Slack allowed anyone to contact me by tagging me or @here, so it was obvious when someone wanted it to be synchronous (therefore breaking my communication), but the grand majority of communication was asynchronous unlike email - which does a poor job of differentiating between messages that should (and shouldn't) break attention.
Depends on company culture, of course. But my team is also distributed from -8 to + 10 UTC. So nobody is expecting someone who is asleep to write back to them.
Another thing to note is the presence of other sources of communication, like GitLab issues. If you have those you don't always have to ping a live person in sync mode. Often you can just pick up an issue and do it with minimal input.
But I think by now the benefits of a chatroom UX are clearly valued by a lot of people.
I still have to find a webui more effective than my notmuch-emacs UI (with, of course, notmuch underneath)...
I give team members my phone number and say "text me if you need something ASAP". People don't do that unless it really is important, in my experience.
Slack doesn't have to be synchronous.
I am part of hundreds of channels across 10 accounts. I only respond to notifications but will typically spend an hour or so at the end of the day just catching up on everything. With email I would simply never know these discussions were even happening.
You can use Slack this asynchronously, but if you do it every day, it might as well be static.
On the other hand, I only use one account at a time, for the most part: my work account.
For one, you can never guarantee nor should you expect your team to be colocated. Even if you have one office, people should be free to work from home. Side chats get lost, people forget or don't hear. Slack is public and searchable. No mumbling and if you mistype, you can fix it. Plus you can add documents, links, images while you're talking.
People say getting communication on their phones is like an anchor to their desk but I feel the exact opposite. It means I can leave my desk anytime I want and not be out of communication. If something critical needs my attention, I can answer while I'm home and not go back to work.
Sorry to say this, but if you are answering things on slack at home, you are "working" and anchored to your phone.
And then we started making our own clique chat rooms. Then it became mandatory to not have tech discussions in a clique room.
Am I old fashioned in thinking that voice to ear (or nearest equivalent) should have the role of primary communication channel?
I’ve been struggling with this lately, to the point where I’ve experimented with going back to a dumb phone, and trying to use my smart phone without Slack. As a remote employee, I think having Slack on mobile has lead to a greater degree of freedom, as you mentioned, but I also wonder if the constant tether is leading me to burnout more quickly.
Urgent things should be passed by audio (traditional VoIP phone call, not bound to any desk since we have mobile internet and softphones) non-urgent thing goes better via mail instead of wasting people time to look a chats.
For centuries tech has been about making everything easier, faster, more connected. IMHO, next we have to thoughtfully and discerningly step back from that where it isn't helping.
As an example, for the last 30 days I've stopped looking at news and Twitter before noon. They put me in a fast-paced, reactive, what's-next mindset. Leaving them until later means I'm more focused and less tense. I'm doing it for at least another 30 days.
Companies don't go out of business because employees are distracted by chat messages and noisy conversations, they go out of business because employees are working on the wrong thing. Slack still has a lot of work to do if they really want to succeed in their mission, but I also don't think it's entirely fair to judge them (excessively) negatively based on it being distracting because that's not the point.
This is tautological. Maybe try expressing this more usefully?
> Companies don't go out of business because employees are distracted by chat messages and noisy conversations
Why not? Unending distraction raises costs and encourages a focus on the urgent rather than the important. That will raise prices and lower the company's ability to do strategic rather than tactical work. That seems like a major risk to me.
I agree that there are risks the other direction as well. A company can become too insular or too scattered. But that doesn't mean that one can ignore the opposite risks.
> being distracting because that's not the point
I agree that's not the point for them. But as a user, it's definitely a point for me. And if you're looking for ways that companies go out of business, doing what they want rather than what the user needs is a common one.
Slack was supposed to be a progress compared to other communications channels, for instance mails, phone calls and previous IRC channels.
My takeaway from Slack is that it is very nice for chatting casually and organizing lunches, but it does a poor job at improving professional communication. I sometimes feel its appeal is mostly gifs for fun and the ability for managers to ping people and expect immediate answers.
Wait what? If only there was some application out there that could queue up article sharing to an appropriate time.
I bet the people that championed this deep work experiment, ironically, do not like social media for its distracting effects. It's the main reason I stay off social media.
If I skip HN for a day, there's a whole front page of articles that I'll probably never see, and never know that I missed.
Ugh this is such a common strawman for why most people criticize Slack. I've never heard someone say "Slack has a weird magical power over me where I'm physically incapable of _not_ checking the notifications."
What people are saying is that Slack _encourages_ synchronous communication through it's explicit design choices. Why do people want to use a tool where you have to exert conscious effort to deviate from the designer's intentions in order to get value from the product?
Some people really don't seem to consider that they aren't being forced to use it synchronously by anything other than their own company culture.
As a contrast, look at email. Both of them allow the sending of text messages between individuals and groups. But the tool designs encourage different cadences.
Note also the difference between this:
> if your team is using it in a way that impedes productivity that's on you
> anything other than their own company culture
The first clearly blames the individual. The second broadens from "team" to "company", so that's a bit better. But individuals aren't able to change company culture on their own. Especially given that a company's culture isn't isolated; it picks a lot up from the broader corporate work culture.
Ideally there’s a culture where high priority is @here and non urgent is email. I have not seen this in practice.
I'm saying that, given a generic human Slack user, Slack's design team is optimizing for engagement. They are making explicit choices about how/where/why to show notifications and how the @ commands work, and their goals are to _increase engagement on Slack_.
Their motivations are antithetical to the motivations of Slack's users, who would explicitly like to see _less_, but _more efficient_ engagement ("email is full of crap I never check it, with Slack I can mute certain channels," etc).
> I'm saying that, given a generic human Slack user, Slack's design team is optimizing for engagement. They are making explicit choices about how/where/why to show notifications and how the @ commands work, and their goals are to _increase engagement on Slack_.
There's a different kind of notification for direct messages, and situations where someone consciously decides to flag a specific person in a channel message. (All features that aren't unique to Slack, and that I would expect any chat application to have).
What would you expect it to do differently? It seems like the Slack devs are just making the notifications behave the way that I would intuitively expect them to behave, and how most people use IRC or other group chat apps.
What incentive does Slack have to focus on metrics like "engagement" rather than building a genuinely useful product. They just charge the customer for it, they aren't an ad driven social network like Facebook where "engagement" actually directly translates to revenue.
Nobody except your employer. In shops that use slack it is often the expectation that slack messages should be read and responded to ASAP. If someone PMs you in slack that is taken to be the equivalent of an IM or a phone call, with the same implications of urgency. If there is a chat for your specific team then it's expected you are following that pretty closely (at least as closely as your email if not more so).
Additionally, sometimes it's not possible to avoid paying too much attention to slack. If people have a habit of dumping lots of context and decision making into slack without putting that info elsewhere (like wiki, issues, email, etc.) then at some point you need to go back and read all that backlog to keep up to date on what the hell is going on, typically it's far easier to do that as close in time as possible to the original messages, so that you're in the loop. Relatedly, people have a habit of having substantive conversations and effectively virtual meetings in slack which can include decision making as well. Meaning they can make decisions without your input, advice, or consent if you're heads-down and not paying attention, which can mean people make the wrong decisions (they did it without additional context, information, or advice you could have provided) or they make decisions that put you individually at a disadvantage (because you "weren't in the room" when things got decided).
Yes, these are absolutely undesirable and unnecessary ways of using the platform but they are also very common and they are some of the big reasons why people tend to dislike slack.
In our team what organically transpires is that we generally get a response time of 3-8 hours over weekends and a few hours in weekday evenings. No one's complaining over lost sleep.
And from what I've heard from my friends who all made informed decisions on where to work, that seems to be the norm. I'm perfectly fine with that. Looks more like you've decided these hardass companies are the only places worth working at for various reasons and have concluded that these are the norms everywhere.
It's a problem if you have to respond ASAP during work hours, if your job involves doing deep work during work hours.
Notice that I said nothing about working outside of the typical 40 hour work week and yet you immediately took my comment to be concerned with that. Absolutely the core problem with slack is that it makes it easier for people to be inconsiderate of other's time by making synchronous communication the norm. Slack normalizes the model of everyone communicating synchronously all the time and everyone interrupting everyone else's work in order to communicate, which is corrosive both to productivity and the overall office environment (for the reasons I outlined above).
And yes, there are ways to "use slack better" but the problem here is that most tools encourage a natural pattern of use, and if that pattern has a severe negative impact then using that tool will tend to have a negative impact on work as well, on average. See also: using gotos in code or writing readable Perl programs. If there is a "correct" way to use slack then that should be the default, baked into the software, and it should take work to use slack incorrectly. Unfortunately, the exact opposite is true, using slack well requires an uphill battle. People aren't complaining about slack being impossible to use "correctly", they are complaining that it's an uphill battle to do so.
How is a Slack PM NOT the equivalent of an IM? It's exactly the same thing, isn't it?
Unless you're experienced enough to know you should turn sound notifications off, `/mute` channels that are mostly noise but you still need to follow, and type `/dnd until 5:30pm` when you log in in the morning to get the message across that "no, I won't be reading this now unless you confirm it's actually time sensitive", it's easy to get interrupted by pointless messages all day long.
(There's also something to be said about documenting decisions outside of slack.)
When I was at Facebook, this type of communication was extremely abundant and took place on Workplace. When you are pushed information, there is some expectation to respond (as highlighted by the author). However, Workplace's opt-in type of communication via feed didn't have this problem. And interestingly isn't really prevalent outside forums and groups (which I don't think are used commonly at companies).
I think splitting out that kind of behavior was beneficial, it wasn't email (which is a push that people ignore), but rather a subscribe where there was no stigma to be late, and people could take their own time to catch up on posts.
Hell, even the idea of a chat room isn't productive to getting "work" done at all IMO. If you aren't watching it every minute, you immediately lose all the context and knowledge. It's such a waste.
Most problems people have with Slack are people problems.
Then again I fully subscribe to the '4 hours of full productivity per day' theory.
All of my coworkers share information and ask each other questions either directly or in our shared rooms and all of that can be easily searched and found by anyone else who needs it.
Maybe it's just something Chat does better than Slack (no experience with it) but I can mute any person, room, or conversation in a room. Personally I don't use sound notifications so maybe that's more of a bother. Since Chat is just a tab I have open I can just look up and see the icon colour change when something new shows up (blue for new message, red for new direct message).
All of this also really hinges on the type of work you do I guess as well.
Most of us here have jobs where our actual work needs to be done outside of chat rooms.
Or just smaller channels in general.
You might need someone with some authority to help with this. I take charge of managing some of the slack channels at my company, and we're able to keep the off-topic conversation mostly contained.
"But you _could_ use it like Y"
Stop with this. Why are you trying to force the square peg into the round hole so hard? Why do people like the idea of using Slack against how it's designed? These arguments are so tiresome.
But the one on the left is horrible, yes.
There are focused channels on dealing with specific projects that can be productive. But those are lesser utilized.
The daily stand-up channel, only a couple people actually read them. For actual stand-ups, every one is checked out.
Slack is nice for a few things because email is useless with thousands of emails that are irrelevant. On the plus side I'm glad I don't have a work voicemail anymore.
At a previous company the owner would forward 30 minute recordings of a conversation, for 3 years I just deleted every voicemail. It actually never caused a problem. Every day I'd have 8-10 voicemails waiting, every day I just hit 7, 8-10 times.
People over communicate but say nothing important and it just adds noise.
For that type of culture, I much prefer slack. The synchronous conversation can happen, you can choose to pay attention or not and, generally, someone will @ you if they really need your input. The one thing I wish slack had was a way to mark comments as "decision points", much like what I heard stride was doing. Hopefully that'll get merged into slack after the buyout.
I am absolutely up-front about it as well and mention it to my managers and other engs and a lot of them say the same thing.
Either the companies I've worked for over the last 10 years have gone more and more that route or the fact that I don't check email is causing people to not email me.
This made me chuckle. What do you expect employees to say in that situation?
We use BaseCamp for anything that should have any temporal meaning beyond the present, and Slack for water-cooler conversation, coordinating tests, coordinating releases, hot-topic issues, and similar. Basically, anything that is best served with a post-mortem or no record at all goes in Slack.
Slack can be totally ignored and one can remain a positively contributing member of the team; but it exists because we're social mammals and we _don't have an office_. Slack _shouldn't_ be ignored because it is a place of coordination and rapid response, but it _can_ be if one wants to focus on a particular task.
That said, Slack's VoIP for meetings sucks when you have more than a half-dozen people.
Also, not enough fun integrations for our team. We have all sorts of custom bots, emoji, and such. ;)
That's why we do not have any modern MUA for non techies, that's why there is a big push to web-crap stuff. That's why there is a big push toward centralization instead of cooperation and "power/responsibility division".
People today do not even realize that we are in process to became new illiterate, even loosing writing (on keyboard eh!) ability in favor of audio/video contents, the new "oral system".
But now I learned that channel stickiness is much bigger than I thought.
BTW, put simply, qdochat.com is Pomodoro technique for Slack teams.
Slack is a vital part of my working, PARTICULARLY when one of the parties is remote. Sure, as this article is saying, having some space to not be interrupted is a good thing - but that's hardly the same as saying USUALLY having no synchronous option is good, much less EVER having a synchronous option.
1) Email was great...until too much crap showed up in email and people stopped reading it. Remove the synchronous option and you'll just have another form of email. The Mythical Man Month talks about communication overhead -
2) The vast bulk of my slack communication is quick questions/answers. Sure, an interruption is annoying, but usually well worth it if it unblocks someone. (and when that someone is me, I value it much more). The value here tends to vary in proportion to someone's quick response time. I have a few coworkers that wont' check Slack more than once or twice a day. I hate having to work with them on anything, and we tend to have more scheduled meetings that are far less efficient. Others can be counted on to respond within 10 mins, and usually within a min - working with them is a breeze.
There is definitely a number of tricks to adopt and etiquette to follow...just like any form of communication. It can be used poorly and have more costs than benefits, or well and have the reverse.
* I replaced the default notification sound with something less jarring. Basically a gentle sound that clues me in to glance at the notification. If it's not something I need to respond to, I'm usually not pulled out of flow. This is a huge difference.
* When that notification is still too much, and/or someone starts a detailed chat about something I don't care about, `/dnd 10min` tells slack to shut up for a bit, without me having to tinker with settings and worry about remembering to UN-tinker those settings.
* If using a Pomodoro technique, add in a scan of Slack between sessions. That's fast enough that most people are happy and not blocked long, but doesn't break up your work efforts. This advice is only partially tested, as I'm still struggling to adopt a routine.
* Many people will tell you to turn off notifications - I recommend AGAINST this unless you're using a technique like the last to make sure you don't miss things. Instead, make sure you're only in channels that are relevant to you - if you're getting pinged and aren't interested, the problem is not the tool. In particular, you want to manage the expectations about reaching you - if people think you aren't responding, they'll just get more annoying, not patient. I have coworkers that will often join into channels for related teams, get their answers, then leave...a process they repeat possibly multiple times that day, while I hang out in many, many channels. Both ways do the job well.
* I gave a presentation where I worked on effective ways to communicate with text. One of the best is to not ask A or B questions - instead ask yes/no questions.
Not: "Is the API key for foobar still in file.env? Or is it from the new service call?" (You will be told "Yes" or "no" and have no idea what the actual answer is)
Instead: "The API key for foobar is still in file.env? And not yet from the new service call?" ("yes" or "no" will have a clear meaning)
This technique alone has taken a big bite out of my frustrations in using slack (and any other communication) and reduced unnecessary traffic, though it takes some practice.
I responded to Slack pings in the course of writing this :)
A combination of E-mail and IM (when an immediate response is required) works quite well.
Where's the "We had Skype/GTM/Hangouts/call-free days" articles?
A lot (maybe even most or all) of the negativity around slack in this thread is from misuse.
Slack is a tool. If it's becoming a distraction, change your approach.
You mean, using it how the designers expressly intend it to be used?