What is Slack?

For businesses that need collaboration tools, chat services are no longer for private conversations. What was once just for America Online, message servers are now a way for organizations to collaborate among their workforce. The Internet allows corporations to hire employees and contractors remotely and work directly with people who never travel to their office. Chat services such as Slack allow users to communicate and share files, messages, calendar events and so much more to stay in contact, just as if these people were sitting in the same office.

Collaboration Tools and the Workplace

Slack is used in small organizations so that every team can discuss their day, chit chat with coworkers and talk to each other real-time, but it has far more powerful collaborative benefits for both large and small businesses. For businesses that have several remote employees or contractors who telecommute and work from home, Slack gives everyone within the organization the ability to set up their own channels and communicate faster than email or regular voice calls.

When you set up a Slack server, you get a URL specific to the organization that no one except invited, authorized employees, vendors and contracts can access. Slack takes care of any authorization and authentication requests, and users can even use third-party authentication vendors such as Google to access the company server. It's not uncommon for users to have a private Slack user account used to communicate with friends and a corporate user account to chat with coworkers for business reasons.

Old chat software didn't bring much to the table for corporate purposes. They were mostly used for personal reasons, but several applications including Slack have changed the way people use the old-time chatting methods and turned it into something that helps productivity among teams. It's especially useful when users are not located in the same office. Today's teams of people often involve at least one team member who works outside of where the rest of the team is located. With Slack, team members including any members several thousands of miles away can communicate without picking up a phone. As long as everyone has access to the Internet, users will be able to communicate using Slack.

A Slack URL is located on a subdomain on the main Slack domain, so it's a chat system located in the cloud. With cloud applications, users anywhere on the globe can access the software provided that users have an Internet connection.

What was once a web application used for only personal reasons, chat systems now have a profound positive impact on productivity for corporations. As you'll find by discovering new functionality in Slack, the chat system can be used to share files, messages, work hours and other company-specific information.

Connecting Slack with Other Tools

When a company initially sets up a Slack server, it doesn't look like much other than a basic chat room. The employee that creates the server must manage it. It can be managed by just one or several users within the company. Other administrators are usually called "moderators" in personal Slack servers, but administrators within a company Slack server are often managers who own their own department channels.

Slack has an API that lets developers create tools that can connect directly with a chat server. Some developers have already created tools that work directly with popular software. For instance, a company can connect email and calendar events with Slack. For small businesses that use Google email, for example, calendar events can be incorporated into Slack's messaging tools to alert users within a team. It also lets managers create events and reminders that tell team members when meetings and other corporate events happen. Think of Slack as a notification manager for teams that use external third-party services to store calendar events.

Most organizations have third-party tools for instant messaging. Skype is a popular instant messaging tool to communication with users on the Internet. With Slack, an organization can roll up its chat room and instant messaging software into one cloud server. Slack includes an instant messaging component. Users can private message any other user available on the same server. Private messages are kept in threads so that users can reference them later when they need to identify shared information or download files. Users can also share videos with other users in Slack private messages.

Interested in learning more? Why not take an online Slack course?

Slack can be integrated with several other popular cloud tools. The tools a company uses depend on the productivity needed from teams. For instance, it's not uncommon for developers to have their own Slack server to communicate. Development teams are commonly span across several offices, cities, states and sometimes countries. Because developers don't interact with customers, it's possible for an organization to support an entire team without requiring them to be located in the same office. Developers use Github to promote and store code. It's also beneficial for rollback functionality and sharing code with other open-source developers to make improvements. It's the central source for open-source development, code improvements and sharing with other developers.

Github has a component that integrates well with Slack so that coders within the same team can share the latest updates, ask questions, make comments and even help with quality assurance (QA) before deployment. Automation and leveraging Slack's API is how developers are able to seamlessly integrate Github into everyday development productivity and deployment procedures.

The following tools are few more that Slack integrates with:

  • Google Drive
  • Google Calendar
  • Dropbox
  • YouTube (links to videos can be played directly in the Slack window)
  • Heroku
  • Zendesk
  • Zapier

This list includes pre-developed tools, but programmers can create custom tools to integrate with Slack using its public API. The API is available at https://api.slack.com/ where developers can find any endpoints needed to create a new tool. The API requires that the developer receive private keys and use popular authorization methods (OAuth 2.0) to connect to a cloud server, but it's free to use. Having keys and using OAuth 2.0 to connect to any API is a common way for the API owner to control the way developers use endpoints and avoid spam and apps intended to commit fraud.

Costs Associated with Hosting a Slack Server

One great reason to incorporate Slack into standard corporate productivity and processes is that it's a free tool and common with users. Very little training is needed for most users introduced to a new corporate Slack server, because it's not uncommon for users to have previous experience using the web application.

The developers of Slack offer several plans at different prices from free to $12.50 per user. Slack developers also offer an enterprise option for large organizations that want to incorporate chat services across several departments and many internal users. As with many other free applications, Slack provides basic functionality with the free tier plan, but it comes with limitations. The following functionality is included with a free plan:

  • 10,000 messages can be searched
  • 10 app integrations
  • Two-factor authentication (for login security to prevent phishing)
  • Single user one-on-one calls (no conference calling capabilities)
  • 5GB of storage
  • Low-tier support for server technical questions and issues

The free tier is beneficial if you need a personal server or one that only supports a few users, but larger businesses can take advantage of better features and support with the standard tier plan. The standard tier is $6.67 per user each month, so it's a small investment. The standard tier has the following features and functionality:

  • Searches on unlimited message history
  • Integration with unlimited apps
  • External access with third-party applications
  • Custom retention policies for storing chat history, messages, files and links
  • Conference calling for up to 15 users at one time
  • Enhanced message search features
  • 10GB of storage space for each registered user
  • Full support from Slack developers

The standard pricing tier is good for small to even midsize businesses, but larger companies might need even more options. The Plus pricing tier and plan costs $12.50 per user each month and comes with additional features. The following options are available with the Plus pricing plan:

  • Additional options for authentication
  • Compliance features including retention and export functions
  • More granular administrative features
  • 20GB storage space per team member
  • 24 hour, 7 days a week support with a short four-hour response time from Slack developers
  • 99.9% guaranteed uptime service level agreement from Slack developers

Slack also offers an additional high-end enterprise tier with custom pricing. Developers don't publish the pricing plans for enterprises looking for a Slack server. Enterprise pricing is usually a discounted per-user plan, but the discount is due to the bulk user accounts needed for the Slack server.

What Can Be Done with Slack?

Since Slack is a cloud application, a company that decides to integrate it into productivity tools does not need any expensive equipment to host a new server. Anyone within the corporation can create a new server and administrate it. Multiple servers can be created to host the main organization Slack interface, but one server with multiple channels is often used to centralize chat resources. Multiple Slack instances could be difficult to track as employees leave the company or move to a different department, so most organizations work with only one main server and then create different channels for each department.

Channels can be private or shared across each department within the organization. For instance, the organization could have just one main channel where everyone can chat and name it "General." Every person within the organization would have access to the General channel, and then each department has its own channel. These department channels would have a whitelist of users within the same department who can access this channel.

With separate channels, the organization now has a central chat server that gives privacy to departments that need to discuss issues and share calendar events in private. With external tools integrated into Slack, many of these productivity events that happen throughout the day can be automatically posted to the appropriate Slack channel.

After all users are invited and added to the main Slack server, the organization can now add other features to the server. For large Slack servers, the administrator will need to add additional users to moderate and manage server events. With additional administrators, the organization can add some automation such as inviting new users, assigning users to a specific channel, and ensuring that new server users have access to all general channels that include company-wide messages.

The public and private chatting features alone can boost productivity using Slack. Users can get answers to questions immediately without waiting for a phone call after leaving message or sending an email and waiting for a reply. Additionally, employees can see when other coworkers are online so that they know if a reply should happen soon. Users replying to a message can formulate a reply before they send a response without the stress of an immediate answer on a phone call. Slack messages are also much more secure than an email message between users.

With Slack and its integrated automation, communication is faster and easier. Because it's a low-cost productivity tool, organizations invest very little time and money into boosting employee communication efficiency and posting events and messages from management. Emails get lost, filtered, sent to a spam inbox, or just get lost in transmission from sender to the recipient. With a Slack server, messages are more guaranteed and won't get lost during transmission. Slack does not have inboxes, but rather users can log into a central server and see every message sent. If a message is not sent, Slack alerts the sender that the message was not logged, and readers will not be able to see it.

Slack does not take a lot of technical skill to understand how to use it, so there is limited amounts of training required for employees to jump into a server and figure out how to use the system. With such a small investment and easy integration, the only way to get started with Slack is to create a new server and obtain your new URL.