What Is Slack?

Definition & Examples of How to Use Slack

Man using Slack while working from home

 10'000 Hours / Getty Images

Slack is an instant messaging service that's designed for use in the workplace. It allows for both direct messages between two individuals, as well as group chats where many people can share content, comments, and reactions.

Here’s a guide to what Slack is, how you might use it for your business, and some of the advantages and disadvantages of this service.

What Is Slack?

Slack is a tool for group collaboration that is designed for teams that work in different locations, though any company may benefit from its service. At its core, Slack is instant messaging software. In addition to direct messages, Slack enables communication "channels" that can be organized by project, client, team, or any other way your business sees fit to separate conversations.

The software's parent company, Slack Technologies, is a publicly-traded company with more than a dozen corporate offices around the globe.

How Does Slack Work?

Getting started with Slack can be as simple as downloading the software. Slack has a free plan that it markets to small teams. You can use this plan for as long as you want, but there are limitations. For one, you can only search the most recent 10,000 messages. The free version also limits the integration of custom and third-party apps, and you won't be able to invite guests (such as a potential client) to channels.

Paid plans remove these and other restrictions. They also offer extra security and file storage. The price of the plans vary, but as of Aug. 27, 2020, paid plan prices start around $7.

Once you and your colleagues have downloaded Slack, there are many ways you can incorporate it into your business operations. The most basic way to use Slack is as an instant messenger, for both one-on-one communication and group discussions. This allows teams to remotely discuss a project and share files as easily as they could if they were in the same room. Slack can also be used for phone calls, video chats, and screen sharing.

The layout is flexible. New channels can be created and removed at any time, for any purpose. Users can jump in and out of channels whenever needed. Within channels, you can create threads that help organize multiple conversations going on at once. These side chats help prevent tangents from distracting from the primary focus.

Many businesses may find that it's helpful to create a channel specifically for tangents, miscellaneous conversations, and stress-relieving content. That way, remote workers can socialize without derailing project discussions.

What Kind of Business Is Slack Best For?

Slack is especially useful for any business that uses remote teams, whether it's because you work from home or in an office on another continent. Besides co-workers, you can bring clients, contractors, or guests into specific conversations. This can help to keep important players updated without necessarily adding them to your core team.

Slack also benefits fast-growing companies and businesses with time-sensitive projects. New employees get access to any previous conversations once they’re added to a channel.

Pros and Cons of Slack

  • Instant communication

  • Searchable history

  • Integration with other tools and services

  • Shared files

  • Public and private channels

  • Messages can get disorganized and chaotic

  • Addictive by nature

  • Can be shallow

Pros Explained

  • Instant communication: Slack operates in real-time and can be used on nearly any mobile connected device.
  • Searchable history: This log of interactions can be invaluable. In the paid versions, you can search every file and conversation in Slack.
  • Integration with other tools and services: The list of applications you can use with Slack is already impressive, and they are adding new services all the time. 
  • Shared files: Documents can be shared in real-time right within your Slack channels. You can comment on a specific document and get instant feedback.
  • Public and private channels: This gatekeeping feature of Slack is very useful. You can limit channels or group chats to just the individuals involved in a project or open it up to the entire company.

Cons Explained

  • Messages can get disorganized and chaotic: When you have several people collaborating on a project in a chat format, the information you need—even with the search function—can get buried quickly. Slack moves quickly and it can be hard to keep track of what’s going on.
  • Addictive by nature: With push notifications and emojis, Slack has much of the addictive quality of social media. This may mean your team spends too much time checking Slack and less time actually doing their work.
  • Can be shallow: Compared to face-to-face meetings, it's difficult to have substantive conversations via instant messages. It's even harder to achieve substantive communication through group messages.

Key Takeaways

  • Slack is instant messaging software designed to help professional teams collaborate remotely.
  • Slack is versatile; channels and threads can be created or removed at will, employees can hop in and out of conversations, and the software can integrate various types of files and third-party applications.
  • The most basic version of Slack is free, though teams can pay for upgraded service and storage.