Slack For Dummies
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Slack stands for Searchable Log of All Conversation and Knowledge. This is what many in the business world call a backronym: a contrived acronym. To be sure, the business world has seen plenty of backronyms. In the case of Slack, though, the term happens to be entirely fitting.

Slack is “where work happens.” This is the pithy answer — and the one that adorns the company’s website. The company’s lofty mission is “to make work life simpler, more pleasant, and more productive.”

Let’s cut the chase: Mission accomplished.

At a high level, Slack is a relatively new and powerful application that allows people to work, communicate, and collaborate better — one that has become increasingly popular since its launch way back in August 2013. At its core, Slack brings people together to accomplish goals through what it now calls a workspace. (Slack used to call this a team.) The following image shows what one looks like.

Slack workspace Slack workspace of a college professor.

If you’re chomping at the bit and can’t wait any longer, take an online tour of Slack.

Slack’s popularity has exploded since its early days. As such, you may think that the idea behind Slack required years of meticulous planning and deliberation. And you’d be wrong. If you’re curious about Slack’s origins, check out the nearby sidebar “A happy accident: Slack’s background and history.” You can also listen to a longer version of the Slack story from the mouth of CEO and co-founder Stewart Butterfield.

In effect, Slack accidentally popularized — and some would argue even created — a new and colossal product category. This is no easy feat. International Data Corp labels this category the team collaborative applications market. The research firm estimates that worldwide spending on collaboration software is currently $16.5 billion and will eventually reach more than $26.6 billion by 2023.

Slack is a nicely packaged set integrated collaboration tools. In the interest of full disclosure, what other software vendors previously released is somewhat comparable.

What does Slack do?

When used correctly, Slack helps individuals, groups, and even entire organizations solve these grave workplace problems. In other words, Slack offers a number of benefits to both employers and their employees.

Employer benefits of Slack

No doubt Slack’s customers realize significant benefits from using it. Fair enough, but what are those perks?

There’s a world of difference between theory and practice. Sure, each of the benefits you find below is possible. That doesn’t mean, though, that any them is guaranteed to occur — never mind all of them.

Build a permanent, comprehensive, and searchable organizational knowledge repository

Consider the following questions:
  • How much rich institutional knowledge lives in your inbox?
  • How many messages detail key, job-related interactions and decisions?
  • How much information about organizational processes is in your head and not formally documented anywhere else?
Think about these questions for a moment.

Now, consider what happens to those key insights if you left your company. At best, they’ll remain dormant. At worst, an IT administrator deletes them forever. And the knowledge that’s locked in your head? Gone forever.

Slack solves this problem far better than any email inbox does — only if employees use it, of course. Slack effectively retains an indefinite record of these valuable files, decisions, and conversations. Employees simply search Slack.

Enhance employee productivity with Slack

Slack allows employees to spend less time sending mass emails and trying to locate key documents. Where is that damn TPS report?

If you accept this premise, then it stands to reason that employees will waste less time and be more productive. Have you met a single manager, company president, or CEO who didn’t want her employees to be more efficient and more effective while on the clock? Slack helps employees do this in spades.

Improve employee corporate communication and collaboration with Slack

Consider organizations that rely predominantly or — heaven forbid — exclusively on in-person meetings and email back-and-forth. With rare exception, they tend to do poorly in these regards. Along with Google Docs, Dropbox, Zoom, and others, Slack is part of a new breed of tools that obviates the need for many meetings, email messages, and other old-school ways of communicating that often fail.

Facilitate remote work with Slack

Remote work is growing in popularity with no end in sight, In October 2019, the St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank found that the share of Americans who primarily work from home has risen in recent decades. A few numbers stand out:
  • In 1980, a mere 0.7 percent of full-time employees worked primarily from home. By 2017, that number had risen to 3 percent.
  • Seven percent of full-time workers telecommuted four days or more per month.
Check out the research for yourself.

Of course, you need not be an economist to know that, over the last 20 years, the idea of working from home has gained significant traction. Few have ever heard the term digital nomad in the 1990s. Then again, smartphones, powerful broadband connections, and contemporary cloud computing didn’t exist.

Increase employee job satisfaction with Slack

Slack lets employees work effectively from home. As a result, everyone concerned can reap its rewards. Consider a 2013 study by the University of Melbourne and the New Zealand Work Research Institute.

The two organizations discovered that employees who work at home one to three days a week are more productive than employees who need to slog into the office every day. In 2013, Stanford professor Nicholas Bloom published a paper detailing his own findings. He found that working from home boosted employee output by 13 percent.

Beyond this study, there’s no shortage of other research that has correlated remote work with higher employee job satisfaction. For example, recently Owl Labs — a video-conferencing company — released its 2019 State of Remote Work report. It confirmed that remote workers are happier and stay in jobs longer.

For years now, remote work has been growing in popularity. What’s more, it confers just about everyone benefits from it. Against this backdrop, you’d think that most organizations would be prepared it. And you’d be spectacularly wrong. (If you’re wondering why, see the nearby sidebar “Not remotely prepared for remote work.”)

Maybe you’re furrowing your brow at this point. Allowing employees to work remotely does not necessitate using Slack. That’s true, but what about being able to effectively work outside of the office? Put differently, how can employees be productive if they lack the right tools?

Slack is particularly effective in this regard. Its powerful functionality facilitates distributed workplaces. Think about multi-user videoconferencing and screensharing, instant messaging, the ability to post meaningful status updates and availability windows, and real-time file collaboration. By providing these rich features, Slack makes it easy to accomplish things while outside of the office.

Allow employees to begin their jobs with less training

Slack functions in a similar way to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and other popular social networks. (For example, if you use any of those social media sites, you’ll immediately grasp what the @ and # symbols do.) As such, employees won’t require days or weeks of expensive, time-consuming training to get going. (The learning curve isn’t steep.)

You don’t need to fear costly training outlays. Effectively using Slack does not require sending employees away for days at a time.

Increase organizational transparency with Slack

In recent years, many organizations have become more transparent with their workforces. The benefits in this vein can be significant.

Consider 2019 research from JUST Capital. The nonprofit reviewed data from nearly 900 publicly traded U.S. companies. JUST assessed transparency and return on equity (ROE) on nine worker issues. On all but one of them, being more transparent with employees resulted in ROE boosts of anywhere between 1.2 to 3 percent.

For legal, ethical, and business reasons, few employers have embraced radical transparency. Make no mistake, though: Just being a tad more forthright with employees often improves employee perceptions of their firms’ culture and their management. Sure, workers may not agree with a particular outcome or trend, but at least they’re more likely to understand it.

Slack helps organizations communicate more transparently with their workforces. Compared to mass email blasts, the application does a far better job of allowing management to share information with rank-and-file employees, gather responses, and gauge them. For their part, workers can easily discuss topics and make decisions out in the open. Just as critically, Slack can publicly or privately capture why people make decisions.

Organizations need not use Slack to be transparent with their workers. Using Slack just makes doing so really easy.

Help companies attract and retain top talent with Slack

Since its launch, Slack has developed a well-deserved reputation as a cool tool among many employees, especially those with hot skills. To this end, savvy recruiters sometimes play up the Slack angle when trying to lure candidates from white-hot fields, such as data science and software development.

No, by itself, the fact that Company X uses Slack won’t get an applicant to take a 30-percent pay cut from a previous job or endure two-hour daily commutes. Still, positioned properly, Slack can serve as a signal to coveted candidates that Company X is a chic place to work. In turn, they may be more inclined to sign their offer letters.

Lessen voluntary employee turnover

Workers quit jobs for all sorts of personal and professional reasons. You probably know someone who was very content in her station. Maybe she even worked in her dream job. Still, her employer went bankrupt. As a result, she found herself filling out job applications online.

Don’t get it wrong: Using Slack at work isn’t going to make you love the job from hell. For example, what if you despise your boss and coworkers and make a fraction of what you think you should? Using Slack won’t change your mind.

You would be hard pressed to find an academic study that controls for every conceivable factor driving employee satisfaction and retention. All else being equal, though, the following statement applies: Organizations that effectively use powerful collaboration tools such as Slack overwhelm their employees less. It stands to reason, then, that these employers are better able to retain valuable employees. It’s not hard to envision lower recruiting costs, a more stable workforce, and a better culture resulting as well.

Easily train employees and diagnose issues

Slack’s one-to-many screensharing functionality is ideal for holding small internal webinars, conducting formal training sessions, and more. On an individual level, this feature helps IT personnel to diagnose technical issues.

Employee benefits of Slack

What if Slack only benefited employers? That is, imagine if Slack saved organizations money and allowed them to grind more productivity out of their employees. It would still be a valuable tool, but you might justifiably be suspicious. Maybe you think that it would do nothing for you as an employee.

Fortunately, nothing could be further from the truth. Slack benefits employees just as much as — if not more than — employers in a number of key ways. To the extent that you still a skosh skeptical, though, the following information provides a sneak preview of how Slack can change how you work — for the better.

Tame the email beast with Slack

How many emails do you receive during a normal business day? It varies, of course. In 2015 study from Digital Marketing Ramblings, the average office employee received 121. That number is downright unmanageable. Market research company Harris Insights & Analytics found that workers can handle a maximum of 50 per day.

Yeah, but each one of those emails really matters, right? How many company-wide missives, at best, only tangentially apply to you?

Slack’s channel functionality allows you to receive only messages that you want when you want them. Think about that the next time that you’re playing whack-a-mole with your inbox.

By using Slack channels, you’ll reduce your dependence on email — especially from your colleagues. You may even attain the vaunted Inbox Zero: This rigorous approach to email management endeavors to keep employee inboxes empty — or almost empty — at all times.

Slack goes way beyond minimizing the sheer number of emails that employees receive, though.

Provide a common view on a topic or within a department

Slack channels allow groups, departments, teams, and even entire firms to get easily on the same page and stay in sync. In this way, Slack promotes real group and organizational alignment. Employee inboxes provide only individual views of what’s going on. Channels make it easier for groups to row in the same direction. Management consultants refer to this elusive state as alignment.

Realize the benefits of contained discussions with Slack

Slack channels allow employees to hold and contain discussions in clearly defined buckets. When you don’t need to spend a few seconds deciphering each message’s context, you reduce your cognitive load. That’s just a fancy way of saying that Slack quickly provides key information about each message.

More easily reach consensus with Slack

Polls allow employees to vote and more easily reach key decisions. It’s remarkably simple to take the temperature of a room, department, or division. Slack users can invoke polling functionality by installing any number of third-party apps.

Quickly find what you need

The knowledge repository that Slack allows organizations to build doesn’t just benefit your employer. Slack allows employees to quickly and easily find key messages, documents, and information.

Let’s conservatively claim that you spend five minutes per day trying to find relevant messages and documents. That’s nearly 20 hours per year — minimum. Once you get the hang of searching in Slack, that number may well drop by 90 percent.

Consolidate notifications with Slack

In a typical workplace, you’ll find employees using a bunch of disparate applications on the job, such as
  • Email
  • A file storage and sharing tool, such as Box or Dropbox
  • Text messages
  • Social networks, such as Facebook and LinkedIn (often for work purposes)
  • Homegrown company systems
  • Reporting and data-visualization tools
  • Popular enterprise systems
  • Some type of instant-messaging tool, such Skype and Google Hangouts
  • Productivity applications from Microsoft (Office) or Google (G Suite)
Oh, and then there’s the telephone. After all, many companies still provide landlines for their employees.


Needless to say, there’s no shortage of applications that bug employees from all angles. No, Slack won’t obviate the need for proper spreadsheet, database, and word-processing programs. It won’t run payroll or send your CEO a P&L statement — at least not yet.

At organizations that have embraced Slack, though, many if not most employee internal application alerts come from one single, easily controllable source: Slack.

Reduce workplace-related stress

Say that you receive fewer emails and more contextual messages. Even better, you spend less time trying to find things. Wouldn’t you experience less consternation at work?

Get to know your colleagues with Slack

One of the main paradoxes of the constantly connected workplace is that employees rarely get to know many of their colleagues. For this reason, companies such as Google, Facebook, and Zappos encourage their employees to interact with each other by offering free meals and holding after-hours social gatherings.

By encouraging friendly interactions, Slack provides the same benefit. Perhaps you and a random coworker belong to the same slack channel. Based on your online discussions, you may decide to grab a cup of coffee or videochat for a few minutes.

There’s even a third-party app for forging connections with colleagues and helping new hires get acclimated to their new environs. If this sounds appealing, check out the Slack Donut app.

Smooth the acclimation process for new hires with Slack

Think about the last time that you started a new job. Consider the following questions:
  • Did the HR folks or your boss inundate you with lengthy emails from day one?
  • Did that onslaught of information result in your missing a key deadline or incorrectly filling out a form?
  • Did you soon feel overwhelmed?
With Slack, companies don’t need to pepper their new hires with myriad emails and attachments. This approach can overwhelm them. Thanks to Slack, they can simply find relevant information in appropriate channels and digest it at their own pace. They can also easily set reminders within the app, minimizing the chance of forgetting to complete a key task.

Speaking of adjusting to a new environment, since Slack is so popular, employees can frequently hit the ground running. That is, they may understand how Slack works even though many firms use it differently. The result: Many new hires will need to learn one fewer new application when they start.

Slack has all the bells and whistles for both employers and employees.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book author:

Phil Simon is a frequent keynote speaker, dynamic trainer, recognized technology authority, and college professor-for-hire. He is the award-winning author of ten books, most recently Slack For Dummies and Zoom For Dummies. He consults organizations on matters related to communications, strategy, data, and technology. His contributions have appeared in The Harvard Business Review, The New York Times, and many other prominent media sites. He hosts the podcast Conversations About Collaboration.

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