Slack vs. Skype: Which Team Chat App Did We Choose?

by Justin Clark
Slack vs Skype

TLDR version: Skype’s main advantages are its price (free for all features), its notification system (Slack’s is buggy & lacking features), and its audio & video & screen-sharing capabilities. Slack’s main advantages are its integrations, its search capabilities, and its rich messaging.

In our company of over 50 remote employees, communication is critical. For years we’ve been using Skype as one of our primary methods of communication. In the past when we tested out alternatives to Skype (like Hipchat & Sococo), Skype always won.

In part because of Slack’s astronomical growth (launched August 2013, now with over 750,000 daily active users and a recent $2.8 billion valuation), we decided we needed to give it a shot ourselves.

Before making a decision on which team chat app to stick with, we tested Slack for 2 months with about half the company. The comparison that you’ll find below may not cover every aspect of Slack & Skype, but it does cover the aspects that actually mattered to us based on our real-world use of both pieces of software.

After our Slack trial, we surveyed everyone in the company who had used both pieces of software. The pros & cons below are based on all of our input.

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I’ll start with the benefits of Skype over Slack, then move onto the benefits of Slack over Skype (which you can jump ahead to HERE), and then I’ll let you know the reasons for our final verdict.

Advantages of Skype (disadvantages of Slack)

  1. It’s free. Slack has a free version also, but with limited features. More details here. Skype is always free.
  2. It allows audio & video calls. Slack tries to solve this problem by initiating calls on Skype or Google Hangouts, but it can be a small hassle to set up (I personally needed to contact Slack support to connect to Skype), you still need Skype, and if you’re chatting at the same time as talking (which is common for us) you need to use the two applications at the same time if you want all your chatting in one place (Slack) for documentation purposes.
  3. Can call/text regular phone numbers and Skype users from outside your company. With Slack it’s only possible to communicate with people in your own company.
  4. Better notifications. The most common complaint about Slack in our company was their buggy & deficient notification system. Here are a few of the differences:
    • Skype indicates the actual number of unread messages in each conversation, as well as the number of unread messages in the taskbar. Slack does not.
    • Skype sends notifications about messages received while a computer was asleep. Slack does not.
    • If you open Skype but leave some messages unread, you’ll still see in Skype’s taskbar icon that you have unread messages. With Slack you won’t.
    • Slack’s notifications are buggy and some notifications that are supposed to happen simply don’t.
  5. Can use Skype with no internet connection. You can see your contacts, read & search past messages, and type in new messages which will be automatically sent when your internet connection is restored. With Slack you can’t do anything without an active internet connection.
  6. Skype uses less system resources. A couple of our users reported that Slack was slowing down their computers.

Advantages of Slack (disadvantages of Skype)

  1. Integrations. Slack integrates with many pieces of software, allowing the other software that you use to post messages in your Slack conversations. For example in our company, we use Slack’s integration with Codeship to allow our developers to receive notifications via Slack when code updates occur. Slack also allows you to create custom integrations. We’ve even built one for Slack time tracking. Skype doesn’t integrate with any software that can post messages to Skype.
  2. Better search feature. Slack’s search feature is infinitely better than Skype’s. A few aspects of Slack’s search that are missing from Skype are:
    • The ability to search by date range, user, and other properties
    • The ability to search all conversations at once
    • Seeing all search results in a compact list, including an option to preview the surrounding conversation
    • The choice to sort by recency vs relevancy
    • Searching of files in addition to messages
    • Various filtering options
  3. Accurate online/offline indication. Skype is notorious for showing people as online when they’re not actually online. Slack doesn’t have that problem.
  4. Rich messaging. In Slack you can format text (i.e. bold), add code snippets, inline images, and more. Slack also has small features of messaging that make it nice to use. For example: color hex codes in messages automatically display a preview of the color, links automatically show a thumbnail, etc. Skype only supports plain text messages and has fewer emoticons.
  5. Customer Support. Slack offers email support even for free plans. Skype offers no support.
  6. More customizable interface. Slack has more color options, sounds, and views than Skype.
  7. Email notifications. Slack can optionally email you if someone sends you a direct message or mentions you in a message when you’re offline. Skype sends no email notifications.

The Verdict

Our decision in the end was not between Slack alone or Skype. Since Slack is missing critical features that we need (audio/video calls, and the ability to communicate with people outside our company), our decision was whether to use Skype only, or whether to use BOTH Slack & Skype. The other alternative is to use Slack with Google Hangouts for voice and video chat.

I don’t think we can give a recommendation one way or the other. There is still a lot of debate in our team about which team chat app to use. We’re likely to continue to use both Skype and Slack for some departments in our company.

A note on organization of contacts & groups in Skype

One area where there was no clear winner is organization. Conversations in Slack are more organized by default, but Slack allows limited customization. Skype has less organization by default, but allows certain types of customization that Slack doesn’t allow. Because the way to organize contacts in Skype isn’t intuitive, here’s how to do it:

Adding to Favorites and Renaming

Add to Favorites and Rename on Skype

“Favorites” and “Recent” Contacts

Favorites and Recent on Skype

What other startups chose

Softwaremill Software Solutions Provider

We’ve decided to go for Slack. And it was almost an unanimous decision, not so with HipChat or Skype. Some people around still think we should use IRC, but… well, no. We know there’s Flowdock and a flock of other communication tools, but for now Slack completely rocks and it seems we’ll stick to it.

FooPlugins, Wordpress Plugin Developer

The team started using Slack a couple of months ago, and it has changed the way our company works.

Bunny Inc., Voice Over Marketplace

We like Slack because it allows us to have public, private, and one-on-one chats. It has a great mobile app that is smart enough to push you message notifications only when you’re away from your desktop.

Riddle, Content Creation Tool

Slack allows us to focus our daily attention on just one place to know everything that is going on within Riddle. The only time we leave Slack for communication is for our daily video calls for which Hangouts or Skype is still necessary.

Lucid Meetings, Online Meeting Service

Our team is small, but dispersed, and Slack and Skype are both always on, keeping us connected.

Impraise, Feedback Software

Opt for Skype and Hangout instead of Slack and Hipchat, if face-to-face discussions are not possible.

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