The best apps for Team communication (other than email and telephone)

Team Communication apps

App Cafe Details

Apps reviewed:

  • Slack
  • WhatsApp
  • Google Hangouts
Team Communication Apps
Slack, Google Hangouts and WhatsApp – The best apps for team communication?

What are the benefits of using such apps?

  • Communication apps offer the chance to keep all of your work communications in one place, making it easier for everyone to talk together with group or private chats. No more searching for a team member’s email address; everyone’s a tap away, from any device you log into – including your phone or tablet.
  • Team chat apps include conference calls and video chat, screen-sharing, integration with cloud storage services, and more, allowing you to co-create documents and other content quickly and easily.
  • Communications are far easier to search, so you can rediscover any bit of information that’s ever been shared. It’s far less time consuming to find what you need, resulting in much richer internal communications.

Problems these apps can help address:

  • If you’re losing the will to live with email or you’re playing telephone answer-phone ping-pong!
  • If you want to improve team communications across boundaries – including team members separated by location, or staff working within different services across the University but who need to work closely together on projects.
  • If you need a team to collaborate more effectively to jointly create content of any type.
  • If you want to get a grip on team communications and ensure you’re staying up to speed, plus being able to quickly search through previous communications and retrieve what you need.

Guides, tutorials, tips, hints and reviews

Below is a quick run-down of the features and benefits of Slack, WhatsApp and Google Hangouts that were explored during the App Cafe.

Please see related links further below to in-depth explanations of app features, screenshots, videos, reviews, pros and cons and more.


Slack

slack logo
Slack
  • Available for Android, iOS, Blackberry, Kindle Fire, Windows Phone, and more.
  • Additionally, it can be installed as an app or extension on most browsers such as Chrome or Firefox.
  • You can also install a desktop version on a PC or Mac.

What is Slack?

  • Slack is a messaging app for teams. It brings all your team’s communication and files in one place, where they’re instantly searchable and available wherever you go.
  • Team communications are organised into channels. You can create channels for teams, projects, office locations – anything you like. Public channels are open so any team member can see what’s going on.
  • You can also share files, images, PDFs, documents, spreadsheets and more, to which you can add comments and work together to create work content.
  • If you have work that’s confidential, you can create a private channel and invite only a few people. Only they will be able to join.
  • If you need to reach someone directly, you can send them a Direct Message. It’s totally private and secure.
  • Everything in Slack is searchable – messages, notifications, files – even the content within files.
  • You can integrate and plug in all the other tools and services that you use – Google Docs, Twitter, OneDrive, Asana – virtually any service imaginable.
  • Slack works on any device too – so you can start a conversation on your PC and then pick it up on your mobile device. Everything’s in sync.

When to use slack

  • For those that had previously used Slack, we found that Slack worked best for project work – so for use in a temporary project team featuring members that may be scattered across different physical locations.
  • Within these project teams it worked really well in improving project communication by providing a centralised location in which to share ideas, project updates, messages, comments, assign tasks, manage to-do lists and more.
  • It was also ideal for project work as it provided an easy place in which to share files and co-create content, such as Word documents, PowerPoint or Haiku Deck presentations and more.
  • It was felt that Slack wasn’t best placed to replace day-to-day communications with close colleagues such as with your immediate team – they just simply wouldn’t use it and would revert back instead to using email and the network drive.

Logging into Slack

Slack is organised into Slack teams. Unfortunately you have to know the url for each team and use your email address and password to log into that team. It’s not easy to simply sign into Slack and then see all teams associated with that email address. It is possible – it’s just long-winded.

The team we logged into and used was https://unappclub.slack.com.

Please email sdbookings@northampton.ac.uk if you’d like to be able to join this team to access and explore Slack.

Slack features and tips for using them

  • First of all be aware that the browser version is far better than the iOS or Android App version. It has more functionality and is easier to use. See Slack apps for computers, phones & tablets for more.
  • Get an understanding of how Slack is structured, for example Slack accounts are at the team level – so you’ll create a new Slack account for each team you’re invited to. You can use the same email address to access individual Slack teams. These teams then feature public channels and private channels, as well as having direct messaging (DM) capabilities for any member of that team. See Sign in to multiple Slack teams if you want to know more.
  • Understand the difference between channels (that can represent anything you want) and direct messaging. All Slack teams come with #general and #random channels for work and non-work related general chatter. You can though add as many others as you like, and add a description to the top so others know what the channel is for. See Channels and DM if you want to know more.
  • Turn on notifications – so that you never miss anything important. Alter these so you’re not getting too many or too few.
  • Understand the different types of content that you can post via channels or DM – for example simple messages, posts, upload files, hyperlinks, or import content from other services via integrations such as Google Drive and so on.
  • Understand how to use @ to specifically mention users in messages and get their attention. You can even use tricks like @everybody to get all of the team’s attention.
  • Add message reactions – which include a wealth of different emojis. This makes communications more fun but also has a practical benefit in that you can acknowledge others more quickly.
  • The difference between pinning and starring items – pinning ensures content is highlighted for all members of that channel, whereas starring is just for your own use.

Once you’ve joined https://unappclub.slack.com – see the #slacktips channel for lots more tips and ideas on how to use Slack.


WhatsApp

What is WhatsApp?

whats app logo
WhatsApp
  • Message your friends and family for free. You can avoid SMS fees as WhatsApp uses your phone’s Internet connection to send messages.
  • Or talk to others for free. Again as ‘WhatsApp Calling’ uses your phone’s internet connection, instead of your mobile phone’s voice minutes, so you don’t have to worry about expensive calling charges.
  • With group chats, you can share messages, photos, and videos – with up to 256 people at once – more than you’d ever need. You can also name your group, mute or customise notifications, and more.
  • With WhatsApp on the web and desktop, you can seamlessly sync all of your chats to your computer so that you can chat on whatever device is most convenient for you. Download the desktop app or visit web.whatsapp.com to get started. During the App Cafe session we looked at how easy this was to set up on a PC browser.
  • Send photos and videos on WhatsApp instantly. You can even capture live moments with a built-in camera. With WhatsApp, photos and videos send quickly even if you’re on a slow connection.
  • Send PDFs, documents, spreadsheets, slideshows and more, without the hassle of email or file sharing apps. You can send documents up to 100 MB.
  • If you don’t want to type anything you can record and send a Voice Message, perfect for a quick hello or for explaining something more in-depth.

When to use WhatsApp

A number of us, who attended the App Cafe session, already use Slack and have found it works really well for keeping in touch with lots of different groups of people including friends, family and also work colleagues. Nobody had yet used it to keep in touch with students.

The ability for it to work on your PC web browser was especially useful and meant the app didn’t solely have to be confined for use on a mobile.

How to contact people on WhatsApp

  • You have to know the mobile number for the person you’re contacting. You cannot use just their email address for example.
  • The person can already be in your phone contacts. In order to use these contacts you must provide WhatsApp access to them.
  • Alternatively within the WhatsApp app you can type in and add contacts directly.

WhatsApp features and tips for using them

  • Sending messages and using emojis/emoticons – this is so intuitive it doesn’t need much of an explanation! Within the Chats tab, simply choose a person that’s already listed, or find a new person via the contacts tab. Type messages to them using the text field, then hit the green arrow to send. Add emojis/emoticons by clicking the face symbol to the left. This brings up loads of icons grouped together into similar types.
  • You can send photos, pictures, videos or any other type of file – PDFs, Microsoft Office docs and so on. These files must be on your phone or PC (depending on where you’re messaging from). On a PC just drag or copy and paste to upload and send. On a phone, use the camera icon to access latest images on your camera roll.
  • You can use the app to record and send voice messages – these are sent as voice files that can be listened to over and over at any time. Hold the microphone button down whilst recording and then let go when finished.
  • You can use it like a telephone for real time chat. Via the tabs at the top, go to Calls and then use the telephone receiver icon to select a contact to call. Alternatively, if you’ve previously called them they’d already be listed.
  • You can use the app to record and send videos – just like voice messages, these can be listened to over and over at any time. Long-hold the camera icon which switches over to video. You can then record and send.
  • You can create groups and name these groups, invite members, mute members and more.
  • As mentioned, you can use a PC web browser to use WhatsApp and send messages. If you have a camera or microphone you can use those too, rather than just simple text messaging (which is often more than enough on a PC).

Google Hangouts

What is Google Hangouts?

Google Hangouts
Google Hangouts

We didn’t get a chance to fully review Google Hangouts, but in a nutshell:

  • It’s similar to Skype in that you can make video calls. Hangouts are typically used for private video chats with another person or group of people. They are not recorded to YouTube and are only visible to the people you invite to them. It however has the ability to group chat with up to ten participants for free.
  • You can send messages or make phone calls on Wi-Fi or data.
  • You can share photos, stickers, and emoji in conversations. On mobile devices, you can also share your location with other people.
  • External guests (those without a Google account) can join using the meeting URL, if allowed. Guests without an account can present and participate in the video call, but other features, such as text chat and Hangout apps will not be available to them.

See Get started with Hangouts for a complete explanation.

When to use Google Hangouts

  • If you want to hold a virtual meeting. Users can call in on virtually any device, including their mobile phone.

Is there anything we may have missed? Or have you anything else you wish to share?

In which case – we want to hear from you! Please comment below. Thanks.

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About Jim

Staff trainer and e-learning developer working for the University of Northampton, UK. All views my own, aside from those shamelessly taken from others.

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