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Workplace vs Teams vs Slack: The Collaboration Wars Hot Up

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In the five years since Slack first arrived, Microsoft and Facebook have both launched their own tools to drive productivity and collaboration in the workplace. But how do the three compare and what’s the best fit for enterprises today?

When Slack kickstarted the race for workspace collaboration in 2013 it seemed obvious that Microsoft, the dominant player in the office space with 120m Office 365 daily users, would counter with a version of its own. Since then, Microsoft Teams has gathered more than 200,000 users as it jostled with Slack and its 3m paid users for control of the enterprise space.

Then, in 2016, Facebook entered the fray with, Workplace, its own hub with one key advantage – a user base of more than 2bn people already familiar with a social networking platform and ecosystem that it was looking to leverage for the enterprise.

The reasons behind this are simple. As businesses seek a more joined up way of thinking that allows disparate teams to communicate in real-time they are considering new methods that foster greater collaboration in the workplace.

According to IDC, that is driving heavy investment that will see the space worth $3.2bn within three years. Gartner goes even further, suggesting a compound annual growth rate of 96% between 2016 and 2021 that will see figures jump from $171m to $4.9bn during that five-year period.

So, what conclusions can be drawn from the way the three approach users in the enterprise space?

 

Workplace to unlock human potential

With a vision that seeks to ‘unlock human potential by giving the world a place to work together’, Facebook’s statement of intent is bold. Its goal: to make tools that are seamlessly interoperable, no matter the platform.  How will it get there? Integration.

By providing an integrated mobile experience and ecosystem that allows business leaders to draw upon existing investments in IT and marry these with new solutions, Facebook is seamlessly connecting users to best of breed apps using Workplace Integration Directory, giving them access to a market that Salesforce puts at nearly $30bn a year.

That ability to instantly tap into SaaS tools like Jira Cloud, Microsoft Sharepoint, ServiceNow, Adobe Sign and SurveyMonkey has been designed to act as an enabler for digital transformation as well as driving ROI from existing assets – something that should pique the interest of IT chiefs everywhere.

Facebook already has the consumer familiarity and numbers that any B2B application would wish for. With a reported 1.47bn daily active users on Facebook on average for June 2018, some 240m of which are in the US, the California-based behemoth already had a captive audience when it launched Workplace in October 2016.

The benefits of this are two-fold. With a user experience that’s second nature to most business users, Workplace enables colleagues to share important information in real-time, gaining feedback via likes and comments from News Feed, meaning little in the way of training is required. In turn this means that there is little in the way of resistance for enterprises looking at deploying Workplace.

Just like Facebook Messenger, Workplace Chat allows you to get real-time responses to queries and create project groups for more considered conversations, while users can also tag colleagues, suppliers and customers in a secure file sharing space that allows for unlimited storage.

That compelling user experience offers more than productivity and collaboration benefits though. It ushers in a new way of working that fosters deeper relationships between management, staff and customers, whilst at the same time bringing about rapid improvements in team morale and company culture.

Workplace has some neat features that help bring dispersed global workforces together too. Using the same technology that serves up over 4.5bn translations a day on Facebook, News Feed for Workplace is able to instantly translate up to 46 languages, transforming the way that firms communicate and do business.

The ability to create shared experiences also extends to Workplace Chat where users can invite up to 50 people to a video conference in a secure environment, underpinned by single sign-on, that enjoys the benefits of unlimited file sharing.

As a platform, its functionality as a collaboration app deepens as the user base increases, using machine learning to heighten the relevance of posts and mark out the updates most relevant to particular users and their project groups. Workplace also helps boost the adoption of existing tools and uses bots to send automatic updates whilst streamlining common tasks.

 

Conversations and Workflows with Slack

With 8m users across some 500 organisations Slack originally stole a march on the competition and its easy to see why many view the incumbent’s team channels between workspaces as a place they feel comfortable exchanging information to enhance their productivity and collaboration.

As a cloud-based application, Slack offers a free version for SMEs and Slack Enterprise Grid for larger businesses. By connecting teams via workspaces Slack allows businesses to collaborate in real-time on projects using channels, the idea being that team members can share documents, images and videos with a channel for every conversation and avoid the pain of more traditional email chains. While smaller firms may have just one workspace, it’s likely that enterprises will have multiple interconnected groups.

However, one of the key benefits comes in having a channel for every conversation which helps to ensure projects stay on track and on topic. With three types existing within each workplace – public, private and shared – the idea is that channels will one day replace email as the primary method of communication. Should staff want to move off topic, then direct messaging allows for private conversations with team members.

Similarly, when users want to add files and share these, they simply drag and drop PDF, images, videos and other files into the program which then creates an archive of your progress.

What your ‘grid’ looks like depends on you. To date there are more than 900 apps in the Slack ecosystem and enterprises can tailor this to their exact requirements using the Slack API.

In terms of security, there are advanced controls at every level to handle policy and compliance issues that support an unlimited number of workspaces. Available from a single view, these enable Data Loss Prevention (DLP), Enterprise Mobility Management (EMM), e-Discovery, and offsite backups.

 

Teams: unified communications and content

While Slack is more focused on conversations and workflows, Teams is billed as the ‘hub for teamwork in Office 365’ and seen as the complete chat and online meeting solution being more about unified communications and content over work stream collaboration.

Now offered as a free version with three tiered options for business, Teams as part of a Office 365 subscription, is more powerful than Slack when you consider Microsoft’s own ecosystem of apps such as Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, SharePoint, and Power BI, which allow users to co-author and share files regardless of location.

However, the jewel in the crown and sweet spot for Teams are its chat capabilities. Users benefit from the fluidity of being able to move beyond clunky email trails to chat in real-time threaded conversations, both privately or as a team, whilst reviewing projects and documents. Should they need to talk in person, the platform gives them the ability to host online meetings and live broadcasts with up to 10,000 internal or external attendees via Skype Meeting Broadcast whilst taking advantage of its neat note taking, desktop sharing and chat messaging features.

Teams also enables audio conferencing wherever you are by enabling its users to join meetings from a phone or use Teams to dial anyone directly. A dial-in number of more than 400 cities around the world makes things easy for those without the internet. One-touch connectivity also extends to any meeting spaces using Microsoft Surface Hub, Skype Rooms and those businesses using H.323 compatible videoconferencing devices, such as BlueJeans, Pexip, and Polycom.

As part of this unified communications experience documents, spreadsheets and presentations shared within Teams are stored in OneDrive (Microsoft’s cloud storage solution) and the local SharePoint environment ensuring staff always have access to the latest version for collaborative editing in real-time. In addition, meetings can be recorded and uploaded to the Azure cloud with time stamped transcriptions. Another neat feature – and USP for Teams – enables Fieldworkers to also share videos of what they’re looking at with those back in the office via HoloLens, Microsoft’s augmented-reality headset.

All of this is underpinned by security and compliance solutions built on the Office 365 hyper-scale, enterprise grade cloud, including built-in information protection, secure guest access and two-factor authentication, single sign-on through Active Directory and encryption of data in transit and at rest.

 

TeamWork 360: the perfect blend?

While all three workplace collaboration solutions have their merits, could it be possible that a more all-encompassing solution presents itself than each of the standalone products? By combining Office 365 and Workplace, TeamWork 360 gives those within the enterprise something new to consider. In blending the rich user experience of Facebook with Microsoft’s expertise and heritage within the office environment, TeamWork 360 provides businesses with an unrivalled dynamic when it comes to improving productivity.

 

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