Taking Up The Slack



Hello there.


I’m Julian and I'm really pleased that you've chosen to download and listen to this episode.  I really appreciate you taking the time to listen to little 'ol me! 

If you're new here, then welcome to the Productivity Matters podcast.


On this episode, I’m going to take a look at Slack - a communication tool.  As you may know from previous episodes, I love using automation to make things as efficient as possible, and the use of Slack, and the integrations it provides is just one more way to help.


Don’t go away.  Just going to do this….

Communication in business, in fact in any walk of life, is key to understanding.  Whether that’s understanding a business message, or receiving the latest company information, or just discussing what’s happening from a social point of view; it’s clear we need to be consistent and communicate often.


In our personal space, we have access to the likes of WhatsApp, Messenger, iMessage, Snapchat and good old fashioned text messages.  We also have the ability to message in apps such as Instagram and Facebook.  It’s interesting that the biggest messaging apps are all owned by one company - with WhatsApp, Instagram and Messenger all part of Facebook!!


In the business world, the primary place for communication is LinkedIn - a site that has given me access to various different roles over the years.


However, when it comes to communicating internally; between you and your colleagues, then there is a very different set of tools available.


First off, there’s the various web chat services, such as Webex, GoToMeeting, Skype or Zoom.  These are ideal for multi-site meetings, to discuss and share screens to keep conversations flowing.


Then there’s the in-house chat; HipChat springs to mind (for JIRA users, this integrates very nicely for a joined up collaboration), there’s Yammer and there’s also Slack.

I’ve had previous experience of HipChat, having used it quite heavily with one client, and also GoToMeeting and Webex.  However, I have recently been introduced to Slack, within the last year, and I must admit to liking the way it works.


Whilst I use Slack supplied by my clients, I have also set up one for Productivity Matters.  Now, this is just for me; there are no colleagues to interact with, but this has become a great way for me to keep up with certain information, as I’ll explain in a moment.


Slack is a cross-platform application; available on Mac, Windows, Linux, web, Android, iOS and Windows mobile.  It’s a real-time, cloud based tool - so you will need an internet connection regardless of the app you use.


Slack works using Channels - which are like areas for a specific subject.  They act as a stream for information in that area.   It’s important to be selective about the channels you join, otherwise you’ll be bogged down in messages you don’t really need to see.


You can set notifications, do not disturb and even statuses, so your colleagues can see if you’re available or not.  You can also use keywords as a way to set alerts; so whenever that word is used, you’ll be notified.


Now, Slack is free to download and use, with as many members as you need; but there are restrictions on the file storage, of just 5GB, and audio / video calls can only be made between two people not groups.  Also, only the last 10,000 messages are included in the search functionality.  Free accounts can also only be integrated with up to 10 third party apps.

Apart from the normal person-to-person chat; with which you can include links, documents and much more, one of the huge benefits are the apps that you can integrate.

I just love the various ways you can do things, automatically, using different apps; and I’m going to talk through how I use some of them now.


First of all; Zapier.  This is a great integration tool, that can trigger events based on outcomes, and then send the output as a message.  I have a number of Google Forms that I’m using for the Cub Scout group I run.  These forms are for capturing information relevant for our upcoming camp.


When a form is completed by the parent, a Google Sheet is automatically updated.  Using Zapier, I can look for a new line in the Sheet and then send a message to a channel in my Slack account.  Within the Zap, I have included the Cub name and parent name; along with any specific response, in a preset message.  This means that I can see who has responded, and any pertinent information immediately, without having to continually check the Google Sheet.


How about this one; also using Zapier (in fact most of my integrations use Zapier).  When I add a file to Google Drive, I have a Zap that will move it to a specific folder - this saves me having to navigate to the folder at the time of uploading it.  Once the file move is complete, then I receive a message in Slack confirming the move has taken place.

Both of these take the form of ‘bots’ - automated messages in Slack.  I created my own Slack account specifically for this purpose and it’s working really well.  It saves me having to check all the different places.


Of course, there’s much more available, such as receiving news items from RSS feeds directly into Slack.  This can get a bit onerous and after a while I removed these.  I just felt they were creating more noise, than actually being of benefit.


Other integrations, that are available directly with Slack, are Giphy, to send some visual effect to your messages.  You can add a poll; so you can ask your users to vote on a subject.  There are also integrations with calendars, such as Google and Outlook.


There are tons of integrations available, and with Zapier, this runs to many, many more.  In fact, you can also integrate with IFTTT.  I’ve set one up with Tado, the smart heating system.  When the temperature drops below, or rises above, a temperature, I will receive a message in Slack.  Why?  Who knows! It does mean I can check if the heating is on, or not, and take action remotely (or even if I’m at home).


I’ve often extolled the virtues of ToDoIst, as my to-do list application; and Slack has integrations with that too.  It’s more useful when there are other people involved, but it’s a good one to have.


It’s even possible to set reminders, that pop-up at the requisite time.  It’s all about having the right tool in the right place to get the job done.


If you haven’t used Slack before, and want to see what the fuss is about, then I’ve added the link in the show notes.


Now, as previously mentioned, Slack is free to download and use, with as many members as you need; but there are restrictions on the file storage, of just 5GB, and audio / video calls can only be made between two people not groups. 


For up to 10GB of storage and the ability to do video / audio calls between groups, then you’ll need Slack Standard; which currently costs £63 per person per year (or £6.30 per month, if you just pay monthly).

I hope you’ve found this episode interesting.


Don’t forget to follow me where you normally listen to your podcasts.

Thank you very much for listening and until next time, remember, Productivity Matters.

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