As a tech business, we have a habit of trialling different tools and software. It can be taxing, but the upside is that we have hands-on experience with an extensive range of technology. We have helped many start-ups to scale, including our own business, which gives us a unique perspective on the technology that works for start-ups.
We decided to put our knowledge to good use and have created this four-article series to guide start-ups in finding the right tools for their unique businesses. In this series, we compare, contrast and recommend technology for all the major challenges faced by a business. This article on messaging and communication tools is the first article in the series.
Messaging and communication tools
Messaging and communication tools have a big impact on our business. Our team is globally dispersed across Australia, New Zealand, USA and the UK. We work closely with our clients and need to collaborate constantly. This makes us scrupulous when it comes to choosing communication tools – you will quickly get this impression when you read our evaluations below.
One thing to note is that we know some businesses need tools to communicate with externals while others do not. We have evaluated each tool for both contexts.
Google Workspace communication tools
In the interest of transparency, we will admit that we are a Google Workspace Partner. But before you think there is a bias in this review, please know that we only partner with products we believe in. So, it shouldn’t be a surprise that we are a big fan of the communication tools that come with Google Workspace and that we use them at Fluent Group.
Here are some of the main features:
- The layout drives productivity. We’ve tried a lot of different tools and the layout of Google Workspace is the best. Everything you need (calendar, email, tasks, notes, meetings, etc.) is in one place which makes it super easy to move between different tools.
- It has every communication channel you need. Google Workspace provides Gmail for email, Chat for instant messaging, and Google Meet for video calls and conferences.
- The interface is extremely intuitive. Put simply, the chat functionality and channels just make sense. We especially like the ‘Rooms’ feature which has the same functionality as Slack Channels in that you can create groups for different topics and restrict access for others.
- The big issue for the tool is engaging with externals. There is always the risk that the other party isn’t using Google Workspace. We often work with people outside our business which is why we don’t only use Google Workspace.
Verdict: Our preferred tool for organisations who don’t need to engage with people external to their business. You need to invest in Google Workspace for the full benefit.
We tried Teams a few years back when we made the decision to switch everything over to Microsoft. We were completely fed up with it after only a few months. Some of the issues we had with the tool have been rectified (such as missing the @ mention functionality) but other issues remain. Microsoft is constantly improving the functionality of Teams, so hopefully more of these niggles will be ironed out shortly.
Our reflections, good and bad, based on our experience using Teams are:
- Teams is super administrative. A lot of effort goes into a task as simple as setting up a new Team. Each new team you set up requires you to integrate every individual app you want to sync with. This is not a quick process.
- After you set up a Team, the tool is great for productivity. Everything you need for communication and collaboration either comes standard (e.g., chat and file management) or can be integrated (e.g., project planning apps). You can access and edit files in real time within the Teams app or by opening files in their respective applications. Overall, it works well to support multiple people contributing to the same content.
- Teams has a lot of additional functionality and can double as a project management and file management system.
- The full suite of communication functionality is available. Teams has message boards (in place of email), video call functionality and chats.
- Engaging with externals is a challenge. If people you are working with do not also use Office 365, you should consider an agnostic solution like Slack.
Verdict: There is room for improvement, but Teams is a good option for businesses using Office 365 that don’t need to engage with externals.
We use Slack ourselves. It receives a lot of glowing reviews, but we have a different (no BS) perspective:
- Slack is the most widely adopted messaging and communication tool. Odds are that people have already used the tool which significantly reduces friction when you start working with someone new.
- Slack works with all office systems (Office 365 and Google Workspace). This is the main reason we recommend Slack for start-ups who collaborate with people outside of their business. We would have a different recommendation if you could guarantee everyone you work with operates Google Workspace, but that is unlikely.
- Slack’s user interface is pretty average. It takes too many clicks to do just about anything. There are also a lot of standard actions that aren’t intuitive, such as replying to a thread. It sounds nit-picky but you really notice it when you’ve used other tools.
- In comparison with other tools, Slack is very unstructured, meaning there aren’t a lot of built-in features or rules. The benefits of this are that businesses can decide how to use the tool so it works best for them. The downsides are:
- You need to clearly lay out the ‘rules’ for how you use it. This is critical to ensure everyone works together effectively, and do not adopt bad habits that hurt productivity.
- You need to reinforce the rules with everyone you work with. When we invite new clients to our Slack, it feels condescending when we send them our ‘rules’. It isn’t the best way to start a new engagement, but it is necessary.
- The tool only works for messaging and communication. There are no features that support project management or file management.
- Communication and messaging tools can actually hurt productivity, and Slack is one of those tools. Slack is a standalone tool that does not sync with other products. The main issues with this are:
- You need to re-enter data shared in Slack into other tools. For this reason we hesitate to recommend Slack to sales teams to save them from re-entering customer data into their CRM.
- Switching between tools is a distraction. Being ****pulled into Slack multiple times a day can have a big impact on productivity.
Verdict: it is not a perfect tool but is the best option when working with people external to your business.
Workplace by Facebook
Workplace has come a long way in recent years. While we don’t have huge complaints, the reality is that this tool is best suited to large enterprises, not start-ups.
Here is our summary of the tool:
- Workplace works much the same as Facebook so it should be familiar to most people and reduce the need for upskilling.
- The tool is not adequate as a standalone communications tool. The instant messaging, phone and video call functionality varies from average to fine, but there is not an adequate replacement for email.
- Workplace posts are great for blasting information and updates to lots of people, but are sub-par for collaboration and communication.
- The collaboration functionality has improved significantly. Previously, you could only share one file per post or link one file in a chat. The functionality has been expanded so it is possible to share multiple files per post. They have also introduced a file tab within groups that enables links to cloud folders and files.
Verdict: A great tool for Enterprise businesses, not Start-ups.
Our final verdict
Our recommendations for messaging and communication tools are below.
- To communicate within your own business, we recommend Google Workspace communication tools. You will need to invest in Google Workspace to get the maximum benefit, so if you are locked into Office 365, Microsoft Teams is the next best thing.
- When communicating with external contacts, the best choice is Slack. We give it a hard time, but ultimately Slack is the best tool when you are working with externals.
We hope our analysis clarified which messaging and communication tool is right for your business.
Contact us for more information on the right messaging and communication tools for your business.
Our next article in this series details data storage and documentation.