Slack and Teams


[Microsoft Teams Overtakes Slack With 13 Million Daily](Users http://bit.ly/2Y0FB3S)

This is hardly surprised given the treasure trove that is Microsofts o365 Enterprise agreements, where it bundles Teams for ‘free’.

From one perspective Teams is equitable(ish) to Slack if you’re comparing features, but Slack still wins hands down on UX and extensibility.

Slack’s Problem

The biggest hurdle for Slack is how it migrates its predominately technical user base to be more organisation-wide. Something they’re working on, but even they will admit it’s a big challenge. This is why they’ve been pushing their aligned workforce strategy (which I think is exactly the right thing to do).

They know they need compelling use-cases which show off nontechnical workflows, something they’re working on really hard (especially as soon they’ll have a workflow builder you don’t need to code) but can they get non-technical teams to buy?

Hopefully! Now it has oodles of cash from its DPO it certainly has the money and opportunity to push a massive campaign into the heart of the enterprise.

Teams’ Problem

Teams have to ditch its ‘Skype for business replacement’ label and prove itself as a new digital collaboration tool shifting mindset from DMs and video conferencing to an open collaboration platform.

In my experience of a Teams deployment to a company of 5000 people currently, the most used features are:

  • Video Conferencing (Meetings)
  • Direct Messages

Most conversation happens in private channels DMs or private groups, and moving communications into open channels requires work, and modelling good behaviour.

Yes, this shift needs to happen within the corporate mindset but that is facilitated by tools, and pitching Teams as the new Skype for business bakes in the old, closed channel behaviour.

Also, there are odd limits on the number of users and channels per team.

Currently, only 5000 people per team which limits a large organisation from having a company-wide team for announcements and only 200 channel per team and that you’re not able to have a mix of open channels and private channels per Team.

These restrictions are limiting when you’re creating focused areas for discussion, and have a genuine need for some private spaces.

This is a legacy of having built Teams on o365 groups, rather than building new, for a new model of collaboration. I have a feeling this architectural decision will bite them in the arse.

Microsoft’s answer to the company-wide Teams argument (for more than 5000 users) is Yammer; yet another tool to fragment communication.

Shifting the mindset

Teams biggest strength is its footprint (anyone with an o365 subscription) but its weakness is how it’s marketed to replace a product which reinforces close communication channels.

Slacks weakness is its footprint. It’s small (requiring IT departments to pay for it in addition to other capital expenditure) but its strength is that it forces an open communication channel nudging user/org behaviour change.

Changing behaviour is where the long game is.

Personalised Enterprise Workflows.

To make the platforms work for the enterprise the development environment has to support internal app creation.

Currently is much, much easier to build apps for Slack than it is for Teams.

Slack’s API is consistently documented and essentially in one place.

Microsoft’s Development environment is spread across graph API (beta), bot kit and connectors making it surprisingly difficult to develop for. I expect this to consolidate over the next few years, but for now, it’s hard.

Summary

If like me you believe the future of work is digital collaboration in remote/distribute teams then how Slack and Teams evolve will have a massive impact.

For now Slack is king and as an organisation, you should seriously consider the true cost of ‘Free’ you may have to pay for Slack, but you will be investing in an open digital culture which will pay dividends in the long run.

Teams could get there, but it’s foundations are based upon a series of a closed communications tool, and it’s gonna take some time for this tool to open up.

Ambient mind …


Wow. I’ve not used this blog for a very long time. time to dust it off and make a go of sharing my learnings, thoughts and ideas.

Expect to see things on:

  • Remote working
  • Digital Collaboration tools
  • Running software development teams

and other such stuff.

Best,

Matt

Remote working – Working Environment (Update)


We’re constantly tweaking our working environment partly due to finding better tools and partly due to the existing toolset improving.

What’s out

Skype – for IM

We found Skype to be particularly laggy when working cross platform, and we were hitting a issue when posting message. Several of the team were having a ‘pending’ status showing constantly for team messages.

We still use Skype for video chats and screen sharing.

Join.me

This looked perfect, light weight and reliable, but when InvisionApp introduced its LiveSharing feature, join.me feel out of use. We now use a mixture of Skype, and Invision to for screen based collaboration.

What’s in

Slack

Slack is a ‘It’s real-time messaging, archiving and search for modern teams’ and it work really well. You have different channels for different projects, as well as generic channels for team discussions etc. There’s an app for the Mac, iPhone, iPad and Android and a Chrome app for windows PCs (let’s hope a native app arrives soon).

The pricing seems pretty reasonable too; for a team of 5 people it’s around $40 / month.

Mobile working toolkit – Hardware


20140312-120351.jpg

Since I’ve been working remotely I’ve tried lots of different hardware tools and have settled on the following.

  1. 13″ MacBook Air (mid 2013) 8GB RAM, 500 GB SDD – I bought this because it’s light and has a big HDD and a long battery life, although any light and powerful computer will do. The MBA is used primarily to get real work done.. when I’m reviewing and drafting things I use the iPad.
  2. iPad 4 Retina 32gb WIFI with Logitech ultra thin keyboard and Wacom Bamboo stylus – This is my go to device when I’m reviewing things on Basecamp or InvisionApp and spending my day reading/responding to emails or drafting specs. The keyboard is essential to make the iPad more efficient. (I’m thinking of upgrading to iPad Air to reduce the weight)
  3. 4G Mobile Dongle – keeps me connected. I have had very little problems getting online with this HUAWEI dongle (except when I’m abroad.. I’ll address this at a later date.)
  4. Spare cables – I keep 2 x micro USB and 1 x Lightning cable to charge my devices through my MBA
  5. Notepad – for a when a computer just isn’t needed.
  6. Sennheiser MM 400 headphones – Great for keeping the noise out when working on the road, plus has a built in microphone which makes moving from music/podcasts to Skype really easy.
  7. iPhone 5s (not pictured). Keeps me intouch and can be used as Hotspot when my broadband dongle is out of juice.

Thoughts on remote working


A few thoughts on the Remote working.

1) Culture, attitudes etc.

The hardest part of remote working is the cultural attitudes to people not being in the office. The only way to alleviate this is to build a culture of visibility. People have to be trusted to get their tasks done, and have to show evidence of that. If someone is working remotely you lose the ability to observe what someone is doing on a day to day basis, and instead they have to be measured on their output. The only way to show output is through a culture of visibility.

Team spirit and values – This was my biggest area of concern for the team, will remote working fracture a good team culture? We combat this issue by having an open ‘water cooler’ channel for the whole team to chat, as if they are in the office together. We also arrange regular (bimonthly) get togethers so the team can meet, discuss big problems, process problems and task based problems etc. and to blow off steam.

2) Tools, connectivity etc.

Remote teams need reliable access to the tools and resources to show their outputs and to be able to connect from wherever they are. This means that as an organisation a decision needs to be made on what is hosted behind the VPN, and what is hosted externally. Things hosted behind the VPN will be inherently more unreliable because you have to connect through something in order to access the services. If this goes down the remote workers ability to get their work done is compromised (as it is when internal resources go down for office based colleagues)

Internet connectivity is a big problem when you’re out and about. Mobile broadband is essential, and home broadband must be fast and reliable.

3) Roles and tasks

I firmly believe that any employee who spends most of their time communicating through their computer is a candidate for remote working, but the tools they’ll need to support their tasks will be different. Developers will need something different from Designers or BAs etc.

——

A bit of background

Before Oct 2013 I didn’t believe it possible to maintain a well gelled team and facilitate remote working, but given that at the time my team of 6 were going to be made homeless i had to come up with a strategy to keep the team functioning and productive.

I spent two weeks analysing the team to see how they worked and discovered that 90% of the time they were working primarily through their computers. When they did work together on a problem, the team would gather round someones screen to discuss things. I was certain that there were screen sharing tools and collaboration tools which could replicated the same thing. so we tried a few out and found some that worked for us and our stakeholders.

We spent a month using the tools in a traditional office based environments, so that the correct behaviours could be embedded. After that was successful we experimented with a week of complete remote working to see what additional problems there were.

After that we moved to complete remote working and the team is as gelled as it was before. An addition bonus has been that when we do meet up there is greater camaraderie than there was before.

I use the following principles with the team, which i though should be considered in this initiative.

Team Principles

  • Trust, clarity and transparency
  • Communicate early, communicate often
  • If in doubt go voice… even better go video.

Remote working – Working Environment


Our working environment

Our working environment is as flexible as you need it to be, I don’t care how we complete our work, only that we do, and we do it well.

From now on you don’t need to tell me if you’ve got to pop out for an hour, or if you want to take holiday. Simply put the dates in the team ‘where abouts’ calendar.

Before you book holiday ask yourself question: Given what i’ve committed to delivering, is now is the right time to have off?

If it is, go ahead and take your holiday. You deserve it!

To enable a flexible working arrangement, we need to do the following things to ensure there is visibility across the whole team.

Basecamp

Is the place where we discuss the journeys and tasks we’re working on, and as a group dump for project and design assets.

If you have a meeting about your tasks, this is where you summarise the outcome.

Invision

Upload your sketches/wireframes/designs here. Share your project with our stakeholders and collected feedback. This is where we validate our solutions and ensure that everyone has a say in the end solution.

Skype

Everyone should be logged into Skype between 11am – 3pm.

There’s the team discussion group (Experience Design) which is where we can chew the fat, keep the fun going or ask general questions about our projects/tasks.

Use your status to let people know if you’re free or don’t want to be disturbed, people may not reply straight away, and we should be considerate about everyone else’s time

Don’t forget to use the video conferencing facility if you need to.

Join.me

Sometime we’ll need to collaborate on the same things, for this we use join.me

Best practice

Be inclusive – there is nothing worse when working remotely then when decision being made and you don’t know how/why. Fire up Skype and/or join.me and video conference the relevant people in. Summarise on Basecamp.