> Not responding to a message quickly is considered a major failing. Not responding to a message directed at you in a group channel immediately is considered to be a grave sin.
Nope. That’s not an issue with Slack. It’s your interpretation of what a message or DM is. There’s no timer attached to a DM. This urgency is self-inflicted.
> You must stop to check your messages at least twice an hour.
Says who? Does the Slack app automatically launched every 30 minutes, and can’t be closed until you’ve read all messages? Nope. It’s you yourself who leaves Slack open or checks it every hour.
> ALL WORK, including troubleshooting issues, fixing bugs, and answered questions should go through the Product Owner.
So if I send an email directly to a developer, bypassing the product owner, should I blame email? Nope. The tool isn’t the issue here. It’s the team discipline.
The problem isn’t Slack. Its never Slack. It’s the lack of discipline of people using it.
In my last 2 jobs, we used Slack. But it never hindered our productivity. Because we had more important matters to focus on. But it would still help us monitor some topics, and engage with colleagues for small tasks not issues. And personally I would only open Slack a few times a day. Like checking email.
People like to hate Slack, because it’s an easy excuse for poor self-discipline. And are jealous of its success because it’s just “IRC with emojis”.
I feel like if people writing these types of articles bought an electric drill, they’d end up drilling holes in all their walls, because they somehow felt the urgency to do it, and would end up blaming the tool, not themselves.
A more apt analogy would be finding holes and injuries all over the office after handing out electric drills to every single person. It would happen.
Slack is a tool that requires user discipline, yet it is generally deployed company-wide. Its major flaw is that it brings together people who need urgency (sales/support) and those who must avoid it (development).
Why not just use email for it then? Why pay for Slack and use it as something that you can have for free?
In most organizations that I know Slack is not used like email at all, but instead like a never-ending conference call. And just like in conference-calls and meetings, you can avoid them, but if you never take part in them the rest will unavoidably perceive that as a lack of initiative and interest on your side. Even more importantly, you might miss some important information. And yes, that sense of pressure and urgency is totally self-inflicted, but that's how office politics work in real world and some tools are just amplifying it.
So it's not about Slack, it's about using Slack in your environment, as flowed as it is...
Communication tools aren’t used in isolation, they’re a connection between people, it’s not just how you use them, it’s how the people on the other ends of the comma use them as well.
No of course it’s not the slack app opening every 30 minutes and not being closeable, it’s the Slack affordances putting your name in the middle of a big team wide discussion which you are conspicuously absent from, it’s the Slack channel where you’re visibly (and logged forever) asked to help with something and didn’t respond, it’s the Slack usurping of where decisions were made from an official place for decisions (committee meeting, Github issues) to a place where people are chatting at the time the decision comes up (coffee shop, pub, chat log).
It’s as daft someone complaining that they have a family and can’t go to the after work drinks, but the people who do go are perceived to be the important, hard workers, taking decisions with limited input and documentation. And then you say “I chose not to have a family so it’s all your fault”
No they wouldn’t be tempted to drill every wall, as if.
It’s as daft someone complaining that they have a family
and can’t go to the after work drinks, but the people who
do go are perceived to be the important, hard workers,
taking decisions with limited input and documentation.
And then you say “I chose not to have a family so it’s
all your fault”
If that's the tool everyone else uses, then blaming one person for not resisting is inaccurate and unfair. Blaming the team for only using that is fair game, but blaming the tool for being designed that way is also fair game. Slack promotes itself as a panacea, the top of the homepage says "Whatever work you do, you can do it in Slack" and the first image you see is a channel called #annual-planning where Emily asks "How are those year-end numbers coming along" and Paul replies in 20 minutes with a PDF with a graph embedded in the chat, and 1 minute later, Sarah (someone else) says "wow".
In that image, which of these people are you supposed to imagine that you are? Emily, able to drop in on anyone and check up on them instantly, or Paul, interrupted and rushed for something someone else wants at the drop of a hat, knowing that at least two people with power enough to ask this of you, have been alerted to the request by the channel, and are now thinking about this topic? Or are you intended to think, as the parent commenter here suggests, that you are Paul and you could ignore the request entirely if you wanted because it's up to you not to be weak?
Either Paul had to drop what he was doing and turn the numbers into a graph, turn the graph into a PDF, and share the PDF - or Emily and Sarah have just bothered Paul to link them to a PDF they could have found by themselves. Or Paul was already working on it and they have absolutely no tools for tracking progress where Emily could have seen the current status without the interruption.
Is the design of the product, and the way it's demonstrated, selling you on the idea that /you/ are the powerful person in the screenshot and /you/ can get instant answers from anyone, anywhere, anytime, without having to wait too long?
The second image in their carousel is no better in this context, Sarah is asking Paul for a link to a document. Which is perfectly fine and pleasant, but .. can't she use a computer? Why can't she get to the document directly? It's on a Google Drive, is there no clear folder structure in their company, no "search" in either Slack or Google? Oh wait the point of this image is that you can bring files into one place and the next image is that "files are easily searchable". Apparently not easy enough for Sarah to use to avoid using Paul as human search. Maybe that's his job? Who knows.
Yes there is. If there is no urgency then it's no better than an email in a worse, less-searchable UI. Direct chat has been, since it's invention, a synchronous action. That is how people use it.
> The problem isn’t Slack. Its never Slack. It’s the lack of discipline of people using it.
Email does not require discipline to use properly.
Checking email too often is a productivity killing habit.
However, the worst, most common, problem with email is disorganization. It takes a great deal of effort to organize received emails so they are appropriately handled.
I do not miss the days where I’d spend an hour every weekend filing my inbox.
I care about human interaction and slack facilitates that nicely.
As an example: my teams know that I check email twice a day (once on arriving, once in late afternoon), but I will respond to DMs about every half hour or so (Pomodoro time). There’s no promise of immediate response, because I have stuff I am actually doing.
I never respond to instant messages instantly. Ever.
15 minutes later when I do respond in 80% of times the issue or question has been solved. Soon the people who keep pinging me all the time cuz they want to save 10 minutes googling stop pinging me. It’s quicker for them to do it themselves.
Slack is very helpful as a means to discover previous conversations and insights, for companies in multiple time zones and remote workers.
Channels for me are ignorable shared inboxes of CC-all email chains where I only pay attention if someone calls me out or if I’m looking for something.
Slack’s integrations to other services can be very helpful as you don’t need to go digging somewhere to get a quick overview of how some other app is performing or the status of some ticket.
It’s a tool. If you let it dominate your life it’ll harm you for sure and sometimes it can be hard to recognise when a ha it is developing and it’s having a negative effect.
The only thing I wish existed was an option for the sender to tag a directed message as low priority, sort of like an @-lite. It would show up in my queue of things I need to respond to but not interrupt when I’m focused on something else.
It’s similar to how email functions, but we’ve mostly migrated away from using email internally and bringing that back feels like a step backwards in notification management.
Our current hack is to deprioritize all Slack messages, including direct messages and @‘s, while adding in text messages for urgent responses. Not ideal, but better than a culture of everyone feeling compelled to respond to every message within a few minutes.
So I would spend a lot of time reading back through the discussions in the various channels. And sometimes those micro-decisions were later contradicted with no acknowledgement.
While you may have impromptu meetings and make decisions on Slack, any company’s most important directives should be codified and accessible outside that medium. You don’t send executive meeting minutes to the whole company and have them parse our what decisions are made: decision-making meetings result in memos and other documentation.
Likewise, if a team’s decision-making process leaves out important stakeholders or makes it difficult to have influence, that’s another management problem that has nothing to do with the use of Slack. You would have the same problems if meetings are held spontaneously at the water cooler, and in fact I’ve seen this very thing happen without Slack’s influence.
In comparison to something like Skype - yes, in comparison to Gmail - no.
“It isn’t the tool, it is how you use it.”
Malarkey. Tools dictate usage. The phrase people need is,
“When all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.”
Slack is a tool for communication. But it is helpful to define communication and then to ask what kind of communication Slack facilitates (and thus encourages).
Communication is a poor word, because it embeds within the word many slightly different but important meanings. Communication can mean the mere transfer of information. But communication can also mean a successful transfer of information.
So really, we can’t simply define “communication”, but must rather define “good communication”. And its definition is simple: transmitting the right information to the right entity at the right time and in the right manner (i.e., in a way the entity can understand correctly).
Slack facilitates transmitting any information to any person at any time, and (with the use of plugins) in almost any manner. This is almost the definition of bad communication.
Yes, you can try to limit the use of Slack to avoid these problems. But you are working against Slack, not with it. Every tool that facilitates good communication does so by disciplining and focusing the transmission of information. Slack’s mission is the opposite. Slack aims to achieve a riot of information. Slack is information anarchy.
Maybe this helps for work that is by nature anarchic, where information flow is more important than knowledge exchange. But for the rest of us, it is a cursed tool.
So, if I have a hammer, I shouldn't try to use that hammer in a constructive manner, but should throw it away and find something that is universal for all of my tool using needs? Rather than using the hammer as a hammer?
Sure, any team can screw up communication. I'd argue that many teams ship shit software in shit environments, and that adding slack is like adding 'devops' or 'agile': if your team sucks, it doesn't matter what tool you use, you're gonna suck. Adding new tools may even make you suck worse, because you now have 2 problems: poor comms AND a tool that doesn't fix that which you have to deal with.
Slack is a hammer. And I have a shitload of nails to hammer in. I don't have ONLY nails, and Slack isn't my ONLY tool, and it's not appropriate for ALL THE THINGS. But your own argument is that you shouldn't look at it as the solution to everything, but then throw it away because it's not the solution to everything.
Is it the tool for you? Apparently not! And that's fine. That doesn't make it a bad tool. Some of us have lots of nails to hammer in, and some of you have screws that need another approach (even if you could hit it hard enough to drive it home...thats probably non-optimal).
In the end, productivity (as measured in completed story points) was up about 50%. I’m glad, because the change was popular and would have been difficult to reverse if it had gone the other way.
This doesn’t fit every situation. We’re part of a very global company, and responding quickly to a ping from a team on the other side of the world can mean the difference between solving a problem today or having to wait another 24 hours. But for my immediate team this is easier. Because we work together in an office they can just, you know, say something, if they have some urgent reason to break focus time.
So, not universally applicable, but I think many teams could benefit from prioritizing focused work in this way.
For the first group, often managers, it works well. For the second group lots of ad hoc video chats help take multi day discussions into 10 minutes chats and resolve arguments amazingly fast.
For the third group, I don't know. Had a coworker who was complaining about how much they paid attention to work. When we dug into it they were reading slack constantly over the weekend, partially cause their job was their family. We encouraged them not to do that, uninstall slack on the weekends. They were a lot happier very quickly. A few months later they quit :). I believe they would have not quit if they hadn't been so tied to their jobs for the 4 years before from talking to them.
Anecdata I know.
Not to say text based communication isn't quite useful. I love it. But it's not the only form and I really dislike how tied to the company slack tricks you into being. A false sense of community that evaporates the instant you go against it, like being electronically shunned. I think this leads to a lot of disgruntlement where people don't want to lose their "friends" (coworkers) but do hate their jobs. So they stay and get real angry. It's not the only reason it happens but it does exacerbate issues.
On the other hand I don't think its fair to blame the author for their self-discipline or whatever. When a QA engineer tags you and your manager on Slack to raise an "extremely urgent" issue, I really cannot predict how my teammates and managers will perceive me if I just ignore these fire alarms, regardless of how real or not the urgency is.
Which, of course, is only one person's experience amongst many, and different people will have different experiences.
For people like me, however, the problems listed in this article are painfully obvious, especially with regard to false sense of urgency. When everything is urgent, nothing is urgent, except my heart rate.
Slack isn't really the issue here: it's any form of synchronous communication (IRC, someone coming to your desk, getting a phone call). Slack just happens to be the latest flagship for the interruption armada, swooping in with their false urgency and lack of sufficient information.
Synchronous chat is spam and we need to be better about understanding the productivity hit that cokes with always-on comms where we expect instant response.
Until one day a manager sends something urgent, and then explodes in anger because 30 minutes later no one has reacted yet.
To completely convey that there's no timeliness requirement for even a basic acknowledgement means you aren't actually managing anyone and/or your team is so gifted in efficiency your position isn't really needed in that organization.
I wonder if you're more of a mentor they go to when something isn't working or you're just wasting some company's time and money posting useless crap on their chat.
Are you just talking about Slack or are you talking about other methods of communication? If it's the former then wtf point does it serve other than as a morale booster to goof off with.
I rarely need something done with any degree of urgency. That generally implies a lack of planning on my part. If my team is functioning correctly, everyone knows why they should be focused on, what's next, and how that fits into the roadmap for the near term, generally quarterly.
In my team people look at it when they have the time or could use a context switch, and if you need them immediately adding @username send them a notification during business hours.
Most of these articles against chat or digital communication base their criticism on the fact that people can't focus, can't plan, can't decide what to do. With that assumption or decision nothing will work.
Figure out how to focus instead, figure out how much chunk of time you as an individual need to perform a task and make progress. Then check e-mail, Slack, phone etc in between ... and it will be just fine. fud!
At a fully remote company that I work at we have “quiet hours” in the afternoon where the expectation is that any messages in the channels are not going to be seen until the next day. Everyone is also encouraged to automatically enable Do Not Disturb for that time period. There’s also no expectation that DMs are immediately responded to. If it’s not a blocking issue, I’m happy to get a response the following morning.
Slack is junk food for positions that need focus (developers, designers). your time is smart to eat it less, but we should get something healthier.
I would not want to work like that. Makes you feel like a code monkey or ticket jockey.
Those guys demand direct response destroy focus.
If questions are easy, inane, and ubiquitous, anti-communication swarms become the norm. When most communication is about a plethora of trivial facts that have to be constantly wrangled, it's better to use a ticket system with forms that naturally rate limit low-effort questions.
When it's about deeper information, and invalid conversations can be trivially spotted and rejected, the ability to instantly organize any kind of conversation whenever, is a god-send.
(I don't use Slack myself, and I do not intend to. For my own projects I can use IRC and NNTP.)
I see this sentiment a lot and it strikes me that deep focus work simply isn't something that is needed or even wanted in most orgs. Just about every single org I've ever worked at prioritized a more extraverted work environment. In this regard, Slack is promoting the interests of the org and not harming them.
I personally have been focused on making positive changes with 15 solid minutes of effort. Because that's all I'm going to have before I'm interrupted. It's annoying and I would much prefer a quieter work environment, but that's clearly not what the org wants.
On the flip side I never have to feel bad about not being productive. I suspect most of the actual work on my team gets done at home after work hours, work is being increasingly treated like social hour.
Doesn't that just feel terrible? I bought noise cancelling headphones because of the open office concept. When that wasn't sufficient, I moved and am now remote. When Slack came in, I used the IRC bridge and setup ignore rules for all the botspam. Now that's gone and I found a web plugin that would do it. Slack changed their code and that no longer works. Every effort seems to be going toward a more disruptive world. 15 minute chunks are no sufficient to do quality work, in my opinion.
We shouldn't spend our days screwing around and our nights on work. If I have to work nights to be productive, I shouldn't have to show up during the day. Even if I didn't have a kid, I'd have a personal life.
The depth of the work I've been doing at work has been steadily decreasing. I feel less like a software engineer and more like a manager of SaaS. It's still much more technical than work your average office worker can do but the pendulum of power seems to be swinging back towards employers at the moment.
I don't know if it will ever swing back. I worry that the days of software engineers being able to build up expertise and have that expertise be a vehicle to social advancement are already over. Coders now need to be businessmen to get ahead just like everyone else.
To the company it's better if all work is done in small groups.
Even though, research suggests that results are worse when working in groups, compared to a single expert, they don't care, because when done in groups, the knowledge gets spread across a few people.
This is better for knowledge retention if the 'expert' leaves.
Of course companies have to say that they want everyone's best work, but what they actually promote is everyone's average work, done in groups as a hedge against losing people.
In typical corporate doublespeak, this is rebranded as 'best work.' anyway.
Even with a lot of creativity I can't imagine how the workforce being unproductive and doing their work at home instead of the workplace where they're actually being paid to work is in the interests of your organisation.
What appears to me more likely is that someone in upper management has been roped into using slack because it's the next hip thing being pitched by some sales team and that nobody is actually aware how much productivity it costs.
My org just burned wheelbarrows full of cash bringing on like a hundred interns and then holding an immense company-wide conference, all for optics. It was well understood that very little work was going to get done.
Unfortunately my team is too small to have a substantial test whether it scales well, but on the surface, it seems quite a wonderful email and Slack replacement.
I've noticed this as well, but it's mainly been at places with a lot of location flexibility (WFH for example), but micro-managing managers. When you're remote, the game that gets played is you have to give the illusion of being immediately accessible because even though you're not present, you're still working. It's a silly game but inexperienced micro-managers can be very paranoid.
This article contains an interesting argument against Slack. Is it ultimately correct for all Slack users and circumstances? Probably not -- but it is an interesting argument and might be applicable to a number of companies and use-cases of Slack...
I've seen Slack work when there is both intention to how channels are organized and leadership nudging people to follow these intensions.
They rely on others to help them. It’s a different question if you cannot proceed because you are absolutely dependent on others. In that case an email should be fine and you should continue working on something else.
If that’s a problem, you either have a bad plan and/or worklist.
I'm an employee in a large organisation, I rely on other people doing their job to get my job done and they rely on feedback to know what to prioritise. I can't just work on something else because I have schedules & deadlines, and clients don't care that something is late because the expert at database replication checked their email at 5:30pm, after I had to leave.
I feel like if your opinion has the caveat that it only works in orgs where it’s possible to skill up in everything then it’s probably only applicable to very small operations.
Some of the points in the article actually highlight reasons why chat is better:
They promote a false sense of urgency
This is very much a culture thing. You can always vary the communicated urgency by e.g. saying "when you get the chance" vs. @-mentioning people. Importantly though, when you do need a reply soon, Slack is much better at getting that.
They destroy focus
The article mentions paranoid checking. My experience is the exact opposite - with async tools (e.g. email, task manager, google docs) I find myself paranoidly checking / browsing to make sure I'm not missing anything. With a tool like Slack, it's easy to know when I've read everything (or read everything in channels that matter), and don't need to keep paranoidly checking because I'll get a notification for important stuff.
They allow for bypassing project prioritization ... ALL WORK, including troubleshooting issues, fixing bugs, and answered questions should go through the Product Owner.
That's ridiculous. You shouldn't have to go through a high overhead prioritization process just to do some quick work. Sure, put it in prioritization / whatever when you realize it's a big piece of work and / or needs to be kept track of, but don't take away the ability to get things done quickly without having to go through a burdensome product process.
They strip away essential business context
Feature, not a bug. You can always link to extra context, but often the concise nature of chat forces people to use tl;dr which results in far more efficient communication for the reader.
They encourage poorly thought-out communication
Again, feature not a bug. Lots of brief communication is far better than a few carefully drafted essays. Well written communication requires a lot of time and effort to write, and people don't need that overhead to get on the same page, which is the point of internal communication.