Effectively communicating with employees is a top priority for any business. And in today’s environment where employees can be spread around the world, email has typically been the most effective way to communicate.
But not every executive finds email to be best.
“In my previous lives, the main form of communication was email. Everyone uses it and it seems to be the default communication tool in companies where employees are spread out,” says Robert Schaeffler, CEO of DevaCurl. “But email is an old technology and can be cumbersome at times.”
DevaCurl operates a chain of hair salons and sells beauty products, all based on the needs of customers with curly hair, and needs to communicate with employees across the United States and in a growing number of other countries.
With emails, it can be difficult to filter out who should be included in a particular communication and who should be left out. Additionally, the back-and-forth nature of emails makes it difficult to have a real conversation with a large group of people, Schaeffler says.
He had used the communications tool Slack for several years at other companies and was “such a fan” that he wanted to take it with him to DevaCurl, so he did. “It was hard for me to imagine being without it and I never wanted to go back to email.”
That’s because the chat component improves communication by providing a single source for messaging, tools and files.
“With Slack, you can have real conversations and dialogues with employees. It is not a ping-pong game of sending emails back and forth,” Schaeffler says.
Slack’s chat tool allows DevaCurl to set up a conversation topic. If confidentiality is required, executives can limit who has access to a particular channel. In other cases, certain employees may be required to take part in the conversation while others can opt in if they are interested in that particular topic.
Those topics might be serious issues that employees need to know about. But DevaCurl also has set up some chat channels for non-work-related topics to encourage employees to talk to each other about favorite television shows or vacation spots.
In addition to chatting, employees or executives can share photos or link to sites of interest.
When a new product innovation was set to launch, DevaCurl used Slack to invite employees to the product announcements; other employees could opt in if they wanted to learn more information about what their company is involved in.
The communication is real-time — employees see entries while they are being typed — and works across multiple devices, such as smartphones, tablets and computers.
In addition to the employees who use Slack, vendors can be included in conversations if necessary. For example, outside advertising and public relations firms can be included in discussions about internal marketing and promotions efforts.
Another tool DevaCurl executives appreciate is video sharing: Stylists can show videos of hair styles they have come up with to other stylists through the company. “When you show pictures, you have dialogues about styles and it encourages everyone to do better,” Schaeffler says.
Employees across the United States, Canada and Brazil are included, as will those in Europe as DevaCurl expands its global market. The link to Brazil was especially important: When DevaCurl launched its services in that country, it provided a video to everyone in Sao Paulo so they could see the work being done elsewhere.
“This allows us to have one central hub where everyone feels a part of the team,” Schaeffler says. “We might have special events or celebrations in our main office, but everyone can use this tool to be a part of the event, regardless of where they are located.”
He says DevaCurl has lowered the cost of communication as the result of using Slack. “It breaks down the silos within our company. There is better connection between employees and departments so we can get faster action.”
Now that it is using the system for employee communication, DevaCurl is looking at other functions that could be added. Schaeffler expects to use the Slack system in the future to run expense reports, and is looking to integrate Slack with other online tools that the company has, including functions so customers could be included in some chat channels.
Ali Rayl, Slack’s vice president of customer experience, says companies including retailers have found a host of ways to use the Slack system to run their businesses. One company uses the system to handle its supply chain at its retail locations. It can communicate with store managers to see what inventory is low and resupply product or make adjustments. Another, an online meal delivery service, uses Slack to manage subscription information and make sure it is delivering product in a timely manner.
Many companies appreciate the ability to provide information to new employees.
“Typically, when a new employee starts, an email box is set up for them, but the email box is usually empty at first,” Rayl says. “With the Slack system, the employee can open a channel about a project that they will be working on and view all the communications that have occurred on that project from the beginning.”
That allows new employees who are working on a particular project to quickly be brought up to speed.
Slack is free for the basic service; users are charged for upgrades and access to integrating other business operations into the system. There are currently more than 10 million users, with more than 85,000 paid customers.
Many businesses start with a limited number of communications channels for a small business unit — often 10 to 15 people — before expanding the use to additional units and ultimately throughout the corporation, Rayl says.
As a result, while businesses can be up and running on Slack within a few minutes on a small scale, some companies take weeks, months or even years to expand the use, depending upon their size and needs, she says.
Lauri Giesen is a Libertyville, Ill.-based business writer with extensive experience in covering payment and finance issues.