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 they should produce awesome results.
But the real productivity is all about teamwork and collaboration. It’s all about cutting down on the noise so that you can focus on the tasks at hand.
Virtual team communication tools like Slack give you a way to clear this mess.
These apps were designed to replace old-fashioned communication tools like emails and never-ending meetings. They allow you to keep everything related to project workflow in one place – easy to find, and easier to manage.
Your team will work more effectively. Track their progress, get timely updates, and communicate effortlessly with a single app.
Slack has taken the world aback and become Silicon Valley’s go-to chat app. Companies all over the world including HubSpot, IBM, and NASA have already become Slackers.
At MindK, we’ve tried Slack a couple of years ago. Back then HipChat was our main team communication app and Slack was reserved to select projects with highly involved clients. Our team has quickly appreciated the improved UX and the ability to invite clients to project-related chats. Soon, we switched to Slack and never looked back.
Here are a few insights on how you can use Slack to make your day-to-day communication and collaboration rock.
Every day your engineers have to juggle between dozens of apps: IDEs, tools for project and task management, continuous integration software, code repositories, bug trackers, chat apps and so on.
They have to divide attention between dozens of processes and lose precious time as a result.
The main reason why we decided to try out Slack is the ability to integrate it with other useful apps. In fact, it has so many integrations that it’s easy to get lost, especially if you don’t know what you’re looking for.
So, here’s a number of must-have integrations for development team collaboration (based on our experience).
It uses the Git version control system (VCS) and allows multiple developers to collaborate on a single project. When someone makes a pull request, the app automatically posts a notification in the project channel. After the code review, any comments/issues are also posted in the chat.
Jenkins helps our developers discover any issues early and fix them in time. As a result, users get their software faster and we receive helpful feedback.
Jenkins automatically deploys any code that passes autotests onto the server at set intervals. The Slack integration allows every team member to see when a new build of the project is released (together with the build link).
The integration allows each team member to see that a particular task has been assigned without going into Jira.
For instance, every time our QA engineer detects a bug and creates an issue, the team gets a notification with its description, type, priority, status, and assignee.
Extensive customization ensures that you get only 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 access to JIRA, our clients can use Trello integration to track the progress of their projects directly from Slack. Create cards, set deadlines, and give assignments to your teammates without leaving the chat.
Flow is another task management tool we use at MindK for internal routines such as HR and marketing.
It’s 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).
With the Slack integration you can create and assign tasks, link projects and teams, set deadlines and more directly from your channels.
Google+ Hangouts is a neat substitution for the lack of video conferences in Slack’s free plan.
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 a 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. What’s more, you can get notifications when somebody comments on your articles or shares new files.
I could’ve also written about 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!
You know what is even better than a large library of pre-made integrations? Custom integrations.
Slack has an API that allows experienced developers to integrate it with virtually any tool they use in product development or day-to-day lives.
For example, our R&D Office has integrated Slack 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 new posts.
We’ve also explored the possibilities of integrating the chat app with various IoT devices. MindK employees can now use Slack to track when our office is open. Handy for those who want to start working early or visit the office on weekends.
Untangle daily communications
Integrations are cool but Slack was originally built as a team chat that facilitates communications. With large and geographically dispersed teams, the tried and true means (like emails or face-to-face meetings) don’t cut it anymore.
Fortunately, Slack comes with a number of useful features for team collaboration.
1. Group and private chats
You can create project-specific or general-purpose Channels and add as many co-workers as you wish, although there is a hidden limit (8,462 users) to the number of people you can invite to a single Team in Slack.
You can create both private and open Channels within your Team. Guest access feature allows you to invite people from outside of your organization limiting their access to certain channels.
At MindK we have separate channels dedicated to specific projects. We also have channels for R&D, QA, Code Review, a separate chat for every upcoming event (like hackathons), and of course a general channel for company-wide announcements and casual chat.
One of the common virtual team communication challenges is that group messaging quickly becomes 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 Slack, we may set up a channel for an upcoming hackathon, invite the involved team members, then limit all conversation about the hackathon to that specific chat. And once the event ends, we just shut down the channel and archive it.
This way, all conversations, files, and links are searchable and available even after the work on the project is complete.
Sidebars allow you to easily monitor channels and their members.
In Slack, the sidebar can quickly become cluttered with conversations 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 can just star it and return later. Clicking on the star icon at the top right corner of Slack’s window shows all starred posts.
This way, you can always have what’s important at your fingertips.
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: Slack’s free package has a limit on the searchable post history (10,000 posts). All older posts are automatically deleted!
2. Video calls and VOIP
We use video calls as a substitute for face-to-face meetings with our clients and remote team members.
In Slack, you can only have one-on-one conversations for free. But with a paid upgrade (or Hangouts integration), you can have conference calls with up to 15 participants.
It’s a great boon for geographically dispersed teams.
Slack also supports screenshare during video calls for making presentations, drawing smileys, and pair programming.
Notifications help us curb the volume of messages by keeping them in the right places — dedicated Channels instead of direct messages — and ensure important information doesn’t get lost in virtual team communication going on elsewhere.
Slack offers desktop, email and mobile push notifications with great customization. In addition to general settings and a Do Not Disturb schedule, it allows you to set certain keywords/phrases as notification triggers.
And let’s not forget that Slack has 12 notification sounds to choose from.
4. File sharing
Slack has a user-friendly drag-and-drop interface for sharing files of any type. It also shows all shared files/links in the right sidebar.
Even with the free plan you can share files up to 1Gb in size but the storage is tiny – 5Gb for the whole team. You can, of course, 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 has some lesser-known features that can boost your productivity like keyboard shortcuts. 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 Slack is an option to post code with syntax highlighting by pressing Ctrl + Shift + Enter/⌘ + Enter and selecting a language in the popup window.
Slack also 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]
Use the power of AI
Slack supports chatbots, although not nearly as powerful as Telegram bots.
It has a seemingly endless list of bots for every purpose imaginable and even has its own Slackbot out of the box. However, without extensive customization, Slackbot is pretty much useless apart from answering some questions related to using the app.
However, a lot of bots for Slack are really useful.
Meekan can help you organize internal meetings. Just ask the bot and it’ll scan your team members’ calendars for common downtime. It 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.
Standuply is there to assist you with asynchronous meetings and reporting. 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.
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, and polling schedule for recurring polls.
You can also make the survey anonymous or allow everyone to comment on the results.
And if that wasn’t enough, we’ve used Slack API and created 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 can perform certain actions at set intervals (like check every morning for people that have a birthday or post a list of upcoming events every Tuesday).
These features can make Slack one of the best team communication apps out there.
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 slack-bot for your team?
Collaborative apps like Slack can transform the way you communicate with your team and make your conversations much more efficient.
All members of our teams know exactly where to go for the information they need and have the tools to take action on it immediately (whether it’s via chat, JIRA, or a conference call), all from a single spot.
Slack is an exceptional helper for outsourcing and communication in virtual teams. It allows you to spend less time in meetings, reduce juggling between dozens of different windows and do what really matters.
Still hesitant to adopt Slack for team collaboration?
Try using it for a week and decide whether it works for you.