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Ditch the email, switch to messaging apps like Slack

Apps that combine the immediacy of text messaging with the features of project management software make it easy to bypass your overflowing inbox

We’ve all been in situations when a colleague or client has referred to an email we just know we didn’t get. It’s nobody’s fault, really. It’s an email problem.

Email is simply not the best way to communicate these days. You have multiple addresses to monitor. Your inboxes are jammed and overflowing. Those spam filters, designed to make it easier to manage your mail, too often let the junk through while blocking important messages. Like that receipt that was attached to an email you know you never saw.

Messaging apps combine the immediacy of text messaging with the features that project management software has used for efficient communication (see How private are your private messages?). That includes being able to receive, read and send messages across all your devices whether they are desktop or mobile.

Get notifications

You don’t have to monitor messaging apps like you’re a teenager waiting for a phone call. You can configure notifications to get a ping when you’ve been messaged directly, if you’ve been mentioned or if there’s been a response to a conversation you’re monitoring.

Organize conversations based on topic and participants

Keep your communications orderly by grouping them. Create dedicated channels to discuss clients or projects and make sure you’ve got one for water cooler conversations.

Direct communication between people

In the event you need to discuss sensitive details about a project, or what time you’re playing squash on Friday, you can have one-to-one conversations with others.

Attach files

You can share documents, images and spreadsheets directly in the messaging app to make sure what you send gets to the person who needs it.

Meet online with audio and video conferencing

You can dispense with phone calls and expensive conferencing services with the best messaging software, which all support audio and video calls and even screen sharing with a click from within the app itself.

Slack, and three other messaging apps

Some messenger apps—such as Facebook Messenger and direct messaging on Twitter—are fine for personal use, or for businesses that only want to communicate with customers. If you’re looking for a communication tool that will help your teams to stay connected, Slack is the gold standard, but here are three others to consider.

1. Slack

  • Cost: free for basic functions, $80 per user annually for Standard, $150 per user annually for Plus
  • Devices: Android, iOS, Linux, macOS, web browser, Windows

Slack is the best messaging app available. It’s got the best features and continues to improve the experience. You can integrate more than 750 different apps with Slack, too, such as calendars, contact lists and sales reports. One of the best things about Slack, though, is the ability to invite clients and customers—for free—to participate in single Slack channels as guests.

2. Flock

  • Cost: free for basic functions, $46 (US$36) per user annually for Pro
  • Devices: Android, iOS, macOS, web browser, Windows

Flock provides nearly the same features as more expensive messaging apps but at a cheaper price. It also lets you set channels to be read-only, for updates from the board, perhaps. Flock also carves out sidebar space for your “to-do” list.

3. Microsoft Teams

  • Cost: free as part of an Office 365 subscription, $77 (US$60) per user annually as a standalone
  • Devices: Android, iOS, macOS, web browser, Windows

Microsoft Teams integrates fully with Microsoft Office, so can do more than just provide a place to chat with your co-workers. It enables collaboration by allowing groups to view attached documents at the same time. You can also create sub-conversations within channels, which is a feature unique to Teams.

4. Stride

  • Cost: free, $46 (US$36) per user annually for Standard
  • Devices: Android, iOS, Linux, macOS, web browser, Windows

Stride is priced competitively in part because the software is new, and lacks some of the customization and functionality of other messaging apps. If you like trying new things, it might be worth a look.

How private are your private messages?

In messaging apps like Slack and Microsoft Teams, your direct messages with other users can’t be seen by others on the channel, but that doesn’t make them private.

Administrators of the technical tools being used by your office for communication can enter accounts to help with permissions and passwords. That includes being able to access messages. 

This allows for a couple of things: 

1. Companies need to be able to preserve corporate history, and communications—even direct messages—are a part of that. 

2. You, as a user, have a right to know what personal data has been collected about you. That includes the direct messages that you may have sent.

A good rule of thumb with any workplace communication tool is that you shouldn’t type anything on an app that you wouldn’t say out loud in a meeting.