14 May 2022
Slack has 10 million daily users. Microsoft claims they’ve eclipsed 13 million daily users. And we’re still in the very early stages of adoption in terms of the toolset overall. For the forward-thinking enterprise, chat has overtaken email as the preferred method of getting quick answers, code snippets or GIF’s of dogs eating ice cream from coworkers. While a communication suite won’t necessarily change your business, it can add a new layer of efficiency in your workflow.
We need to talk. Calm down, not like that. I mean we, as employees of your company, need to talk to each other. More and more that’s happening digitally with tools like Slack, Microsoft Teams, and Google Hangouts. There’s nothing to fear about our digital future, but there are plenty of things to think about when evaluating which platform is best for you. You must consider how it should be implemented and what you as a leader should think about in terms of deployment, support and oversight.
Framework IT is a Chicago-based, managed IT service provider (MSP). Framework can help assess your environment, identify your risks, and provide the expert solutions to decide what tools are right for your company. In this article, we’ll lay out a short review of our 3 preferred interoffice chat tools, and follow it up with some best practices for utility.
For many years, Slack has represented the 900-pound gorilla in the (chat) room, and with good reason. From the team that brought you Flickr comes Slack, a robust, well rounded, highly integrative toolset. It allows your employees to create channels that stream conversations to desktop and mobile apps at all times.
The team at Slack has seen fit to create a robust and open set of integration points amongst other SaaS vendors, from Salesforce and Box to Jira and Giphy. What this creates for the customer is the ability to centralize several of their practice-level softwares into a single repository. Or, more simply, sharing and collaborating on documents becomes more simple, as users can have conversations about a document they’re working on with that document in the same pane of glass.
While other tools provide similar functionality, Slack operating as platform-agnostic means that its users receive the best points of integration amongst the broadest set of software vendors.
It looks nice. Really, in my opinion, it looks nicer than most, if all, web applications we utilize. The color schema, the ability to customize your avatar, etc, are all best in class. But more than aesthetics, the platform itself is very user-friendly. There are shorthand commands that bring about useful shortcuts, like starting a new channel or inserting a clever GIF (your author thinks these are a cheesy waste of time, but I recognize that makes me a Fuddy Duddy).
If Slack becomes your tool of choice, your users should never complain about its usability.
Slack is a great tool, but it’s by no means perfect. Users in larger organizations represent complaints of overwhelming message frequency, particularly in channels that have dozens or more members. The sheer volume of noise in a channel forces some users to tune out, leading to missed messages in some instances.
Being in multiple channels with a high frequency of messages can lead to dissonance as well. This isn’t an indictment on the tool itself, but rather, the ways in which users have adopted it.
Microsoft continues the time-honored tradition of looking at innovative solutions nearest its core business suite, creating a competitive product that claims 90% of the same features at 70% of the practical utility. It’s good enough to use, undoubtedly, but like many Microsoft iterations, full of glitches, gotchas and quirks that would probably create more dyspepsia for IT Managers if it weren’t branded with the Windows logo.
Microsoft Teams is a platform best suited for companies already steeped in the Microsoft suite, particularly those who have adopted Office 365 licensing. Its usefulness as a standalone chat tool is robust as any other messaging application, but try to involve any non-Microsoft documents or files and its shortcomings become clear.
If the above sounds like complaining, well, I may be a little. But in all fairness, Teams has become a very usable central nervous system for the Microsoft ecosystem. It offers document sharing, meeting generation, group and individual messaging in a relatively navigable interface. Where Teams really shines is in its chat and team functions – individual users and business units can communicate across multiple devices seamlessly.
This becomes exponentially valuable when paired with a Microsoft-Only document creation, storage and sharing policy. For folks working in Word and Excel all day, Teams is as good as any product for collaboration on documents. The newly available calling feature represents an existential threat to the UCaaS market if the Microsoft partner marketplace can figure out how to reputably install and support it.
The world has refused to buy into the all-or-nothing software vendor agreement necessary to make Teams truly valuable. As companies grow in complexity, so do their relationships with other vendors and the need for integrations across different software platforms.
Where Slack and GSuite have embraced the integrative nature of the new workforce, Teams seems to have forgotten it. Having the ability to collaborate on a broader scale of platforms, from Asana to Zendesk and many in between, give the other vendors a leg up with clients with internal software diversity.
Like many of Google’s enterprise-facing tools, Hangouts provides almost all of the features you want, and very few of the ones you don’t. They’re also delivered in a clean, stripped-down interface that seems intuitively built for the purposes they serve, and not like the matriculation of decades of precedent. Like Teams, its best deployed in its own jungle, so a vote for hangouts will likely mean a vote for GSuite at large.
Hangouts provides the essentials of what employees need to communicate internally. You have direct access to chat, document sharing, and video or phone calls from the same pane of glass just by clicking the icon for what you want to do. These features are available on the other platforms, true enough, but Google has excelled at making them seemingly escalate in importance.
Need to drop someone a note? Go right ahead! Have a question that needs greater clarity? Give them a call! Unsure if your sales guy is actually on a call and not at the ballgame? Video Chat. (Sorry, guys). The integration of GSuite’s document generation products, like Docs and Sheets, is seamless and highly functional.
You’re going to want to be a GSuite customer for email and documents to get the most out of Hangouts. The chat, video and calling functions are strong. But when you have to convert files you’re working on from Microsoft or another format into Google’s takes one too many steps, particularly for a platform so bent on being smooth. Further, external integrations are good, but Google products or preferred partners seem to have a much better time than, say, the general marketplace for Slack.
As with any new software, the first place to start is internally with a cross-section of users. Because IT and Sales are often very different functions, they are going to want to utilize these tools differently. And as much as IT may want to scoff at sales for prioritizing .gif functionality over security, it’s important to remember that fostering culture is (almost) as important as productivity. In short, generate a list of what’s most important to your team and make sure that you give credence to all aspects of the wish list.
From there, evaluate each provider (and others, outside this list) on their ability to satisfy that wish list. The more empirical you can make the evaluation, the better. The goal is to understand how each option goes about what they’re promoting, because each lists the same features and functionality.
Finally, work alongside your vCIO, CIO or CISO to understand and develop a Data Loss Prevention strategy. If you are looking for guidance when making your decision, let Framework help. We will listen to your organization's individual needs to develop a personalized plan. Contact us today!