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Grow Your Business Technology

Microsoft Teams vs. Slack: Which Is Right for Your Business?

Microsoft Teams vs. Slack: Which Is Right for Your Business?
Credit: SFIO CRACHO/Shutterstock

It's easy to think that there's Slack, and then everyone else. But choosing collaboration software for your business may not be quite so straightforward now that Microsoft Teams has arrived. In fact, today (March 14) it's rolling out to all Office 365 users. Not only is it a solid offering compared to the Silicon Valley darling Slack, but it may also offer some distinct advantages for companies that invest in Microsoft's ecosystem.

In a direct comparison, picking a winner isn't simple. Each application comes with certain advantages and shortcomings, and the gap will likely narrow over time as the two services seek to win over users. Here are some of the standout features and areas for growth worth considering if your company needs to pick collaboration software.

Microsoft Teams comes with one major advantage out of the box: It plays nicely with Office 365 services, which may be reason enough to go with it if your business has an Office subscription. Teams has a familiar feel if you know other Microsoft applications, so if you're a regular user of products like Word, Excel or Skype, then you'll feel right at home.

The main chat room is clean, with a smart use of color to differentiate conversations. The tabs on the side make it easy to switch among different teams or to quickly look over at your shared calendar. A key strength comes from the deep integration with Office files, as you can easily import files from OneDrive. This is one of the double-edged swords of Teams, though: It's wonderful if you live in the Microsoft universe, but integration with third-party services like Dropbox or Google Drive isn't quite there yet.  [See Related Story: Collaboration Tools for Small Business]

Microsoft Teams is easy to navigate and has a good layout Credit: Microsoft

Additionally, you're not able to invite anyone outside of your Office 365 group to use the app. With Slack, for example, you can offer access to someone via email and restrict the chat rooms the individual can join. Some more flexibility here would make Teams a more viable option for businesses that need to communicate regularly with outside contractors.

However, the real strength of Microsoft Teams lies in its deep integration with Office 365. You can easily embed and collaborate over Word, Excel, PowerPoint, SharePoint, OneNote and other Office files. Skype calling is built in, so your colleagues can easily arrange voice or video conferences. Microsoft has also done a good job at making Teams cross-platform, with versions for Windows, Mac, iOS, Android and the web.

Microsoft Teams plays nicely with Office files thanks to the program's deep integration with the company's other services. Credit: Microsoft

Teams also offers a feature that many in Slack have been hoping to get for a long time: in-line replies. This greatly improves the conversation flow, as you can reply to just one individual and create a separate strand.

There are also a few drops of fun built in. There are plenty of stickers and emojis, and even some GIFs to ensure that things don't get too serious. Another advantage is price: Teams is part of the software suite for companies that have enterprise Office 365 subscriptions. This could be tempting for those who are using one of the paid levels of Slack, as cutting the Slack payment could mean one less expense.

With the public rollout, there are more than 150 integrations available or coming soon with bots and connectors from such companies as Meekan, Growbot, ModuleQ, SAP SuccessFactors and Trello.

The growth of Slack has been nothing short of phenomenal. It's easy to see why this service became the default communication tool for so many companies. The app is easy to use, and Slack features an excellent suite of mobile and desktop versions. It includes Giphy integration and uses a varied color scheme, making the interface easy to navigate.

Slack sticks to a clean interface that makes it easy to see what you need. Credit: Slack

Integration with numerous third-party apps is one of the many reasons you may want to go with Slack for your organization. It's also free for the basic service, and that may be all you need. However, you'll have to pay more if you want some of the advanced features. You'll get searchable archives for unlimited messages and guest access with the Standard plan, at $6.67 per user, per month ($8 billed monthly). For more advanced capabilities — like 99.9 percent uptime guarantee, user provisioning and 24/7 support — you can get Slack Plus for $12.50 per user, per month ($15 billed monthly).

Google and Slack are continuing to deepen their partnership with Drive integration. This allows you to launch a new Google Doc, Sheet or Slide right away, or embed it directly into the Slack conversation. Numerous third-party integrations make the service very flexible. I also find that the vast array of hot keys makes it easy to quickly give somebody a +1 and then move to another channel without reaching for the mouse or trackpad.

Create multiple channels so you can keep your team's conversations focused. Credit: Slack

Another factor you can't rule out when picking collaboration software is ubiquity. Slack has become like the iMessage of business collaboration, and the company would be wise to leverage this into some type of universal online identity that would allow others to get in touch with you via Slack. If you already use Slack elsewhere or want the ability to offer restricted chat access to certain individuals, Slack offers you the most flexibility.

The answer depends on your business's needs. If your company has an Office 365 Enterprise subscription and everyone you need to communicate with has an account, Microsoft Teams is worth a go. It's a solid offering right out of the gate and should get improvements over time. Plus, you can't beat a full-featured application for no cost.

On the other hand, Slack's feature set and flexibility in granting access to freelancers may be just what your business needs. The app also continues a robust development pace, so you're likely to see new features rolling out quite regularly. You'll also want to weigh costs and get feedback from your team. The best option if you're trying to decide for your small business may be to try out a free version of Slack and roll out Microsoft Teams to do a side-by-side comparison and see where everyone lands.

Derek Walter

Derek Walter is a freelance writer in northern California. He is the author of Learning MIT App Inventor and blogs regularly about digital life at The Intersection. Follow him on TwitterFacebookLinkedIn or Google+.