Through an arrangement with TechSoup, PND is pleased to offer a series of articles about the effective use of technology by nonprofits.
In our new COVID work-at-home world, many nonprofits have adopted collaboration tools to keep themselves going. One very popular tool is Slack, a workplace messaging platform structured around channels that are similar to group chats. Using these channels, or messaging colleagues individually, Slack users, whether internal staff or people outside the organization, can communicate quickly and easily from anywhere in the world. If you're new to the platform, or not sure whether it's for you, read on to learn more about some of the great features that Slack offers.
The ability to create channels is the key functionality in Slack and enables you to structure conversations, create virtual workspaces, and/or ensure that people invited to join a given channel have access to the information they need.
Within channels, there is a feature called threads, which keeps discussions in Slack organized and enables users to have side discussions that aren't necessarily relevant to everyone in the channel. For example, if you need to ask for clarification on something that was posted to the channel, threads let you do so without disrupting the broader discussion. Along with emojis and reactions, threads help you keep the conversation concise and on track. You can also "pin" documents in a channel to provide everyone with easy access to the resources they most frequently need and/or collaborate on.
Best of all, channels are highly customizable, which means you get to decide which channels your organization needs. That said, here are a few ideas to help get you started.
Functional. Announcement channels for your team or the organization as a whole are a great way to deliver general information. Here at TechSoup we have a #general channel that we use to deliver updates of interest to everyone in the organization. We've also created a #covid_general_info channel, so that staff can easily find organizational information related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Team channels like #finance or #marketing can be focused places where those teams gather, plan, and collaborate. If you want to replicate your usual office environment, try having a team huddle in Slack each morning at a regular time, or try scheduling a virtual team happy hour after work hours.
Another example of how we use channels here at TechSoup is our #submissionsforsocial channel, which makes its easy for teams and individuals inside TechSoup to flag items for the social team to push to various social media platforms. We also use the threads functionality to share context or "need-to-knows" for individual posts and/or ask follow-up questions.
"Help" channels are a lifesaver when it comes to troubleshooting issues with new software or hardware. Something like #help can be especially useful for organizations using remote working software for the first time, but you can also create help channels for individual tools.
Fun. After spending years working with and around other people, working from home can be a lonely experience. Fun, non-work-related channels on Slack are one way to keep morale up and important office relationships in good shape. A #dogs, #yoga, or #gardening channel can keep team members feeling connected to each other and help them find some normality in our current abnormal situation.
Another great way to stay connected and encourage each other is to create channels dedicated to celebrating your colleagues. At TechSoup, we have a #souperhero channel through which anyone can nominate a colleague who deserves special recognition for their work. We then use reactions and comment threads to vote on an Employee of the Quarter, and the winner is recognized at an all-staff meeting. As an organization with three physical offices and lots of remote workers, it's a great way for our teams around the world to feel connected to each other.
Remote Work Highlights
Slack is built to help you do your work wherever you happen to be, and it offers some great features that can make your home office run a little more smoothly.
Set Your Status. Keep your co-workers in the loop by updating your status or managing your availability. The Status feature (to access, click on your name in the top left corner of the screen) allows you to choose form one of five options: In a meeting, Commuting, Out Sick, Vacationing, Working Remotely. You can manage your availability (active or away) from the dot next to your name. Both features are customizable and can be set to expire at a time of your choice. If you're in a meeting, taking a lunch break, or just need an hour with no distractions, you can let your colleagues know when you'll next be available.
@mentions. For the time being, you can't just walk over to a colleague's desk to chat or check on a project. You can, however, @mention them in a channel if you need to to get their attention. An @mention will notify the tagged person that they have received a new message. It's a handy way of letting a colleague know when something is urgent, or to simply provide clarification as to who is being referred to in a message.
Share Documents. Slack allows users to share files and documents without having to toggle between tabs or windows. Through integrations with Google Drive, OneDrive, and other document-sharing applications, you can share documents directly into your channels, set permissions for reading and/or editing, and even search the text of the documents, all right within the application. It's a great way to ensure that everyone who needs access to a document can access it quickly and easily and make your workflows more efficient.
Set Notifications. Slack notifications keep you informed about things that need your attention. You can decide which channels you want to receive notifications from by "starring" that channel. When you star a channel, that channel will be moved to a dedicated section in your sidebar. You can still see when unstarred channels are updated by reviewing their status (if they're bolded, there have been notifications since last time you checked).
Meetings, Calls, and Video Conferencing. While Slack is primarily a collaboration and messaging platform, it has a number of features and integrations designed to facilitate face-to-face conversation.
When messaging back and forth just isn't cutting it and you need a quick one-on-one meeting, you can, from any chat or channel in Slack, simply click the call button to start a voice or video chat. You can also take advantage of Slack's built-in capabilities or one of the popular video-conferencing tools that it integrates with such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams (available as part of the Microsoft 365 bundle), and Google Meet. Simply click a link in Slack and jump straight onto a video call using your preferred app.
The platform also integrates with the Google and Outlook calendar apps, so you can schedule calls and get handy meeting reminders straight from Slack.
More on Integrations
Slack has many other well-documented APIs (application programming interfaces) that allow third parties to extend Slack's capabilities: there are literally thousands of integrations that work with Slack. You can have tweets that mention your company name flow into your #marketing channel or your CRM post updates to the #sales channel. You can install a poll integration and poll your team on a regular basis or create a "Lunch Train" (it's the name of the app) to suggest a lunch place and coordinate an outing. One of the integrations that brings the most fun is from Giphy, where a slash command (/gif) with a keyword will post a fun GIF.
More sophisticated integrations will leverage slash commands — which act as shortcuts for specific actions in Slack — so that they work both ways. Asana, for example, will allow you to create a new task with "/asana create" in addition to getting notifications when tasks are updated.
Working Remotely, Like a Pro
Slack is a great tool to keep you informed, focused, and connected while you work from home. It's intuitive, highly customizable, and also free for nonprofits with two hundred and fifty or fewer staff. Check it out!
Find Out More
For a more in-depth exploration of what Slack has to offer nonprofit organizations, check out our Slack for Nonprofits webinar.
Amy Hooper writes frequently for TechSoup about the nonprofit, technology, and online news sectors.