Nick Miller

Equip Your Employees with the Tools They Need

This week, the popular instant messaging application Slack released a feature that allows communication across companies using shared channels. This functionality is the next step in Slack’s attempt to replace the most unnecessary of back-and-forth emails that clog the inboxes of workers all over the world. As of October 2016, there were nearly 5 million weekly active Slack users, so they are doing something right.

There are obvious benefits to applications like Slack and Yammer and intranets with similar functionalities built in. Besides a decrease in email traffic – especially the unnecessary copying of non-essential recipients – the instant messenger is just what it claims to be: instant. Yes, email is more or less instant, but inboxes fill up quickly and having to read paragraphs at a time can slow down productivity. Slack also has some other nifty abilities, like a robust search tool with filters, file sharing, and ways to collaborate on code.

But there is a gray area surrounding the use of a free service like Slack being used as a non-sanctioned business tool. We often hear from clients that employees have discovered the app on their own and have worked it into their day-to-day. Some companies don’t mind the addition and give their employees credit for finding solutions that make their jobs easier.

Others are concerned with a myriad of issues. Security is a concern when it comes to information leaking to those who shouldn’t have access, especially when sharing information across companies. Another is the ability for rumors to spread like wildfire due to the ease and speed with which information can be disseminated on an instant messaging app.

So, what does Tribe think the best solution is? Fill the gap before someone else does. We preach this all the time with our change communications, but it is relevant to any and all internal communicating.

If your employees are in need of a tool, they will search out a solution. Don’t wait for productivity tools to bubble up. Instead, charge your managers with identifying which tools are right for their groups and promote the use of that tool for productivity. Ask your employees directly what they need to make their job easier. A short and simple survey can provide all sorts of relevant information as well as benchmarking for future analysis of your tools.

Ensure that your communications are proactive to match the speed of your tools. Especially in times of change or bad news, combat false information by communicating to your employees first. Have a process in place for your leaders to cascade accurate communications across the company in the case of an emergency.

Interested in employing collaboration tools? Tribe can help.

Jeff Smith

Graphic Design: Why Slack Became the Messaging App of Choice For Employees

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Tribe has been a believer in Slack for a while now. Last year, we were looking for a better way to communicate in our office. We heard some great things about a few apps, but Slack stood out for one big reason. Employees around the world were adopting it independently and using it for work voluntarily. That type of phenomenon warrants investigation, so we tried it, and immediately, we understood the hype.

Today, Slack is being used by thousands of teams, from Al Jazeera to NASA’s Mars Rover team. The messaging app has caught on like wildfire. Why? It’s no real secret, but the answer might still surprise you: good design. It’s something that a lot of people take for granted, but it can make or break an application like this. It can be hard to distinguish yourself with features alone. Anyone can have video capability, @mentions, cloud storage, etc. But when you make all of those features easy to find, easy to use and fun to incorporate into a work routine, that’s when you really have something special.

 The intuitive, yet unexpected graphic design of the program is what helps Slack easily adapt to your daily work. According to Andrew Wilkinson, the founder of MetaLab, the company that did the design work for Slack, they initially weren’t necessarily aiming for anything in particular with the design.

 “Figuring out why something is successful in retrospect is like trying to describe the taste of water. It’s hard,” he says. “We aren’t big on process. We prefer to just put our heads down and design stuff, iterating over and over again until something feels right. Slack was no different —there wasn’t any magic process we used”

But MetaLab was using another messaging app, and they saw opportunities to improve existing apps simply through better graphic design. Where the old app would have grey borders, black type and blue links, they gave Slack a “confetti cannon” color scheme. Where the old apps had a loading screen, they put funny, inspirational quotes. In short, their design gave Slack a personality, and in so doing, they didn’t just give employees another messaging app – they gave them an ally.

 The lesson? Good design gets things done. This is battle that people in creative fields fight every day. Companies can’t seem to justify a budget for design because it’s just “making things look nicer” or adding color or a logo, but as we can see clearly here, design has made all the difference in Slack’s success. There isn’t some unattainable formula. It’s the hard work of talented individuals who find real solutions through good design. They understand the trials and tribulations of the workplace because they’ve been there, and their education and background allows them to approach the problem in a different way.

Could your workplace communications use a graphic design overhaul? Give Tribe a call. We know the value of good design, and we’d love to help.

Get projects moving in the right direction with Flow

Are employees in your company using Slack, Basecamp or other project management software? At Tribe, we’re seeing this trend in large companies. Work groups or departments will adopt new software or apps for communication to sidestep their bulging email inboxes. The IT department may or may not support the software, or may not even realize that employees are using it.

One of the best of these project management tools is Flow. It allows team members to collaborate more easily and to keep track of each other’s progress in real time. Flow is intuitive and easy to learn, plus offers the satisfaction of being able to check a box when you complete a task.

Once you create a project in Flow, it allows everyone in your team to see and keep track of the project’s progress. If you need to see one or two colleague’s upcoming tasks, you can easily filter out all others to see exactly what you need. 

It’s very easy to make quick comments or add input. Each project has its own sort of chat room where all conversations regarding that particular project live. This can cut down on email overload significantly. If someone needs to get up to date on a project, they just go to that project in Flow and look at the discussion.

One person can also delegate tasks to multiple people and keep track of everything at once. This comes in handy for someone like a project manager. In a matter of minutes you can see who is working on what, if something is late, when projects are due, etc.

Small companies can benefit from this app as well. Tribe has jumped on board and now uses Flow to help us keep track of due dates. Instead of having a number of different projects listed, we have milestones or due dates. When we have a new creative project, we can assign the steps involved to the appropriate team members and organize those tasks in projects like Copy Due or Design Due. It makes it easy for art director and writers and account managers to see what’s due on any given day.

Looking for software to keep your teams on track? Tribe can help.

Stephen Burns

Keeping email effective

Email finally has legitimate competition. Sure, there have been email alternatives for years, but those always lacked something when matched against the time-tested channel. Today, though, more apps and programs have incorporated all of the big email features, address book, calendar synchronization, large file sharing, and in many cases have improved upon them.

But email isn’t going anywhere any time soon. The technology seems to have hit a wall, but there are still a lot of people who stand by the merits of email. It’s not a generational caveat, although it might become one once Gen Z moves in. It’s just an integral part of the corporate infrastructure, one that many employees have come to rely on. For that reason, it’s important that people continue to learn how to use it and how to use it right.

Here are some tips from the Tribe vault to help your employees keep email effective and efficient:

1) Are you using To: and Cc: correctly? Especially in companies with an unfortunate CYA culture, employees tend to copy everybody and their brother on messages that are truly relevant for just a few of the recipients. Train employees to use the To: line only for those people who’ll need to take action in response to the email. If they’re sending it as an FYI to their boss, their boss’s boss or to their own assistant, those names can go in the Cc: line. Then teach recipients to notice the difference and to give priority to those emails that are actually addressed to them.

2) Can the subject line tell the whole story? Train employees to summarize the message in the subject line. If the intranet launch has been pushed back to December 1, a subject line that reads “Intranet update” or even “Intranet pushed back” is not nearly as helpful as something like this: “Intranet launch pushed to Dec 1.” If the email is requesting something from its recipients, don’t bury that call to action deep in the body of the email. Let them know in the subject line. For instance, if someone needs a colleague to review a document, the subject line might read: “Your feedback requested on staffing strategy.” If the subject line can say everything that needs to be said, you may not even need any text at all. A good subject line can get the message across more effectively, can help others move through their inbox more quickly and makes searching for a saved email much easier.

3) Is it time to change the subject? It’s also helpful to train employees to update the subject line when the conversation has changed. If there’s an email thread that was originally about an employee recognition program but has now evolved into a discussion of how to recruit more engineers, someone could do the group a favor by replacing the subject line with one that’s more relevant. While they’re at it, they might remove some of the recipients who have nothing to do with recruiting.

Need more tips? Call Tribe. We’d be happy to help.

Stephen Burns

Tribe’s week with #Slack

Alright, I admit it. We here at Tribe are a bunch of Slackers. But it hasn’t always been like this. We just recently converted, and I’ve got to say it’s doing wonders for our productivity. Now, I can hear you saying, “I’m confused by all this clever wordplay!” So before we go any further, let me explain.

We’ve been using the messaging app Slack as our main communication channel this week. We’ve heard all the hubbub and started talking about it a while back, but more recently, we’ve seen a spike in employee advocacy of the app. Whenever employees are organically drawn to an app, it’s something worth investigating. People at your company may be using it already, and you can capitalize on the trend.

Why we love it: It’s incredibly simple, intuitive, fast and can be used on a variety of devices. We’ve had a few people out of the office and it’s been great in replacing quick or confirmation phone calls and emails. Their hashtag subject system makes it easy to keep all of our client accounts in order. Each project has a thread and only the people working on that project can chime in. Not only did it help to keep our correspondence subjects straight (and easily accessible from the search), but it also helped create a sense of team and conversation, as opposed to stagnate correspondence from one individual.

Our favorite feature: I know we have only been using the app for a week, so the more in-depth features have yet to be discovered. The individualized threads are great, and that seems to be the main thing Slack is touting. But one of the coolest things about Slack is the ability to upload and send files at lightening speed. Recipients of the file can then open a preview in the app or a browser instead of downloading the full file, taking up time and memory. This was particularly useful for quick approvals, small document updates or sending reference files. It’s always a pain downloading a 50-page .PDF when you only need it to clarify one small detail.

How it makes work easier: Simply put, it makes communication of all kinds easier. Before Slack, correspondence for one project could be dispersed between email, text messages and phone calls. Now, it’s all in one place. If you have an email thread in your inbox that is more than three emails long, you would benefit from using Slack. I don’t think email is going to be phased out any time soon, but when it finally goes, it will be because of apps like this.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Employees going rogue with Slack, Basecamp, Sococo and more

Are employees in your company spontaneously adopting their own collaboration software? We’ve noticed this in several client companies lately. IT may or not support these platforms, but employees are using them daily in their work to collaborate on projects, manage workflow processes and communicate with team members or departments.

Slack is the tool we’re seeing the most. A department head in one organization we work with advised his team to forget about emailing him. “If you need me, you can get me on Slack.” If that’s where your boss is working, it’s where you’re likely to show up as well.

Other platforms that employees are incorporating in this DIY approach include Basecamp, Sococo and Pie. In most cases, these communication solutions seem to be adopted when the existing intranet isn’t conducive to getting the work done. Or when internal email is so overwhelming people can’t get through their inbox.

This trend mirrors something my architect father used to say about sidewalks for office buildings. I think he may have been quoting Corbusier or Mies van der Rohe or some other great, but I remember him saying it was a good practice, when constructing an office building, to delay the paving of any sidewalks. Rather, one should wait to see where people walk – between the parking lot and the entrance, from building to building, wherever. After enough of them have walked the same route to wear footpaths in the dirt, then one can lay cement with confidence that the routes will be used.

In internal communications, companies often struggle to get employees to use the channels they provide. Perhaps instead we should all sit back and wait to see where the people go.

Interested in helping your employees with communication tools that support the way they work? Tribe can help.

Stephen Burns

Slack: An app for the slacker in all of us

Slack is an app that just hit the market last February. The brainchild of founder and Silicon Valley celeb, Stewart Butterfield, the app promised to make “working life simpler, more pleasant and more productive.” It caught on quickly, with early adoption from companies like Sandwich Video and Buzzfeed, and started making waves in the tech world. It’s one of those ideas that is so simple, it’s surprising that no one beat them to the punch.

It organizes all of your messages in one, searchable portal. Slack is team communications for the 21st century, as they put it. It takes your email, G-Chat, and any other messaging system your company is using and creates channels based on content and teams.

To fans of the TV show, The Office, it might sound similar to Ryan Howard’s app WUPHF. But it’s a bit more refined than that.

Some big names are using Slack. Including The New York Times, airbnb, and Spotify. Their clientele consists mainly of younger companies that presumably have more of a penchant for emerging tech. The app is organized through hashtags, so it seems to be geared toward employees that are familiar with the interface and cadence of social media correspondence. Something to keep in mind for companies considering it, but it feels like the enterprise social trend is becoming the norm.

In a little over a year, the company’s value has doubled. On the one year anniversary of its launch, Slack announced that they sign $1 million in new contracts every 11 days. We live in a world of inflated valuation, especially in start-up tech companies, but just look at those numbers. This is real growth showing great promise in markets across the world. It doesn’t seem to be a flash in the pan.

If your company needs a way to streamline all of your company’s communication channels, Slack might work for you. It integrates with almost everything, including Dropbox, Google Hangouts, Twitter and MailChimp, and by all accounts it works very well in a variety of fast-paced business environments. It’s a simple, intuitive platform that has caught on for a reason. The best part? You can use Slack Lite with your company for free, with unlimited users until you decide to upgrade (which they assure you will).