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Culture killer: Don’t let your IT / Ops team choose between MS Teams and Slack.

Mark Lambe
Self-Employed Irish contract developer, I write code so that I can afford more tapas.
・5 min read

Search around the internet for comparisons between Slack and Microsoft’s Teams and you’ll be told that they’re basically the same, and that the choice comes down to your own circumstances. Your company probably already uses Microsoft as a vendor so that makes Teams easier to purchase and it integrates with your calendar if you use Outlook! I’m not in any way surprised that these circumstances have let to a huge uptake in Teams among software companies. From the perspective of an IT / Ops professional, having one vendor is easier than two, and that’s really how the decision will be made.

Here’s the thing. The chat application you choose will have the single biggest influence on your company’s culture and how good a job it does can’t necessarily be defined or demonstrated as easily as a calendar integration.

Rank the following problems in order of importance: Number of vendors you have, integrations between your chat app and your calendar, your company’s culture.

Your IT / Ops team spend more time thinking about the first two of those problems and yet they are utterly unimportant in almost every meaningful way.

I’m not going to talk about how remote-culture has been affected by COVID because I can’t bring myself to type anything like ‘Th* N*w No*mal’ but I’m sure you can fill in those details yourself. I also can’t prove this next part quantitatively, so I’m going to take a run at it from my own experience.

Between permanent jobs and contracting I’ve worked in teams and companies that use Slack (~3 times), MS Teams (Twice), HipChat (Twice), Basecamp (Once), and gChat (Once). Let me share some things that I know to be true.

Even when everyone is in the office, about half of the culture happens in the chat app. I don’t mean that half of your in-office culture gets moved online, I mean there’s a new half that didn’t exist before. It grows culture. We’re all busy at different times, we drop in and out of conversations, we respond to stuff that was said a few hours ago, and that’s great. You engage with people that you wouldn’t approach in the canteen, you level the social playing field between offices. It couldn’t be more clear that these decisions are within the remit of HR, not of IT / Ops.

No company I’ve ever worked for that didn’t use Slack had as fun a culture as any company I’ve worked for that did use Slack. In more than one company workers set up unofficial Slacks and ignored the official chat app, creating an awful invite-only two tier system.

Every other app tries its best to be functional, to facilitate communication, Slack is something people want to use. They want to engage.

I use Slack with a group of friends to stay in touch, choosing it over WhatsApp as a social tool. Many communities use Slack instead of tailor-made solutions like Discord because it has nailed culture. Think about this for a moment. Communities and friends that want to encourage culture, and fun, without concerns over using separate vendors and calendar integrations, choose Slack.

Every time I’ve worked at a Slack-using company people came into work and typed ‘Good morning’ into the chat, that has never happened for me with MS Teams.

But, why? How does Slack do this? Why doesn’t this happen with MS Teams? Let’s get detailed with some product management decisions.

Firstly, I think Teams is the worst of the non-Slack apps, unless you’re just having 1 to 1 conversations in gChat or something else that you really shouldn’t be doing.

The main reason I see for this is that all conversations are threaded. When you post in a channel, it creates a new thread that people can respond to, or start a concurrently-running (oh god this sucks) thread which moves up and down depending on which thread has been responded to last. Casual conversations just aren’t incentivised by a threaded interface. I know someone whose company have basically set up a direct conversation containing everyone, it started as a 1-on-1 and had people added over time, because channels are so awful to use. Now they have a conversation that new people don’t get added to automatically and isn’t discoverable because it’s still better than trying to communicate in a Teams channel. When people need to start a thread to say anything they just don’t do it as often. You’ve raised the bar and ‘Good Morning’ no longer clears it.

Secondly, Slack (#general) and Basecamp (Campfire) both create by default a place where everyone can talk to everyone. This isn’t a coincidence, it’s because they position themselves as an open environment that lets culture happen. Teams intentionally focuses on silos (‘Teams’) from the ground up, there’s no guarantee an ‘everyone’ silo will get created, and in my experience it tends not to. If you’re transitioning into a chat app for the first time, Teams will not encourage staff to move away from email.

The entire point of a two-layered architecture (Teams / Channels) in Teams over a single layer (Channels) in Slack is harmful. It has a major impact on discoverability of channels and creates silos which are completely unnecessary. In Slack people get into the conversations they need to be in, if some of them need to be private that’s fine.

Using Teams I often can’t find people that I work with because, I assume, of the way the teams were set up. While the Teams could be set up differently Slack is correctly opinionated here, it just can’t happen because it doesn’t make sense.

Slack is a significantly more polished app. It feels like something made by a company that just do this. Teams, and to a lesser extent Basecamp, have a much more functional feel. Slack has those little touches that make your job easier. Adding groups so that you can @marketing or @backendDevs, setting in-app reminders, using the richer search features, and so much more. Not to mention that Teams also manages to miss such basic features like allowing you to link to messages within chats, or react to messages with more than six boring stock-emoji.

Slack has more limited call support, as calls are limited to fifteen people, but that’s what happens when good product management focuses on the core-competency of the tool. Plus, if you’re forced to replace MS Teams with Slack and Zoom then you’ve upgraded twice. There’s an almost religious focus on integrated services in the corporate-tools space, which explains the success of Microsoft in the area, but while some integrations actively solve meaningful problems (Single-Sign On, in some circumstances), many just sound great but don’t actually make up for the value that’s removed by using inferior solutions.

It’s worth mentioning I suppose that Teams costs less per user per month. It comes in with the 365 Business Basic plan that some companies will already have at about €4.20/user/month or equivalent. Slack is almost 50% more at €6.25/user/month, but this is one of the most obvious ‘you get what you pay for’ examples that I can think of. Go back to our problem statement at the beginning. This is what dictates the culture within your company. This is what makes it fun to just be there.

Slack is not more expensive, it just costs a bit more money.

  • I don’t work for Slack, but they’re more than welcome to contact me 😘

Discussion (7)

codemouse92 profile image
Jason C. McDonald • Edited

No company I’ve ever worked for that didn’t use Slack had as fun a culture as any company I’ve worked for that did use Slack.

And, yet, I have seen companies that didn't use Slack — mine included — where we they do have a very fun, close-knit culture. I've also seen some terrible teams that used Slack.

I'm glad you've had good experiences with Slack, but careful of touting it as The One Great Solution To Culture™. Culture is about the people more than the tools.

ivanjeremic profile image
Ivan Jeremic

Discord in my opinion is the best! It is faster and the apps are better also more people have it/use it and you avoid the workspace hell, everyone knows the problem with Slack having 100 channels with 50 different emails and you have no idea anymore where your channels are on which email, the email system is totally wrong in my opinion. Discord you have one account that holds all channels.

thebuzzsaw profile image
Kelly Brown

I've used Slack, and I've used MS Teams.

They are worlds apart. Friends don't let friends use MS Teams.

thorstenhirsch profile image
Thorsten Hirsch

Big slack fan here, but this limit is a major drawback:

Slack has more limited call support, as calls are limited to fifteen people, ...

aminnairi profile image

Hi there and thanks for your interesting article.

Is there any reasons not to use Discord over Slack for companies?

marklambe profile image
Mark Lambe Author

Thanks! To be honest I haven’t used Discord and I was just speaking from my experience, I’ve heard it’s great though!