Let’s Talk About Communication
How do you stay in touch with your team? Chances are you may already use one of the platforms we’ll discuss in this post. For those of you who haven’t chosen a platform for communication, this is for you. In an ever-evolving virtual world, how we stay in contact with each other is vital. This is why it’s as important to choose a great communication platform that’s versatile, scalable, and easy to use. Today we take a look at some popular platforms you should take a closer look at.
It’s almost impossible to join any company and never hear about Slack. Slack has quickly become one of the world’s most wildly used communication platforms on the planet. Stewart Butterfield started his company, Ludicorp in 2002. Butterfield’s original idea was to start a gaming company. He tried this a few times with no luck but in 2014 a new idea took shape. Out of the ashes of a few failed ventures came Slack. An all-in-one platform where teams can collaborate, share documents, and discuss projects in real-time.
Slack has a lot of things going for it. It’s easy to use, insanely customizable and most importantly it’s scalable and secure. Users can quickly download Slack and jump right into their organizations’ environments. It’s really easy to create channels for whole teams to collaborate while still giving you the option for 1 on 1 chat or group chats specific to certain people or projects. Slack is free but for teams that want to take full advantage of Slack’s features, paid options are available as well.
One of our favorite features of Slack is how easy it is to integrate other services into the platform. Let’s say you’re a G Suite-based company. Slack makes it really easy to link your existing services like Google Drive or Google Calendar directly with Slack. All of your calendar appointments can link to Slack in case you need an extra reminder of that next meeting. Google is just one example. Slack has hundreds of different connectors that you can take advantage of.
Like any platform, Slack has some improvements it can make but in all fairness, these are more behavioral faults rather than faults of the platform. For one, Slack can be addictive. Like any other form of virtual communication, it can be difficult to turn off the workday. That notification comes in and even if you know it’s something that can wait for the next day, it’s often difficult for power users to shut down. Luckily Slack comes with a do not disturb feature, similar to what you’ll find natively built into a mobile device. Work-life balance is huge. It’s important to take time for yourself when you can.
Slack is also not a full replacement for conversations that should happen in person. Rather than go into details about the importance of human contact, I direct you to this article from The Verge where Slack was a catalyst in the removal of a CEO from a top luggage start-up company. After reading the article, I think we can agree that a more hands-on approach should have been taken.
To round out criticisms, Slack can sometimes feel unorganized. Imagine a scenario where you’re trying to meet a deadline. You may have different members on your team ‘Slacking’ you at the same time with documents, edits, or comments on work. It can get frustrating and confusing. Separate channels are great but these tend to add up over time.
CISCO is one of the most recognized brands in the IT space. They have a wide range of different hardware and software offerings depending on the need. Today we’re going to focus on CISCO’s Webex application. You may not know it but Webex has been around since 1995. It was acquired by CISCO in 2007 and is one of the world’s most used communication platforms on the market.
Webex’s real benefits come with its video and audio features. We touched on some of Webex’s conferencing capabilities in a previous blog post if you’re interested in learning more about that. Currently, Webex can be installed on mobile devices and computers as a native app.
Webex has a super simple user interface that makes it easy for anyone to join or host a chat. You can easily share your desktop for presentations and share files with teams or external parties. One of our favorite features of Webex is its Whiteboard feature. Think about being in a classroom and your teacher fully marks up the whiteboard. It’s the same concept with Webex. You can use Whiteboards for note-taking, strategizing, or if you simply want to put up a message for attendees to look at.
As a host, you have full control over the meeting. You can mute and unmute participants, you can set up polls for participants to vote on. You can even make annotations on documents or on someone’s screen if they’re sharing. Webex gives the host full control over a meeting, down to being able to lock a room to prevent uninvited guests from joining.
Some drawback to keep in mind is browser options. By default, Webex works with Microsoft Edge (formally Microsoft Explorer) but you can easily change this to fit other browsers like Google Chrome, Firefox, or Safari. This is important to keep in mind if you’re also managing all of the devices in your corporate environment with a mobile device manager. Administrators would need to double-check that they’ve provisioned the correct browser for use with Webex.
Webex allows you to record meetings as well. While this is a great feature, the caveat here is that recordings only stay saved/active for 5 days. If you forget to send the recording to someone who wasn’t able to make the meeting then you may never get to if you wait too long.
Unfortunately, Webex falls victim to low bandwidth problems. You need a pretty strong internet connection to run Webex but most importantly, so you don’t get booted from a call. Users with average/low internet speeds can expect freezing, timeouts, and connection issues. An organization that wants to integrate Webex into their workflow will need to keep this in mind and make sure that their offices have the proper bandwidth available to support all their users.
We’ve arrived at Microsoft Teams. Those of you in a full O365 environment probably already use Teams. It’s packed with a lot of great features that have helped Teams climb the ladder of communication platforms since its release in 2017. Teams are Microsoft’s answer to Slack. A singular platform to chat, call, share and collaborate with your team. Let’s talk highlights.
For one, compatibility. As some may assume, Microsoft Teams integrates fully into the O365 environment. You can share, receive and access other apps like OneNote, Sharepoint, Yammer, Skype, and of course the Microsoft suite of apps like Word, Excel, and Powerpoint. Teams also have similar integrations with 3rd party apps allowing you to take advantage of all the services you already pay for all in one place.
You can access teams either by downloading the app onto your computer or mobile device. If you’re on the go then you can also get into Teams via the O365 portal. Staying mobile is crucial in our current COVID world. A lot of companies don’t know when they’re going to get back to the office while other companies have already made the decision to keep work from home model. Apps like these have become invaluable.
This goes without saying but Microsoft Teams streamlines and improves productivity. No longer do you have to worry about whether you replied all on that sales email. Teams lets you reach all of your important contacts in one place. This helps boosts collaboration productivity and keeps everyone current on a group project. This negates the fear of team members working on different versions of the same project.
Now let’s talk about improvements. For one, a constant internet connection is required for Microsoft Teams to work. Unlike other apps in the Office suite like Outlook that have caching technology built-in, Teams requires that you have a consistent connection to the internet in order to receive or send messages. This means that the text you sent on an Airplane will most likely need to be resent when you’re able to connect to the internet again.
File structure. Oh my. File structure. I think we all can agree that a good file structure helps everyone out. If you’re one of those people who needs to know where every single file is, Teams may not be the best option for you. All files uploaded in a channel are saved in the root of a folder. Unfortunately, this means if a file is put into the wrong folder and someone moves it, any links to that file that are being shared with someone else will be broken.
Another disadvantage of Teams comes into play when you want to add external participants. While Slack makes this pretty easy with external channels, Microsoft Teams makes you go through a few hoops before allowing external participants into a managed Teams space. This is most likely due to security. Essentially, Microsoft wants you to be absolutely sure when adding external parties.
Discord is our pick for the “We need a cheap easy way to chat without all the bells and whistles” solution. A lot of you may already know Discord as it’s very popular among the online gaming community. Discord looks and works a lot like Slack and it’s a simple, easy-to-use option for teams who are looking to get set up and running quickly.
Discord gives you the option for 1 on 1 chat, group chats, calls, and simple file-sharing capabilities. You can download Discord from the App store on a mobile device or directly from Discord’s website if you want to download it onto a Mac or Windows machine. Let’s get into the good stuff:
Dark mode. While this is just a cosmetic feature, it really does have benefits. A lot of the platforms we’ve discussed today have Dark Mode and for a good reason. The dark mode is easier on the eyes. We check our devices so often throughout the day that the last thing your eyes need is a burst of bright light first thing in the morning. The dark mode also reduces the battery power needed to power apps that support it. Apps without dark mode take more resources from your battery so you dynamically improve your battery life when all of your apps are on Dark mode.
Taking calls in Discord is customizable as well. One of the biggest headaches of a group call is when someone’s mic volume is a lot louder than the rest of the group. With Discord, you can lower or raise the volume for participants on the fly as a host. It’s a very convenient feature.
The biggest benefit of Discord is its free price tag. While there is a “premium” plan, this is more of a “thank you” to the developers rather than a way of unlocking features. With any free services, you get what you pay for. In this case, a lot of the very useful features come via integrations with other 3rd party platforms. This is where we get into the downside of Discord.
Let’s start with security. Unfortunately, because Discord is mainly crowdfunded, they don’t currently have the security infrastructure in place where organizations can take advantage of their own server for a secure connection. This also means that any files you upload in Discord are accessible to Discord should they choose to ever take a peek since it’s all housed on the same server. Other platforms like Slack and Teams have end-to-end encryption and workspaces stay separate. Organizations will want to take note of this.
Next, let’s talk about Nitro. Nitro is an optional add-on for Discord. It’s essentially a fresh coat of paint for the platform. Nitro has a ton of upgrades it brings to Discord, but at a cost. A year subscription of Nitro will run you $99 while a monthly subscription costs $9.99 a month. The month-to-month option is pretty reasonable if you want to try Nitro without the year commitment. Nitro allows for new/updated emojis, larger file uploads in Discord, HD video, and more. Nitro is a must-install for Discord if you want to get the most out of the platform.
Communication platforms are a dime a dozen. There are hundreds of options out there but it’s important to do the research and figure out what features are a must-have and which features you can live without. All of the platforms discussed above would make great options for teams of all sizes but focusing on what’s most important to your organization will help you choose a platform that’s not only boosts productivity but also fits your budget. If you’re interested in learning more about these communication platforms or maybe looking to integrate one into your ecosystem, don’t hesitate to reach out and we’re happy to start the conversation.