Slack Review: The Pioneer of Team Collaboration Software
One of the most mature and arguably best known collaboration tools
Once developed as an in-house communications tool, today, Slack is as close to a business staple, as it gets. Let’s take a closer look at this 2013 startup that’s grown astonishingly fast, now boasting over 8 million active users every day.
At its core, Slack is an IM app with a host of additional plugins. It functions as a powerful team collaboration software tool for individual teams and companies, bringing together all the moving parts of your communication in one place. Its key features include real-time messaging, archiving, and intelligent search functionalities – however, this barely scratches the surface.
Slack also supports upload and download of pretty big files, up to 1 GB vs. Gmail’s paltry 25 MB. There are a bunch of nifty features thrown in, like the ability to view code snippets without losing any formatting. It can seamlessly integrate dozens of services across multiple categories, such as HR, security, media & news, design, and finance. You can view a full list of available apps, here.
At a time when businesses, regardless of scale and sector, are looking at solutions that can simplify collaboration and shrink timelines, this is an exciting value proposition. Managers are no longer willing to spend hours on vaguely defined meetings and boardroom conversations. Employees, too, are continually on the lookout for the ‘next big thing’ that’ll make their work easier. Therefore, it’s no surprise that Slack has all but taken over the market, as the preferred solution for startups, SMEs, and mid-sized companies.
Meant for teams and businesses, Slack was launched in August of 2013, making it one of the more senior services around today boasting more than 10 million daily active users.. The cloud-based tool was designed by Stewart Butterfield (also known for photo sharing site Flickr), beginning as an internal tool for the company “Tiny Speck”, before it eventually emerged as the conversational giant that you know today.
With Slack, you can communicate across multiple platforms and devices, not only with one-on-one services, but groups and associates too. You can also upload and share files freely, while integrating other services and apps such as Skype for video. Today, we’ll look at all the features that Slack has to offer, and the benefits it can give to businesses. Notably, this review outlines the opinions of the reviewer alone. UC Today have no profitable link with Slack, and we invite you to leave questions and comments in the space below.
A Cloud Based Collaboration App for Business
Slack is a cloud-based communication service. The name “Slack” is actually an acronym for “Searchable Log of All Conversation and Knowledge”. The system is best-known for providing a real-time messaging platform to teams. Alongside facilitating easy conversation between groups, Slack also offers the opportunity to conduct private conversations in a secure setting, and within smaller sub-groups too.
With Slack, you can:
- Share files
- Speak as a group or through direct messaging
- Enjoy almost 100 integrations, or use the open API to build your own
- Access securely encrypted transfer data
- Use desktop and mobile messaging
- Use two-way video and audio
- Enjoy a comprehensive search functionality
- Personalise user profiles
Slack effectively brings all your team communication together in a single location, offering real-time messaging, archiving, and search for teams. Slack also offers fully native apps for Android and iOS to provide easier functionality for remote working opportunities.
Every group conversation on Slack appears as a ‘Channel’ with its own access rules, member sets, and the like. Users can also initiate direct threads with anyone on their Slack community, using the platform for private, one-on-one communications or file sharing. Channels are easy to create, join, and leave, bringing an almost social-media like experience to the workplace – a definite ‘wow factor’ for the millennial generation.
Slack offers extremely useful integrations including Dropbox, G Suite, Salesforce, and Skype, among others. Users can either view files shared on those platforms on Slack itself, or download the same for later perusal. Like most platform-agnostic applications, Slack comes with a web version, ensuring businesses are always connected, regardless of the device being used.
Even if you’re not using Skype, Slack has built-in audio and video calling, along with the (arguably) more useful screen-sharing feature. With growing complaints against Skype’s new look-and-feel and its poor UI design, we could expect a mass exodus to Slack. Following the app’s overarching material design aesthetic, Slack’s calling functionalities are simple and a pleasure to use, albeit a little ‘barebones’. You can always add on third-party integrations for recordings, transcriptions, and other utilities.
A reliable search functionality can completely transform an application and its role in enterprise operations. Slack will fast become a sizable repository of conversations, data, and files, making search capabilities are even more important.
Slack revamped its search module earlier this year and, users report it’s now more intelligent, intuitive, and useful. Typing out any keyword, automatically generates recommended results and if this does not suffice, the user can explore further matches.
All of these are available across different application versions (free or paid), setting it apart from a large chunk of collaboration tools out there. There are native Slack applications available for iOS and Android ecosystems, a must-have in today’s flexible working universe. As responsiveness becomes a major KRA (Key Result Area) for employees across the globe, a powerful, mobile-ready communications system won’t just replace desktop applications – it could even take over the tried-and-tested email communication pathways.
Initially, Slack had introduced 3 versions – Free, Standard, and Plus – while promising an Enterprise edition down the road. Interestingly, application usage is billed per user per month, which might be a challenge large, multinational companies. With a workforce in thousands or more, enterprises have traditionally chosen to ‘build’ rather than ‘buy’ – an economical and bespoke alternative. To begin with, Slack was no different. Here’s a glimpse of their 3 original versions, suited to individual use and small to mid-size implementations.
How is it Licensed?
Slack offers users a choice of three enterprise and SMB pricing packages. The first is a free solution, that has no limits on time or users and includes searchable message archives for up to 10k of your team’s most recent messages. The free version also provides native apps for mac, windows desktop, Android and iOS, and two-person video and voice calls. In terms of security, it offers two-factor authentication and 5GB of file storage.
For those in larger businesses, the Slack “premium” options offer a host of extra features, besides what you can get on the free plan. For instance, the messaging archives are unlimited, and you get access to unlimited service and app integrations. There’s guest access features, mandatory two-factor authentication, group video and voice calls, and 10GB of file storage available per team member, and that’s just at the standard level. At the “Plus” level, you get:
- 99.99% guaranteed uptime
- 24/7 support
- User deprovisioning and provisioning
- Real-time Active Directory Sync
- SAML-based single sign-on
- Compliance exports for all messages
- 20GB of file storage per member
At the “Enterprise” level, you get:
- Priority support
- Guest access
- Custom message retention policies
- Detailed reporting, analytics, and usage statistics
- Free native apps for Ios,
- Unlimited external integrations
- Unlimited searchable archive
Slack for Free
The free version of Slack is very popular, primarily because it doesn’t impose a time constraint, and does not compromise on basic functionalities.
In fact, it does away with a lot of features which might actually appear to be ‘bloatware’ for small teams. Does a team of five, or a niche retail outfit, really require hundreds of integrations? That’s why, Slack for Free allows up to 10 integrations, but lets you choose what’s relevant for you, across the entire complete library. Other limitations you could expect are:
- Only 10,000 most recent messages are searchable
- Channels can only include team members – addition of guests isn’t permitted
- There is only one layer of user authentication
- Compliance and audit support is unavailable
- Screen-sharing support is missing
- Conference calls are not supported
- Only 5 GB of data can be stored on Slack for Free at a time
Everything else detailed above works seamlessly, for an indefinite period of time, and that’s where Slack remains a step ahead of other applications in this segment.
Users can streamline operations and boost productivity by a wide margin, given that the essentials such as your personal chatbot, third-party integrations, file sharing, search, and one-on-one messaging are free for use, for as long as you want.
Slack Standard Plan
Unless your company is looking at intensive and high-level compliance requirements, Slack’s Standard version has almost everything covered. It’s priced at $6.67 per user per month for annual subscriptions, and at $8 for the monthly model. A team of 50, therefore, would bill around $4000 for a year of use.
In addition to the Free capabilities, the Standard version brings:
- Unlimited searchable messages, vital for busy and multi-locational organisations
- Unlimited third-party integrations, simplifying operations for core verticals like HR, admin, and finance, reducing hiring needs and OpEX
- Addition of guests, allowing small businesses to interact with freelancers, vendors, and third-party service providers on the Slack platform, without giving them full access
- OAuth with Google, streamlining the login process via Google sign-on
- Custom retention policies for messages and files
- Screen sharing and video conferencing with up to 10 members
- Up to 10 GB of storage space per member
- Priority support and advanced search intelligence
This is an exhaustive list, covering nearly everything a typical small business would require on a day-on-day basis. However, the Slack Standard does leave out a few criticalities, and as companies scale, they might prefer to switch to the Plus plan.
There is no uptime guarantee for Slack Standard, potentially leaving your business in the lurch in case of complexities and internal downtimes. Admin functions are also severely limited and there is no bulk export for all messages, meaning audits would be a slightly convoluted process.
Slack Plus Plan
Slack Plus is a robust combination of all the features listed above, as well as a few others to ensure compliance, ease of audits, ease of use, and near-zero downtimes.
Billed at $12.50 per user per month, annually, or $15 per user, monthly, this is almost twice as expensive as the Standard plan. However, if your organisation deals with data-sensitive and highly regulated segments such as hospitality, e-commerce, finance, or healthcare, it might make sense to invest in the additional upgrade. These include:
- SAML-based single sign-on for assured identity protection and secure access
- 99.99% uptime – baked into the SLAs, for guaranteed business continuity
- 24/7 technical support with a 4-hour response period, also part of the SLAs
- Extensive visibility and control for admin personas
- Corporate export for all messages and up to 20 GB of storage per user
However, it should be noted that even the Plus plan isn’t exactly built for enterprise use. If your workforce exceeds 200, you’re looking at an annual billing of $30,000 or more – a tall ask.
Fortunately, Slack is aware of the rising import of this segment, introducing a dedicated ‘Enterprise Grid’ version last year. We will break down its pros, cons, and key differentiators, in a separate review.
That’s it then! If you’re considering a Slack subscription of your own, begin by asking 3 critical questions – how big is your team, and is it poised to grow? Does your team use a large number of productivity and business applications? And, how important is compliance and support to your enterprise? The answers will help fine-tune your decision, striking that all-important balance between investments and outcomes.
Finally, if you are a non-profit organisation or an educational institute, don’t forget to explore their subsidised plans here and here, which offer a massive 85% discount, marking Slack’s long-standing commitment to social good.
Slack Add-ons and Applications
When it comes to optional extras for Slack, it’s worth noting that your integrations are restricted based on the licensing you choose. Slack integrates with a host of external services, and the app continues to add new features all the time, including external and internal sharing options to ensure that you can share your files with anyone. The app also includes advanced filters, search, and sorting solutions that make it easier to access the right files when you need them most.
Slack Review: What We Like about Slack
From a basic level, Slack is a messaging platform designed for professional teams that helps to integrate and stream-line communication. When you use a centralised system like Slack, you get better cross-team transparency and easier productivity within a business. Though it advertised itself as an alternative to email, we feel that Slack might not have kicked email out of the game just yet. However, that doesn’t mean that it isn’t an exceptional collaboration tool. Our favourite features include:
- Public communication means that you can reduce the need for business meetings. Marketing can see the challenges that sales teams face, and engineers can check out what designers are working on before projects are handed over
- A searchable history of the entire communication history for a team makes getting up-to-speed simpler than ever. With Slack, you can find the data that you need within an instant, without having to scroll through dozens of texts or emails
- Slack notifications are intuitive, and make it simpler for people to pay attention to the team conversations when they’re needed most, rather than having to constantly put a pause on productivity to check emails
- Slack is also fun and easy to use. Onboarding is quick and simple, and teams adapt easily to the new model of real-time messaging – since we’re already so accustomed to it in our day to day lives
With Slack, team communication is simple, and advanced features include everything from the creation of open communication channels, to mobile and desktop messaging, external and internal sharing, read-state synchronisation, flexible browsing and more.
What Could be Improved?
Perhaps the biggest issue that most users have with Slack is the fact that the free version has a lot of limitations. You can only search within 10,000 messages on the free version, and you can only integrate up to 10 third-party apps at any given time. However, in a world where you need to pay out for better services, it’s no surprise that the premium solutions would offer a more comprehensive portfolio of features.
Moreover, if you’re looking for a full UCaaS solution then Slack doesn’t offer external cloud calling capabilities. It’s not a phone system replacement.
Who is Slack For?
The versatile nature of Slack makes it a fantastic option for a range of businesses – from small companies, to large enterprises, freelancers, and medium businesses. Indeed, it seems that Slack haven’t specifically tailored their offering to any one particular target market, though as we mentioned above, it may be more suitable for those who do a lot of “text-based” messaging, rather than people who prefer VoIP and video calls.
What is It Compatible With?
One of the interesting features of Slack, is that it’s intended to be seamlessly connected with a host of other tools. Integrations with various services and apps let you make the most out of your service. For instance, you can integrate Slack with email so that other people on a certain channel can read through your conversations. Additionally, you can set up integrations with other project management solutions like GitHub, Trello, and JIRA.
There’s also a range of automations available using Zapier, which also supports Slack, and you may find that there is a host of other things that you can do to incorporate Slack with all the tools your team already uses. The host of integrations means that companies who want to use plenty of services at once will appreciate Slack for its connectivity with various software systems. It also works with MailChimp, Zendesk, Dropbox, Google Drive, and all of the biggest social media networks, too.
Slack Review: UC Today Opinion
It’s no surprise that Slack is one of the most popular messaging solutions available today for businesses, enterprises, and freelancers alike. The easy search function, combined with customisable notifications makes it simple for businesses to track down the data that they need, without losing too much in terms of productivity and efficiency.
For those who don’t mind limited video and audio services, Slack is a simple and effective communication and collaboration service, which provides plenty of fun! You can share emoji’s, customise your profile, and more.
Are you a Slack user? We’d love for you to share your opinions of the platform with us in the comments below! Join in the discussion, and feel free to share this review on your favourite social media channels to get colleagues and friends in on the conversation too!
If you’re researching Team Collaboration Software vendors, then you may want to look at these Slack alternatives:
- Microsoft Teams
- Cisco Webex Teams
- Workplace by Facebook
- RingCentral Glip
- Unify Circuit
- Alcatel-Lucent Rainbow
What’s Slack been up to lately? Get more Slack News here!