Welcome to the Post-Email Enterprise: what Skype Teams means in a Slack-Leaning World

Work technology vendors very commonly — for decades — have suggested that their shiny brand-new tools will deliver us from the tyranny of email. Today, we hear it from all sorts of tool vendors:

  • work management tools, like Asana, Wrike, and Trello, built on the bones of task manager with a layer of social communications grafted on top
  • work media tools, like Yammer, Jive, and the as-yet-unreleased Facebook for Work, build on social networking model, to move communications out of email, they say
  • and most prominently, the newest wave of upstarts, the work chat cadre have arrived, led by Atlassian’s Hipchat, but most prominently by the mega-unicorn Slack, a company which has such a strong gravitational field that it seems to have sucked the entire work technology ecosystem into the black hole around its disarmingly simple model of chat rooms and flexible integration.

Has the millennium finally come? Will this newest paradigm for workgroup communications unseat email, the apparently undisruptable but deeply unlovable technology at the foundation of much enterprise and consumer communication?
Well, a new announcement hit my radar screen today, and I think that we may be at a turning point. In the words of Winston Churchill, in November 1942 after the Second Battle of El Alamein, when it seemed clear that the WWII allies would push Germany from North Africa,

Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.

And what is this news that suggests to me we may be on the downslope in the century-long reign of email?
Microsoft is apparently working on a response to Slack, six months after the widely reported termination of discussions of acquisition. There has been a great deal of speculation about Microsoft’s efforts in this area, especially considering the now-almost-forgotten acquisition of Yammer (see Why Yammer Deal Makes Sense, and it did make sense in 2012). However, after that acquisition, Microsoft — and especially Bill Gates, apparently — believed they would be better off building Slackish capabilities into an existing Microsoft brand. But, since Yammer is an unloved product inside of the company, now, the plan was to build these capabilities into something that the company has doubled down on. So now we see Slack Teams, coming soon.
Microsoft may be criticized for maybe attempting to squish too much into the Skype wrapper with Skype Teams, but we’ll have to see how it all works together. It is clear that integrated video conferencing is a key element of where work chat is headed, so Microsoft would have had to come up with that anyway. And Skype certainly has the rest of what is needed for an enterprise work chat platform, and hundreds of millions of email users currently on Exchange and Office 365.
The rest of the details will have to wait for actual hands on inspection (so far, I have had only a few confidential discussions with Microsofties), but an orderly plan for migration away from email-centric work technologies to a work chat-centric model coming from Microsoft means it’s now mainstream, not a bunch of bi-coastal technoids. This will be rolled out everywhere.
So, we are moving into a new territory, a time where work chat tools will become the super dominant workgroup communications platform of the next few decades. This means that the barriers to widespread adoption will have to be resolved, most notably, work chat interoperability.
Most folks don’t know the history of email well enough to recall that at one time email products did not interconnect: my company email could not send an email to your company email. However, the rise of the internet and creation of international email protocols led to a rapid transition, so that we could stop using Compuserve and AOL to communicate outside the company.
It was that interoperability that led to email’s dominance in work communications, and similarly, it will take interoperability of work chat to displace it.
In this way, in the not-too-distant future, my company could be using Slack while yours might be using Skype Teams. I could invite you and your team to coordinate work in a chat channel I’ve set up, and you would be able to interact with me and mine.
If the world of work technology is to avoid a collapse into a all-encompassing monopoly with Slack at the center of it, we have to imagine interoperability will emerge relatively quickly. Today’s crude integrations — where Zapier or IFTTT copy new posts in Hipchat to a corresponding channel in Slack — will quickly be replaced by protocols that all competitive solutions will offer. And Skype is that irritant that will motivate all these giants to make a small peace around interoperability, in order to be able to play nice with Slack.
We’ll have to see the specifics of Skype Teams, and where Facebook at Work is headed. Likewise, all internet giants — including Apple, Google, and Amazon — seem to be quietly consolidating their market advantages in file sync-and-share, cloud computing, social networks, and mobile devices. Will we see a Twitter for Work, for example, after a Google acquisition? Surely Google Inbox and Google+ aren’t the last work technologies that Alphabet intends for us? How might Slack fit into Amazon’s designs? That might surprise a lot of people.
But no matter the specifics, we are certainly on the downslopes of the supremacy of email. We may have to wait an additional 50 years for its last gasping breath, but we’re now clearly in the chat (and work chat) era of human communications, and there’s no turning back.

Slack invests in ecosystem of bot companies

Slack has announced $2 million in funding for bot startups in its Slack Fund, that has been passed out to 11 new companies and 3 existing investments. The list, as reported by Techcrunch:

Abacus is intelligent expense reporting software that brings report creation and approvals right into Slack.

Automat is making it easier for anyone to build a bot that passes the Turing Test. Automat is in private beta today.

Birdly connects Slack and Salesforce so that anyone can access the information they need about a given account.

Butter.ai is a personal assistant that makes all of your company knowledge easily accessible. Butter is in private beta.

Candor, Inc. aims to improve working relationships through radically candid feedback. Candor’s Slack app is not generally available yet today.

Growbot lets you encourage and commend your teammates for a job well done with a helpful bot.

Konsus gets you 24/7 access to on-demand freelancers to help you get the job done, all via Slack.

Lattice helps you establish goals, OKRs weekly check-in and continuous feedback with your Slack team.

Myra Labs helps you build amazing bots with an API that provides machine learning modules out of the box. Myra is in private beta.

Sudo is a bot that manages your CRM, taking all of the pain of manual data entry away from the sales rep. Sudo is in private beta.

Wade & Wendy are two intelligent recruiting assistants. Wade is a career advocate who helps find you opportunities and Wendy helps recruiting teams to source candidates. Wade and Wendy aren’t live yet, but you can sign up for their waitlist.

Previously funded

Awesome.ai helps team stay in sync, find clarity and reflect on what’s important.

Begin is a bot that helps improve your focus and efficiency, keeping you on top of all of your work.

Howdy is a friendly, trainable bot that powers teams by automating common tasks.

Bots are a very hot area right now, part of a growing trend toward contextual conversation in enterprise work technologies (see Contextual conversation: Work chat will dominate collaboration) and in the consumer sector, in open messaging apps.

I will be developing a report on Chat, Bots, and the Future of Work Communications in the fall, based on research launching soon. This trend interacts with the rise of AI, and spoken communications, and even the rise of augmented and virtual reality.

Slack moves past slash commands to message buttons

Slack has announced a new mechanism for third party apps to better integrate with its work chat platform. Rather than relying on so-called ‘slash commands’ — like /trello add Taco Drone Delivery — and then sending subsequent messages to assign values to the metadata of that task, third party apps can be configured to present a UI much more like that in a native app, including buttons that can be pressed to assign values.
Here’s a animated gif for the new Trello integration with message buttons:
1-rRxuVVkY9eM_iOMOvUMFGg
Note that the buttons can cascade, as when the user selects ‘due date’ and then various options for the due date are presented. Also note that ‘attach conversation’ will attach a link to the Trello card pointing back to the chat context where the task was created.
This is a serious advance for Slack integration, and specifically, the cognitive dissonance problem with a /slash command-style integration like the one with Trello. I wrote about this recently in Slack ‘Spots’, not just Bots, where I suggested that Slack was probably working on something like this. And yes, they were.

What does Linkedin really mean to Microsoft?

Microsoft has stirred up a swirling buzz of discussion around the Linkedin acquisition for $26.2 billion. There are a number of angles that have been considered in the gazillion news stories floating around. Here’s a few of those threads:

  • Linkedin is a Salesforce counter by Satya Nadella — It has been argued by Steve Nellis and others that Linkedin’s efforts at developing and selling the tools in the company’s Sales Solutions unit have not gone very far, but the data in Linkedin’s network — when coupled with Microsoft’s own Salesforce competitor — Dynamics — could become a real player. Note that Nadella’s rumored efforts to acquire Salesforce stalled because of a too-high price tag (10X revenues), while Linkedin was much more affordable (7X revenues). Plus, with Linkedin in there are other angles to play.
  • Linkedin is a professional social network, and could counter Facebook for Business — Facebook has not yet released its business variant, Facebook for Business, but it’s supposed to roll out this year. Nadella might be trying to get there first by offering a fusion of Linkedin’s current mix of blogging, social networking, and recruitment use cases with Office 365 productivity options. Linking together the professional graph (Linkedin) with the work graph (Office 365)– as Nadella talked about in a call with the NY Times — and getting a premium on the integration of the two is probably a smart move so long as the seams can be made low friction. There is a devil in these details, but this is one of the most powerful visions for the merger.
  • Linkedin alone was a company with real problems — Linkedin stock got hammered earlier this year after lowered sales estimates. This would be bad in itself but doubly bad for Linkedin, since many of its best and brightest are compensated in part by stock grants, so when the stock falls, so does compensation. As a result, Linkedin was facing a mass exodus unless they could right the boat. This is one of the reasons Microsoft got the terms that it did. And now, people will be compensated in the more standard Microsoft way (as will the accounting for these expenses, which were clouded by non-GAAP practices).
  • Microsoft sees Linkedin as a way to deflect Slack — Personally, I don’t buy this conflation of threats to Microsoft. Yes, Slack is making huge inroads in work technology — specifically as the defining product in the exploding work chat space — but just because is has some of the features of a ‘social network’ (in that people are logged in for long periods of time each day, message each other, can coordinate outside of company boundaries) that doesn’t mean Slack and Linkedin are in some way head-to-head competitors. Yes, Slack is a competitor to Microsoft’s productivity/work technology products — most specifically Yammer, but also the core functionality slowly growing in Office 365 — but that doesn’t mean that Linkedin is intended as a Slack killer. Although Microsoft should be working on that, as well. I just don’t expect it will come from the Linkedin side of things.

After all the dust settles I expect that we’ll see a reoriented Linkedin, with a greater focus on CRM technologies and networking, and also a much enlarged focus on people operations (HR) technologies and networking, an area that Microsoft has functionally no offerings. This will take the form of enlarged platforms, and an ecology of partners building on Microsoft/Linkedin capabilities, as well as other, subsequent acquisitions. And Linkedin will immediately find its operational core — and culture — pulled toward CRM and HR by the Microsoft sales operation.
I also don’t believe that Jeff Weiner will be at Microsoft for longer than his required tenure, two years or whatever it is, and Kara Swisher agrees. More likely he will find new worlds to conquer, and Satya will find someone in Microsoft or Linkedin who will better execute what will rapidly become an integration strategy, rather than a trailblazing one.

‘Work Processing’ and the decline of the (Wordish) Document

I’ve been exploring a growing list of web-based tools for the creation and management of what most would call ‘documents’ — assemblages of text, images, lists, embedded video, audio and other media — but which, are in fact, something quite different than the precursors, like Microsoft Word and Apple Pages documents.
The big shift underlying these new tools is that they are not oriented around printing onto paper, or digital analogues of paper, like PDF. Instead, they take as a given that the creation, management, and sharing of these assemblages of information will take place nearly all the time online, and will be social at the core: coediting, commenting, and sharing are not afterthoughts grafted onto a ‘work processing’ architecture. As a result, I am referring to these tools — like the pioneering Google Docs, and newer entrants Dropbox Paper, Quip, Draft, and Notionas ‘work processing’ tools. This gets across the idea that we aren’t just pushing words onto paper through agency of word processing apps, we’re capturing and sharing information that’s critical to our increasingly digital businesses, to be accessed and leveraged in digital-first use cases.
In a recent piece on Medium, Documents are the new Email, I made the case that old style ‘documents’ are declining as a percentage of overall work communications, with larger percentages shifting to chat, texting, and work media (enterprise social networks). And, like email, documents are increasingly disliked as a means to communicate. And I suggested that, over time, these older word processing documents — and the use cases that have built up around them — will decline.
At the same time, I believe there is a great deal of promise in ‘work processing‘ tools, which are based around web publishing, web notions of sharing and co-creation, and the allure of content-centric work management.
Screen Shot 2016-06-08 at 11.19.25 AM
Chat-centric work management, as typified by Slack-style work chat, is getting a tremendous surge in attention recently, and is the now dominant form of message-centric work technology, edging out follow-centric work media solutions (like Yammer, Jive, and IBM Connections).
Workforce communications — relying on a more top-down messaging approach for the mobile workforce — is enjoying a great surge in adoption, but is principally oriented toward the ‘hardwork’ done by workers in retail, manufacturing, transport, security, and construction, and away from the ‘softwork’ done by office workers. This class of tool is all about mobile messaging. (Note: we are planning a market narrative about this hot area.)
Today’s Special
Today, I saw that David Byttow’s Bold — a new work processing app — has entered a private beta, with features that line it up in direct competition with Google Docs and the others mentioned above. Bold raised a round of $1 million from Index Ventures in January 2016.
The competition is hotting up.
Work Processing Will Be The New Normal
What I anticipate is the convergence on a work processing paradigm, with at least these features:

  • Work processing ‘docs’ will exist as online assemblages, and not as ‘files’. As a result they will be principally shared through links, access rights, or web publishing, and not as attachments, files, or PDFs, except when exported by necessity.
  • Work processing apps will incorporate some metaphors from word processing like styling text, manipulating various sorts of lists, sections, headings, and so on.
  • Work processing will continue the notions of sharing and co-editing from early pioneers (Google Docs in particular), like edit-oriented comments, sharing through access-control links, and so on.
  • Work processing will lift ideas from work chat tools, such as bots, commands, and @mentions.
  • Work processing will adopt some principles from task management, namely tasks and related metadata, which can be embedded within work processing content, added in comments or other annotations, or appended to ‘docs’ or doc elements by participants through work chat-style bot or chat communications.

I am pressed for time today, and can’t expand on these ideas with examples, but I plan to do so quite soon in a companion post to this, called Work Processing: Coming soon to a ‘Doc’ near you.

Busybot: A ‘Parasitic’ Task Management Tool For Slack

Because Busybot and Slack look so much alike and are so tightly connected, I avoid the cognitive costs of switching.


I’ve tried using work management tools like Asana in connection with Slack, and the results have been mixed, principally because — I think — there is a mismatch in the basic orientation of the tools: Slack is messaging centered, while Asana is task centered.

In the case of a tool like Asana, when the Slack connection is used notifications are sent to a Slack channel whenever changes occur in the Asana workspace. For example, whenever a task is created, completed, or commented upon. A slash command (‘/asana’) lists tasks, and arguments to the command can lead to creating tasks, assigning tasks, and commenting on them.

Asana integration in Slack

But I confess that I have found this style of integration difficult. The two models of use — chat-based conversation in Slack and task-based coordination in Asana — don’t align for me, and the mapping from an Asana workspace to a Slack channel doesn’t always line up right. And I don’t necessarily want to have every tweak to a task dumped into the channel in Slack, per se. I don’t want that endless stream of noise, because Slack is noisy enough.

I recently encountered a tool that takes a different tack. Busybot avoids the mismatch problem by operating in a parasitic way. By that I mean it relies totally on Slack’s architecture to the greatest extent possible. For example, there is no independent login: you use Slack’s login. And once logged in, the channels of the team that you sign into are duplicated as contexts for tasks in Busybot.

Here’s the login:

login for Busybot

Here’s the #general channel for workfutures.io in Slack. You can see that I /invited busybot to the channel (I had already created the integration).

Inviting and Creating a Task

I typed a message to busybot, ‘ask Esko for a contribution’. If I had added ‘@stoweboyd’ that would have assigned the task to me, as well.

workfutures.io Slack team

Over in Busybot, everything looks extremely similar:

Task in Busybot

On the left, the design of Slack is emulated, so that for each Slack channel there is an equivalent Busybot channel, where all tasks can be found. I’ve selected the ‘ask Esko’ task, and then the task pane opens. I’ve selected the ‘add checklist’ feature.

Task Checklist

I’ve added a single checklist item, but you can have as many as needed. Also descriptions, comments, deadline, and assignment of the task are available as metadata.

The task list can be sorted, which is moot in this case, since there is only one task:

Also note that the ‘@stoweboyd’ option at the top opens all the tasks assigned to me, and ‘all tasks’ opens all tasks in the team, sorted by channel.

Tasks can be added, edited, and deleted in Busybot, but can only be created and displayed in the Slack side of the integration, at present. I’ve been told by Busybot’s CEO and founder, Damian Bramanis, that various new features are coming, like multi-team functionality, new ways to groups tasks in views, and tags.

Conclusions and Takeaway

Busybot works for me despite the minimal degree of metadata, and I think the reason is the equivalence between the Slack and Busybot information models: I don’t have to switch gears mentally when I move from Slack to Busybot, or vice versa. It feels like I am in the same place, just looking at different attributes of the same system of information. Moving from Slack to Busybot feels like I am just zooming in on task details that are suppressed on the Slack side. Because the two ‘sides’ look so much alike and are so tightly connected, I avoid the cognitive switching costs of moving from Slack to non-parasitic tools, like Asana.

Yes, I’d like to be able to do more with Busybot, though. For example, I’d like to be able to change task attributes on the Slack side, like adding a comment to a task, so that the text of the task comment would appear both in the Slack chat history and in the task comment thread. Damian tells me they are working on ways of accomplishing more sophisticated sorts of integration like that, perhaps with a /busybot command, or clever use of the channel topic (setting the topic to the name of a task, for example, so that commands could refer to that task).

At any rate, I will be watching the developments at Busybot with close attention.


Crossposted 1 May 2016 on workfutures.io.

Update 1 May 2016 4:30pm: Several folks mentioned Swipes for Slack, as another approach to accomplish some or all of what Busybot does. I will review in another post.

Work Management in Theory: Context

This is an excerpt of the upcoming report, Work Management Narrative, in which I will be reviewing around a dozen products, including Asana, Azendoo, Basecamp, Clarizen, Fleep, Flow, Liquid Planner, Mavenlink, Smartsheet, Trello, Work Front, Wrike, Zoho Projects and others.


Work Management in Theory: Context

Work management is a term that has emerged in recent years as task management tools were enhanced with various social communication capabilities, principally derived from design motifs from work media tools. This increase of capabilities — and the resulting overlap of work management capabilities with those of work media tools — means that trying to assess the trends that are prevalent  in work management really require stepping back. Today, there are a wide range of approaches to supporting cooperative work in the workplace, and they have many features in common. So, in many instances, groups or companies evaluating tools for  team cooperation may consider offerings that are very different in their underlying design, and require correspondingly different approaches to their use.

The Lay of the Landscape

Here’s a table that attempts to make sense of a variety of technologies that are used in business to support cooperative work. It is not exhaustive, but I hope it will clarify some of the distinctions between these classes of tools. At the same time, there is a great deal of overlap so some degree of confusion is inevitable.
Screen Shot 2016-03-24 at 2.37.22 PM
Today, there are a wide range of approaches to support cooperative work in the workplace, and they have many features in common. So, in many instances, groups or companies evaluating tools for team cooperation may consider offerings that are very different in their underlying design, and require correspondingly different approaches to their use.The primary distinction here is the degree of emphasis for task-centric versus message-centric tools. Those that we will focus on in this report are task-centric, even though there have to include some fundamental level of social communication to be considered work management tools. So for example, Todoist is a leading team task management tool, widely used in business. However, the tool lacks social communication aside from comments (‘notes’) associated with tasks: Todoist does not support messaging, discussions, activity streams, or ‘call outs’ (also called ‘@mentions’). While tasks can be assigned to others by the task creator, there is no other way that users can reference each other, or ‘talk’. And at the least social level of task management, personal task management tools don’t allow even the most basic level of business-oriented task assignment. As a result, team task management tools are not covered in this report, although Gigaom may develop a report like this one for that market, at some time in the future.
Work management tools share a lot of similarities with various message-centric work technologies. Note that I have divided the message-centric tools into two sorts:

  1. Follow centric — like Yammer, where the primary orientation of messaging is around following of message sources, and messages are primarily displayed in activity streams based on the user choosing who and what to follow.
  2. Chat centric — such as Slack, where the primary orientation of message is around chat rooms, or channels, and messages are principally displayed in those contexts when the user chooses to’ join’ or ‘enter’ them.

Some work media tools provide a degree of  task management, although it may not be the primary focus of the tool. And, as a general case, products like Jive, Yammer, and IBM Connections have little or no native task management, relying instead on integration with third party solutions. Likewise, many leading work chat offerings, like Slack and Hipchat, don’t have native task management, also relying instead on integration with task management tools, like Asana and Jira.
Lastly, the class of tools I refer to as workforce communications (like Lua, Avaamo, Fieldwire, and Sitrion One) have characteristics that are like those of work media and work chat tools, but are principally oriented toward communications management with an increasingly mobile contingent of the out-of-office ‘hard’ workforce, such as construction, retail and restaurant workers, field sales, security, and others.
At the bottom tier of the table in figure 1 are tools that are not principally oriented toward business use, like personal task management (Todoist, and Google Tasks), social media (Facebook, and Twitter), and consumer chat apps (Facebook M, and WhatsApp). This are widely used in business contexts, although they aren’t geared for it. Note however that this doesn’t mean that they couldn’t be recast as team or work oriented tools, like the trajectory of Facebook for Work.
There are other less-closely related work technologies that are also not investigated here, like curation tools, conferencing tools, and so called ‘productivity’ tools (like Microsoft Office 365, Dropbox Paper, and Google Docs/Sheets/Slides). These, again, are candidates for inclusion in another report.


Next week, I will be posting another excerpt from the report. 

The Rise of Work Chat Anti-Hype

Jason Fried

Jason Fried of Basecamp is only the most recent to come out stronglycondemning the hype around work chat, and perhaps, the leading protagonist in the market: Slack. He enumerates a short list of positives (4), and then a staggeringly long list of negatives (17). I will synthesize his points down to these: work chat is good for quick-and-dirty, once-in-awhile discussions, and for team building, but the costs are considerable, since work chat is tiring, obsessive, interruptive, and leads to focusing people’s attention on the near-term, while fracturing our concentration on what’s really important.

Fried’s mantra is ‘real-time sometimes, asynchronous most of the time’, which I completely buy. I am also a big fan of his recommendation that people should break out of unproductive chat mazes, and ‘write it up’ instead. Long form writing can break the chain of opinionated chatifying, and lead to a basis for deliberative reasoning.

Go read it. I’ll wait.


Many of the problems that beset work chat in business contexts arise from social crowding, when the dynamics of small groups are constrained or sidetracked because too many people move into groups to participate, when they aren’t actually members of the set of people doing the work.


But, as in other recent pieces about Slack (see Samuel Hulick’s Why I’m breaking up with Slack), Fried never explicitly discusses the sizes of the groups using work chat, and how group size may factor into the negatives these authors describe.

My thesis is that work chat works best in the context of small teams, which I call sets, groups of less than 10 or 12. Many of the problems that beset work chat in business contexts arise from social crowding, when the dynamics of small groups are constrained or sidetracked because too many people move into groups to participate, when they aren’t actually members of the set of people doing the work.

Sets are characterized by small group social dynamics. There is frequent and reciprocal communication, so a member can post a request for help and get a response quickly, for example. There is a greater degree of trust than larger groups, in general. There is a greater likelihood of strong interpersonal connection — strong ties — than out-of-set relationships.


There are few who would advocate a massive chat room of 100,000 employees palavering with each other to steer a company, but we are making more of less the same mistake — social crowding — when we allow 25 people to argue product strategy in a Slack channel. It’s a difference only of scale, and the same error: applying a communication tool that does not work well at the scale of the social group.


But if a set of nine marketing folks is joined by (invaded by?) a dozen out-of-set members in a Slack channel where the marketers are trying to get their work done, the dynamics can go sideways. There is greater noise in the channel as the interlopers raise questions, throw their opinions around, and take sides in discussions. This crowding is worse that the noise, since the ‘tourists’ can lead to a decrease in the benefits of tight, in-group dynamics, and a hollowing out of purpose and shared goals.

So there are several threads that follow from social crowding:

  • Social norms have to be expressly promoted to keep chat channel populations low, if they are going to be the site of effective team work. (Note: I mean the work done by teams, not the somewhat nebulous, rah-rah term on the posters in the lunchroom.)
  • Chat is not the only sort of social mechanism that we should apply to work communications, and specifically, when we look at larger-then-set social groups there are better ways to communicate. We do much of our work as soloists and set members, but we are also members of larger scenes — groups of up to 150 more or less, made up of networks of sets. Effective communications at that level require more than — or other than — chat. Consider Fried’s suggestion toward a synchronous long-form ‘writing it down’ as just one example.
  • This is a specific instance of the general issue of ‘work as a commons’. The folks that naturally most closely tied to some definable work activities — like our marketing team, above — should have the largest say in how their work is performed, and the decision-making about their work practices. That’s what they share in common. While those farther from that work — the freeloaders that are crowding the chat with their noise, interruptions, and influence — should be kept from the set’s workings if that interaction is negative.

In the long run, vendors like Slack and its competitors will need to create a multi-scale suite of communications approaches that align with social groupings. Work chat may be best suited for much of what sets need, and other approaches — like we see in enterprise social networks (work media), work management tools, and workforce communications solutions — are likely to be better suited to work at the scene level, or the enterprise scale, the scale of networks of scenes, or spheres.

There are few who would advocate a massive chat room of 100,000 employees palavering with each other to steer a company, but we are making more of less the same mistake — social crowding — when we allow 25 people to argue product strategy in a Slack channel. It’s a difference only of scale, and the same error: applying a communication tool that does not work well at the scale of the social group.


Originally published at stoweboyd.com and workfutures.io on 8 March 2016.

New collaboration tool TABLE is Slack, LinkedIn, & Upwork all-in-one

Communicating with people is hard. Or at least, it can be. Particularly when everyone isn’t in the same room, timezone, or (same) page. I can hear your cries now, bellowing, “That’s why there’s email!” and I would be inclined to agree with you, but email sucks. A lot. That’s why we have Slack and HipChat, which is great for those working primarily at a single organization, but not necessarily for those primarily doing freelance.

Now meet TABLE, a new web-based collaboration tool/platform launching this week in private beta that aims to be an all-in-one for distributed teams, freelancers, and occasional collaborators. Basically if you spend your days doing contract work for many different businesses, this service is worth keeping an eye on.

Table diverges from the recognizable structure of popular enterprise chat systems like Slack and Hipchat by splitting up into three basic portions: tables, people, and discover. The service is essentially divided into these three categories, with each breaking down into several key modules or “micro services” that can be customized to make sense for each project.

“Our approach, even towards the architecture of our web application, is micro services,” says Table CEO and cofounder Cristian Petschen. “We’re not really about the communication tool itself. We’re about connecting people, and being able to build your trusted collaborator network.”

Table lets you connect to people who have individual profiles on the platform, regardless of where they work. You can message them privately, invite them to a Table (which, functions similarly to Slack Channels and HipChat rooms), add them to your Inner Circle, or bring them into a Room. (Rooms function similarly to Teams in Slack and HipChat in that they allow you to bring people and Tables together, but you’re not tethered to a room for collaboration.)

Table isn’t just chat, though. Instead, its purpose is to give you options for communication as it makes sense to a particular project or task via the aforementioned micro services and modules. Some of these will be rolling out as Table moves out of the private beta and into the launch phase, but eventually users will be able to rate each other on performance, make voice calls, and even send and pay invoices directly through Table’s platform.

This brings us to Table’s other two primary categories: People and Discover, which allow you to manage current contacts or find new collaborators based on your professional network.

While LinkedIn has something of a stranglehold on the professional networking game, it’s not exactly a great place for getting things done or finding qualified collaborators for specific projects. Table wants to give users some of the functionality of LinkedIn with a network, but make it possible for people who don’t know one another to connect much like they do through sites like Upwork (formally Elance-oDesk).

“It’s going to be LinkedIn and more in that sense, because you can also put your projects up and people can look at your projects and the work that you’ve done,”Petschen says. “Since you’re collaborating on the platform, it’s not only what you say about yourself, but also what you’re doing. [Table] knows what subjects you’re working on, who you’re coming together with, and it has a much better idea of who you are.”

While Table is still in private beta, you can sign up to get on the waiting list.