Is Slack replacing email?

April 13, 2017
by John Websell

Email has long been one of the cornerstones of communication in the digital age, allowing individuals thousands of miles apart to stay connected with their friends, family and colleagues.

Yet, because of a relatively new platform called Slack, its days as the undisputed king of interoffice communication could be numbered. Functioning as an email/instant messaging hybrid, Slack is considered by many to be a slicker, less time-consuming platform that boasts a range of supplementary features that makes it easier than ever before for colleagues to exchange ideas online. From customisable, invite-only contact groups and direct messaging to file sharing and real-time conversation, there’s something for businesses of any size. It’s now so popular, approximately 2 million people use Slack on a daily basis; even huge organisations like NASA and Samsung utilise the platform.

Clearly, there are substantial benefits to using Slack. Exactly what they are is the subject of ABRS’s (part of the TEC Partners Group) last article before the Easter weekend.

Increased productivity

Research conducted in 2015 by the Radicati Group found that, on average, employees send and receive 122 emails each day, using up a significant portion of their time (not to mention distracting them from more pressing tasks) and thus having a detrimental impact on workplace efficiency. By switching to Slack, however, statistics suggest email traffic decreases by as much as 80% in some cases, allowing workers to reclaim an extra hour or two of productive time each day. The results have been so impressive, in fact, some firms have stopped using email altogether.

Another issue specific to email is spam; a problem that has only increased in severity in recent years. Since 2014, just 8-10% of messages were sent by actual human beings, the remainder – automated receipts, social media updates, marketing information and the like – being despatched by machines. Slack, on the other hand, is free from this type of personal clutter as company channels are accessible by invite only and therefore operates as a strictly work-related platform. In addition, because you know your Slack notifications will be relevant to your job, rather than unsolicited spam, there’s a greater chance employees will see urgent messages quickly; after all, how many of us have ignored a notification, assuming it’ll be another spurious offer from some random online retailer?

Moreover, as stated in the introduction, it possesses all the tools necessary for the modern office. Slack’s 280 inbuilt tools enables users to send files to colleagues, store up to 20GB of data (depending on the package selected), search message archives for previous correspondence, create to-do lists and even chat over Skype all from the platform’s central hub, saving you the time and hassle of flitting between multiple programmes throughout the course of the day, whenever you need access to specific information.

An informal and progressive platform

In comparison to email, which can be very formal and direct, Slack facilitates a wider variety of communicative styles amongst colleagues, depending on the interlocutors. The primary channel functions as an online common room accessible to everyone in the company; the place where people can go to discuss more general work-related subjects and daily activities (lunch plans, evening get-togethers etc.) Meanwhile, for specific projects and departments, separate groups can be created, restricting participation to the applicable individuals and/or teams involved, whilst the programme’s direct messaging service offers a comparable kind of private, 1-1 correspondence you’d expect from email. Now obviously you can differentiate your email contacts in like manner, however, email tends to feel hierarchical in a way that Slack doesn’t. Blind copying is an excellent example of this, as it allows managers to check-up on individuals surreptitiously once they’ve been added to the chain, without the permission or knowledge of the other members.

Furthermore, as discussions on Slack take place in a similar way to instant messaging services like MSN, collaboration is faster, easier and less formal: as Dr Leah Reich defines it, this produces a different way of working and thinking, producing the perfect environment for innovation.

That’s not to say the platform’s creators have disregarded email entirely; indeed, they’re currently working toward integrating the technology into Slack. Aside from increasing the app’s appeal with older generations, its developers recognise the importance of providing users with a valid option for sending messages in a more traditional style, complementing the direct mailing system currently in place.

Mobility and the modern employee

If you asked Millennials and Generation Z to list their favoured methods of communication, chances are WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and similar online messaging services would be at the very top. Only 13% of those polled in a Pew study from 2014, for instance, identified calling as their primary means of interacting with their friends. Consequently, by the time these individuals start their first job, they’re simply not as comfortable calling and emailing their colleagues and customers, preferring instead to use the sort of familiar, modern platforms mentioned above; of which Slack is undoubtedly one.

As regards mobility, while yes, anyone can check their email on the go thanks to the rise of the smartphone, Slack is designed specifically with manoeuvrability in mind. The hub-like nature of the app, in particular, gives it the edge over phone-adapted email services, enabling users to connect with colleagues and managers easily, without having to jump back and forth between disparate platforms (something we highlighted earlier). There are fewer distractions too since Amazon delivery updates and Facebook friend requests won’t appear in your channel; only correspondence relevant to your job.

In other words, as beneficial as Slack is in terms of increasing productivity and streamlining interoffice communication, it also dovetails perfectly with the working style of the 21st-century employee.

Horses for courses

Despite the overwhelmingly positive tone of this post, it should go without saying Slack isn’t necessarily the ideal option for every company – for various reasons. Open discussion might suit a video game development studio, for instance, however, the same level of transparency wouldn’t be appropriate for a law firm that’s dealing with sensitive client information on a daily basis. Likewise, email still trumps Slack when it comes to communicating with customers or business partners under more formal circumstances.

Of course, if Slack does meet the needs of your business, there are plenty of reasons to try it out. There’s even a free version available that includes many of the premium versions’ best features if you’d like to gain some hands-on experience of the software before committing to a subscription.

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