BS

Team communication tools

Aug 6, 2018 · 9 min read

In a previous post I talked about communication, and what it’s like as a remote engineer. I also hinted at the tooling I prefer, and outlined what I look for. This post is going to cover off why I prefer Slack for team chat/communication.

Spanning a 10 year period I’ve used: IRC, Google Wave, XMPP in various forms, Skype, GTalk and Google Hangouts, Slack, Microsoft Teams and Workplace. Slack is a clear winner for me, although at the time Google Wave blew me away.

So, why Slack

Some of this is clearly going to be personal, so stick with me

Are there any downsides to slack?

Recently I had to leave Slack and transition to Microsoft Teams at my current gig, but at the first opportunity (Change of politics etc), we moved back, much to the delight of the team. We now have more people in our Slack workspace than ever before. We have spread the administration around the team too, so we get some whacky slackbot responses and custom emoji for us all to enjoy.

How do I sell this to management

As with all things, I suspect it will depend on the type of management you have. I’ve had to sell this twice, the first time was a breeze and probably lasted about 10-15 minutes of waxing lyrical with the team nodding their heads in favour. We needed this tool. The second time is still ongoing, but I suspect it will need to involve pros/cons and evidence. In fairness, the first time was easier because we were trying to cobble together a Skype group chat, which at the time didn’t enable integrations. The second time, the department is already using Microsoft Teams. As the remote engineer critic in the team, I think “use” is overstating the case here every so slightly, especially in the communication arena.

Slack has three billing plans: Free, and two chargeable ones. My current team have been using slack for around 3 years on the free plan, and we are fine with this. However, the chargeable options do add some benefits, see here. I think the Group Chat and Screen Sharing are the items of interest. It will depend if you see value in them, and cannot, or do not want to use other alternatives.

How do I sell this to the team

For me, it comes back to what I said in this post.

Buy in

If the managers and leaders are there. If the monitoring tool posts data there. If every time you write “Make it so” Captain Picard appears. If every time you write “Good Luck” there is an animated gif of Leslie Nielsen from Airplane!. If this is the place, people flock to that place. And that builds the culture of the team. Teams are the most important aspect to all of this.

If you build it, [they] will come.

Field of dreams 💜

But with all things in life, it takes work to “build it”. My goal is to be able to deploy all our software from Slack. That will be a very happy day, and I’m not too far off 🎈

Microsoft Teams

If your company is Microsoft centric, and you rarely venture outside of that stack, Microsoft Teams is for you. Skip everything else said in this post. I wish you a fond farewell.

However, from someone who will promote Slack, here are some points I take away from using Teams (which I still do by the way).

Workplace

To note, I am not a Facebook user (over 3 years now). However, for a company communication tool, this is superb. I very much see Workplace (Facebook @ Work) as an announcements tool though and a way for teams to form departments. And for those departments to form “the business”. I would not advocate this over Slack/IRC/Microsoft Teams for a chat based team communication tool. It’s too delayed for that kind of activity. As a remote engineer I want the buzz/hubbub in a constant stream of information (as you would get in an office with a vibrant culture). Workplace is wait and see. Post. Wait. Responses come in.

One aspect of Workplace I like, in relation to email for example, is the view count. You can actually see who has viewed the post. This is better than email. How many times have you heard “Oh, I didn’t get that email”. There is a place on the internet over spewing with “those emails”.

The others

It seemed unfair to not talk about the others, but they are not really in the same league, nor to be fair to them, is it their goal.

I do remember the first time I used Google Wave though. It was a light bulb moment for me, and I would suggest that Workplace is a natural successor in this space.

Email

Email will be with us, forever. And it’s great, deployed in the right place. But, in the context of team chat, the pitfalls for me are.

What with all the spam emails, and requests to complete Health and Safety training, Email isn’t the safe place I would like.

Order of preference

If I was in charge, just for one day, I would champion the following:

See also