Slack and the African startup: How we abandoned emails to embrace a faster way to communicate
Mahrukh Murtaza, Lead of Communications Design at iDT Labs, explores why the company let go of emails and adopted Slack as their team communication platform
It’s been 4 months since I have been working as a remote consultant for the iDT Labs team, head quartered in Sierra Leone in West Africa. I have never met any of my team mates face to face, I live on a different continent and am separated by several hours of time. Yet, the work gets done. In these past four months I have been part of multiple brainstorm sessions, collaborated on several projects and been fairly on top of all new developments, without sharing more than a handful of emails or being part of long winding meetings. Do I have some superhuman powers to communicate telepathically across thousands of kilometers?
No, I simply have Slack.
Slack was launched in 2013 as a cloud based communication app, and has since become the preferred tool for hundreds of people from large business teams to freelancers due to its informal nature and productivity enhancing features. The app currently boasts 9 million active weekly users from more than a 100 countries.
So what motivated the iDT Labs team to adopt this team communication tool?To understand this better, I had a quick Slack chat (see what I did there?) with the Co-founder and CTO, Salton Massally. Salton says he decided to incorporate Slack in January 2017. As the lead of a primarily tech team, he used to get frustrated by slow paced email exchanges when all he wanted to do was have a quick word about a piece of code or the next step on a project.Email was also not the ideal way to loop in several team members to have a chat on a common subject. The threads would get too long, making it troublesome to check for conversation histories while ensuring group participation. The team was also growing rapidly. Remote employees from Pakistan, USA and Kenya were joining in and needed to not only be on-boarded efficiently but also be connected well to headquarters. There was an urgent need to make team communications faster and more productive without wasting time sending emails or scheduling meetings. Salton even experimented with Whatsapp, but it proved to be too informal to work in the long term.
Then he came across Slack, and there was no looking back.
Slack is now the main team communications tool for both on-site and remote iDT employees. It has proven itself as a critical platform for the company by enabling the team to focus on and accomplish multiple tasks and projects within tight deadlines while being in different time zones and geographical regions. Currently, the team maintains its diverse activities in over 25 Slack channels, each channel dedicated to the tracking and advancing of simultaneous projects from various Business Units. Bots and plugins such as Busybot and Standuply are used on a daily basis to run virtual stand ups and assign tasks. All conversations have accessible histories, so new team members can explore the messages and get on-boarded very quickly. Everyone from the interns to the Business Unit heads are always connected to the top level management because conversations can be started with hello and do you have a minute? instead of “Dear Sir” or “Miss CEO”. Business Unit leads are able to travel while staying updated with their team activities via Slack for mobile. Sure, some emails are still sent, but they have become largely restricted to external communications. As for Salton, he can be seen popping into all the channels every day to monitor progress, address concerns and make sure that projects are running smoothly.
While Slack as a phenomenon has become slightly old news around the world by late 2017, it is still in the process of being adopted by startups and businesses in West Africa, where email remains the main internal communication method for majority of the companies. However, it seems that teams which are aspiring to establish international collaborations and foster a culture of fast, informal yet productive communications will benefit from adopting platforms such as Slack into their workflow.