 12 notification sounds to choose from.
4. File sharing
Both apps have a user-friendly drag-and-drop interface for sharing files of any types. They both also show all shared files/links in the right sidebars.
HipChat allows sharing files of up to 50Mb in size with 5Gb storage per user (unlimited in a paid package).
In Slack, you can share much larger files (up to 1Gb) but the storage is tiny, 5Gb for the whole team (although you can dip into your pocket and raise the cap to 10/20Gb per user if you really need to share those high-resolution cat videos).
5. Features for advanced users
Slack and HipChat have some lesser-known features that can boost your productivity like keyboard shortcuts and slash commands. In HipChat, for example, the only way to edit your last message is to type s/your message/your edited message.
In Slack, I often use a /remind command to set a reminder for myself or other chat members. You can also type /remind list to pull up a list of pending reminders.
One of the developers’ favorites in HipChat is an option to post code with syntax highlighting by typing /code before the text. Slack in turn also supports syntax highlighting but only in code snippets. To post a snippet just click the + icon next to the message bar and select the correct option (or press Ctrl + Shift + Enter/⌘ + Enter).
Slack supports advanced search. Select a modifier before the searched term to narrow your options. You can search using theses modifiers:
- To:[channel or username]
- In:[channel or username]
Bonus tip for designers: you can post a web color in HipChat by typing # + the color in hexadecimal format.
Use the Power of Artificial Intelligence
Let’s start with Slack. It has a seemingly endless list of bots for every purpose imaginable. Out of the box, it even comes with its own Slackbot who, without extensive customization, is pretty much useless apart from answering some questions related to using Slack.
But unlike Slackbot, a lot of bots for HipChat and Slack are really helpful. A full list of them would take a whole article, but here is the short version.
Meekan is a bot that helps you to organize internal meetings. Just ask the bot and it’Il scan your team members’ calendars for common downtime. The bot will then automatically arrange a meeting and send invitations to all the participants.
You can also use the bot to check your calendar, schedule daily standup meetings, voice-calls, video-conferences and reschedule them with ease.
Paperbot is an excellent choice for those who want to store and organize all the links shared in the Slack channels. The bot separates the wheat from the chaff and turns the useful links into a neat digest available in a web, Android, iOS or e-mail format. Oh, and you obviously can unsubscribe from the digest at any time.
And here’s a couple more for HipChat:
Polly helps you create polls directly in a chat room. It has some pre-existing templates but allows for more complex surveys. Set the type of poll (like simple agree/disagree, multiple choices, scales of 1-10,etc.), max number of votes, the polling schedule for recurring polls. You can also make the survey anonymous and its results private or freely allow everyone to comment.
KarmaBot offers a playful way to reward your colleagues for good work. Just mention any @user and type ‘++’ to award the person with a karma point or ‘–’ to take it away.
Standup is out there to assist you with asynchronous meetings and reportings. It was created mainly with agile teams in mind. Use the bot to report on your daily progress and plans for the next workday. All reports are then collected, organized, and delivered to your team members.
At the moment, HipChat has a pretty modest library of bots. We’ve overcome this blunder by using API and creating a few bots of our own. From the start, we designed a fairly simple virtual butler who can tell us when our office is opened or closed. But we are geeks, so we didn’t stop there.
During our latest hackathon, we’ve created two more bots. One of them can respond to various questions (we use it mainly to know about our co-workers’ upcoming birthdays). The other one can perform certain actions at set intervals (like check every morning for which people to wish a happy birthday or post a list of upcoming events every Tuesday).
We use bots for enjoying our company culture but you can craft them for other needs. It’s all up to you. Perhaps we could build a custom hipchat or slack-bot for your team?
These collaborative apps can transform the way you communicate with your team and make your internal communications much more efficient.
All members of our teams know exactly where to go for the current information they need on the project and has the tools to take action on it immediately (whether it’s via chat, JIRA, or a conference call), all from a single spot.
Both Slack and Hipchat are exceptional helpers for managing remote and geographically diverse teams as well as for outsourcing.
Spend less time in meetings. Reduce the juggling between dozens of different windows and do what really matters instead.
And don’t forget to let us know of your experience with collaboration tools. What works for you? Maybe there are some unique ways you use them? Feel free to comment below.