/ Work

Get Out of the Box: 2 apps changing the way teams communicate

Living in your inbox seems like a productive way to stay on top. “Use it as a to-do list”, they say. But how many hours of the day do you sit with that Gmail tab prying at the corner of your eye, watching the unread count creep to triple-figure panic?

Requests from clients, replies from leads, newsletters, rogue cc’s that go on for days — productive is the last word I think of when it comes to a “traditional” email-centric workflow. The constant barrage takes you off-task and away from what you should be working on.

And you know it.

What’s worse, reaching team members for a quick brain-pick or an update on what they’re working on is a drag, only adding to the clutter. And the spiral continues.
Luckily, some clever people out there have given you the tools to cut down the clutter. Sure, there will always be a place for email, but there is a better way.

There is an escape from your inbox. Here are the apps to get you started by chipping away at one of your work email’s biggest offenders–team communication.


A messaging app that just works.

Intra-team messaging is the first issue to address in cutting down your inbox squatting, and can account for a good chunk of email volume derailing your dreams of Inbox Zero. Whether it’s letting you’re team know you’re running 10 minutes late, or an all-hands update on a new hire — staying in touch with colleagues is at the core of any fast-moving work environment.

Staying in touch with your team is key, obviously, but this about how to do it more efficiently and easily, not looking to ditch it altogether.

You’ve likely heard the storied rise of silicon valley messaging client Slack, but Finland-based alternative Flowdock may just have them beat.

Like Slack, Flowdock separates conversations or topics into rooms (“flows”), allowing you to quickly reach relevant team members with a quick “@” tag.

For example, setting up a support flow lets you quickly ping those in-the-know with a user query or a quirky feature. A tech flow means you can report an urgent bug to your dev team and know that someone is there to get you out of a jam with a key client.

The transparent nature of the platform means that everyone learns from the fast-moving discussions, and can chime in if needed.


But what really sets Flowdock apart is the slick conversation threading and uncluttered interface. Where chats in Slack can be tricky to follow or quickly buried, Flowdock provides a visual que — a colour-coded threading that catches you up on what you missed in a glance.

Conversations are searchable, and embedded media and file sharing is as easy as a drag ‘n drop. You can ping colleagues in private 1-to-1’s or address the entire room with a quick “@everybody”. You can even add any number of integrated services to your “Team Inbox” to show updates in the sidebar from RSS feeds, Twitter, Zendesk, Github and many more.

Once you have Flowdock in your life, there’s no going back.


Organising your team around tasks.

As a self-professed task management obsessive, I’ll hold my hands up and say I have tried just about everything to organise my incessant list making. From old-school post-it scrawling and bullet journaling, to modern fixes like Trello or Pivotal Tracker; I’ll give any system a go if there’s a promise of a productivity boost. Finding the best system for you can be the bane of any efficiency junkie’s working life, and I’m sure the scourge of their unlucky teammates as well.

Asana takes the cake for letting you organise your day around tasks, and giving you an easy way to quickly see a project’s progress.

I used Asana for the first time a few years back when the interface was what you might generously call “un-sexy”. But having made the rounds through the alternatives since, I recently dipped back into the platform to give it another try. And what I’ve found is task-management nirvana.


Whether a single user planning their day-to-day, or a large team managing projects and rapid development cycles, the “new” Asana fits the bill for just about any task management need.

Intuitive functions like drag ‘n drop sub-tasks and tasks make re-organising work easier than ever. Teammates assigned to a task are notified, and you can follow a task for updates so you know when it’s done.

Comment threads per task and project make quick feedback and updating a breeze, while a visual Project Overview pane gives you a quick status on a Project’s progress without digging deep into specific tasks inside.

A recent overhaul of the iOS has made quickly checking off, creating and managing your tasks ridiculously smooth. While a new activity inbox (for lack of a better word) feeds you updates on your organisation’s work and new tasks coming your way.

From end-to-end, Asana is a list-makers dream.

In Flowdock, you now have a way to quickly reach your team and discuss issues to your heart’s content without overloading your inbox. Asana scraps buried task assignments and lets you manage projects and what your team is working on in realtime.

In combination, these two apps have changed Work and, in my case, have meant that a Gmail inbox that’s consistently in the single-digits. Hopefully you have a chance to try them out, or even introduce them to your own team.

Of course, these solutions are just the tip of the iceberg. Getting your team onboard with change is one thing, but is there any end in sight to email as we know it? One can dream…