How about both? Slack isn’t just a way of life you gave up long ago – it’s also a tool to help you run a more efficient firm. Slack is a messaging platform that bills itself as “Team communication for the 21st century.” It might be just the thing to enable easier conversation and document sharing with your clients as well.
Many professional services firms utilize specialized portals to share files and messages with their teams and clients. Often, however, these portals come as part of a complete (and expensive) practice management software package designed for attorneys, or a similar comprehensive tool for accountants. Smaller firms are often left without the convenience of such a portal unless they pay out big bucks to have one custom designed for their firm.
Slack is neither a full practice management tool or designed specifically for professional services firms, yet it’s a flexible tool that works well to meet the needs of these firms nonetheless. With versions for all the systems that firms and their clients typically rely on (Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, Android and Windows Phone), Slack offers free access and a host of useful functions. You can also upgrade to paid versions for greater support and additional features.
Once you’ve set up your team members as users and invited clients, you can create channels, which are basically chatrooms with administrator controls that define which users are allowed in and how much they can do and see. Admins can also create private channels or allow single-channel guests. In the context of a professional services firm, it’s usually best to establish a private channel for each client and register clients as single-channel guests in that channel.
The messaging is something halfway between IM and email, complete with notifications and vast capabilities for uploading, indexing and searching documents within channels. Slack handles a variety of document types, including text files, images, pdfs and spreadsheets. Links to files housed in Dropbox, Box or Google Drive become part of the conversation archives and are searchable as well.
All that ability to communicate might make you feel overexposed, but never fear. Slack lets you turn off notifications with a snooze function, and let those who try to reach you know you’re not available right then. The company claims that using Slack results in a major stemming of the tide of email that threatens to drown out productivity in so many companies today.
Security is always a concern with portals or other cloud-based channels that handle sensitive info. Slack offers a solid collection of security precautions baked in, and gives admins the ability to instantly sign out all users and cancel all passwords in the event of a suspected security breach.
As versatile and useful as Slack is, there are a few notable limitations. Among the most relevant are:
- Single-channel guests are limited to five per team member. You can work around that easily by utilizing imaginary team members (a clever suggestion courtesy of Lawyerist).
- Tracking time isn’t a built-in function of Slack, so it may be less than obvious when you’re performing billable work and when you’re not. This is yet another reason to explore the many advantages of value pricing for both firms and clients.
What do you think? Is the promise of greater productivity, easier document management and enhanced productivity enough to pique your interest about Slack? I haven’t used it yet myself, but it certainly sounds appealing. Then again, we’ve all wasted time signing up for great ideas that didn’t pan out in practice as the great boons to efficiency we had envisioned. Still, there doesn’t seem to be much to lose here, with an awful lot to gain.
If you do decide to give Slack a whirl – or if you’ve already done so – please let us know how it worked for you.