And I will agree that it's mainly because people use it badly but Slack encourages to use it as a dopamine fix contributing to an ever lower attention span in the workspace.
An IM tool is needed in the modern workspace but it should be seen as the last resort. A synchronous answer should not be expected. Instead, Slack has been pushed as the replacement of email and is being used as the single place where all the discussions are going on in real-time, making it extremely difficult to work on a complex task without taking the risk of missing an important decision/discussion.
I find it amazing that this tool is used unquestionably by every small/medium company without ever wondering if it really provides a productivity benefit.
The client has enough options available you can set as you like as to not disturb you.
Email has its own problems. Sometimes you need answers to important questions promptly. @<user> works better then, at the same time, it is less intrusive than a phone call.
Also, it is work time, you have to expect to be on the ready, and answer people that needs something from you, so they can get their work done, too. It is not your leisure time.
Some people here talk about work like they think it is their own personal project time.
I do not agree with that statement. In lots of roles, it does not matter whether you answer now or in one hour, but being constantly disrupted unexpectedly can have a dramatic impact on concentration and productivity. I cannot do any substantial programming or data analysis if I expect to be disrupted. The problem is not someone calling because the house is on fire and I am the only one who can fix it; the problem is someone screaming for my attention to e.g. know if I will participate in an event in 2 months time. Avoiding unnecessary disruptions is not letting people have leisure time, it is allowing them to do their work properly.
On that topic I really like that piece:
Somewhere along the road we failed to grasp the idea that some jobs require extreme doses of concentration, and being highly available is a counter to those jobs. Don't pretend that customer support and chess players have the same needs to excel at their jobs.
Salespeople often worry far more about Face than Physics. If they told a customer something was easy, then you have to cobble something together quickly no matter what. Which means massive tech debt, huge time sinks, and later questions about why you guys are so slow now? That only stops when the engineers find solidarity, and agree to always say no.
It's a spectrum, and requires managerial talent to still the right balance. Letting the engineers just say no is not the solution.
Yet when you're in an office, you can always be interrupted by anyone coming up to you (and that's usually true even if you have your private office). That doesn't mean we don't reduce the actual number of interruptions. The same applies when working remotely.
I don't want anyone who's job requires deep, introspective thought on big problems to be constanly distracted by a flashing toast that's probably a non-time sensitive, low-effort inquiry or worse.
This applies to my newest junior developer trying to learn a big, hairy code base, our senior product manager working through plans for the rest of the year, the CFO figuring out how we can afford to keep everyone employed or the vast majority of positions outside of those explicitly focused on inbound communication. If you work on the help desk, inbound marketing, tech support or sales, sure a big part of your responsibility is responsive communication. For most other roles responsive does not mean immediate or even really, really soon.
most questions I get are genuine coordination problems that need to be resolved. "hey, I see you have x file checked out. I also need to make some changes. should I wait for you to submit or will it merge cleanly?" answering this kind of stuff promptly saves everyone a lot of headache in the long run.
there are also questions about code that you are much more familiar with than the other person. it might cost you an hour to get back into "deep work" mode, but you save that person a day or more of floundering around and possibly messing things up (that you will have to fix later).
I'm not making any assumptions about you personally, but I find that many people who complain a lot about distractions really just don't like working with other people. this is fine, but it means you should probably be in a role where other people depend less on your knowledge and/or using your interfaces.
to be clear, I only use the twenty minute rule deliberately on people who consistently ask low effort questions. usually I just finish whatever subtask I'm working on, then think of a response. fortunately I don't have many people like this where I work, but they do exist.
Wow such a team player! You must be a joy to work with. Helping your team is an “obligation” but only if a certain math equation is a positive number..
When my manager asks a question, I don’t treat it with hostility. It isn’t a “dumb” question, because for some reason that’s what he needed to know. I could bet that you have asked a few dumb questions in your day.
And with other teammates, why the contempt? You are a team. It isn’t all about “your productivity,” it’s about the team accomplishing the goal. You probably aren’t a Nobel winning physicist sitting around dreaming up theories that change the earth, but it certainly seems like it.
Be helpful and compassionate with your team. If you really can’t be bothered, activate Do Not Disturb. If you actually think your boss is asking dumb questions, perhaps you should ask them why. Or perhaps you should ask to be the boss. Or perhaps you should just be helpful and friendly and not such an entitled grump. Or perhaps get better at your job so interruptions aren’t so horrible for you. Perhaps your hatred of interruption is due to insecurity or anxiety about your abilities. If that’s the case, work on boosting your capabilities.
But don’t treat your teammates like some kind of fungus that need avoidance.
> Helping your team is an “obligation” but only if a certain math equation is a positive number..
Deliberate negative misrepresentation of a reasonable position (some things are more important than others).
> When my manager asks a question, I don’t treat it with hostility.
Boasting, posturing of superiority.
> It isn’t a “dumb” question, because for some reason that’s what he needed to know.
Claim that you know their life better than they do, and you are a better judge of what they are being asked than they are.
> I could bet that you have asked a few dumb questions in your day.
Irrelevant putdown/insult, which wouldn't change the current situation whether it was true or false.
> You are a team. It isn’t all about “your productivity,”
Dismissive putdown, with quotes implying their productivity isn't important, i.e. that they overvalue their own work and that you can value it better than they can.
> it’s about the team accomplishing the goal
Dismissive of the fact that for a team to accomplish a goal, people in the team must be able to do their work towards said goal.
> You probably aren’t a Nobel winning physicist sitting around dreaming up theories that change the earth, but it certainly seems like it
Irrelevant insult and putdown, implying their work is unimportant. Tag-on bit at the end insults their own judgement of the worth of their work and implicitly claims you are a better judge of its importance than they are.
> perhaps you should just be helpful and friendly and not such an entitled grump
Another insult, accusation of overblown status.
> Or perhaps get better at your job
> Perhaps your hatred of interruption is due to insecurity or anxiety about your abilities.
> Be helpful and compassionate
The jaw-dropping, tone-deaf, blind-to-what-you-are-saying sentence which causes me to post this comment.
Hey I have a question maybe you could help me with. If I saw someone projecting really hard, what should I say to them?
I will double down on my point that you don't have to prioritize questions that cost more time than they save. if I spend more time helping you than it would have taken you to figure it out yourself, this hurts the overall productivity of the team.
Who says he needs to? Your company should have communication policies. They should decide which channels/rooms your junior should join. He's a junior, it is likely no one will urgently need an answer from him for some time, so his settings can reflect that. He does not even need a visible/audible notification for that @-message, he can answer when he feels like it.
Also, your last paragraph make it sound like the people in those roles cannot handle their job responsibilities AND a couple of disturbances.
A distraction during deep work can easily take 15-20 minutes to recover from.
I also think a lot of people overestimate how "deep" their own work is compared to others. E.g. a lot of programming is just tedious busywork and scaffolding, yet every programmer here seems to think a slight interruption is a destructive event. Maybe the problem is with you, not others. Maybe you are not a good match for working on a team.
At many companies, plenty of programmers and engineers do complex, meaningful work in a crowded, very busy setting, with lots of talking over each other's heads.
Have you seen how SpaceX or Tesla engineers work?
What some people call deep work others do with their hands tied and constant "interruption".
I think this is a useful way of looking at it - the medium governs the expectation of response. An email basically never expects a response, an "@" in slack expects a response at some point, and a phone call is "I AM MORE IMPORTANT THAN ANYTHING YOU MIGHT BE DOING RIGHT NOW TALK TO ME". Slack etc. are obviously useful in filling the middle ground between the two extremes.
> Also, it is work time, you have to expect to be on the ready, and answer people that needs something from you, so they can get their work done, too.
I sort of disagree with this. Being expected to drop everything that you're doing and deal with whoever wants to engage with you at any point is a really bad pattern. If someone's got to the point where they're blocked on a single person responding to something, then that's a really bad smell for some process and organisational failings.
People should be able to own and manage their time. That doesn't mean they get to close themselves off from the world and ignore everyone, but it also doesn't make them an on-demand slave to their colleagues.
This might be a SV thing, because I can assure you that many, many e-mails require a response elsewhere including government. Failure to respond to some emails will result in a loss of funding or your job.
Setting up rules on the mail (e.g. bounce the icon on MacOS) is a very smart and healthy thing to do. If you control your own mail server, then paying attention to the logs and having some alerts that deal with it might be very wise.
I don't agree with this. You are exploiting a biological imperative intended to prevent us from being attacked by surprise so that I read your email? There goes the 30 minutes I just spent getting into the zone invetigating an evil little bug.
If someone has these ridciulous expectations about email I prefer (the still very annoying) follow-up email or physical visit. At least that requires some effort.
Yeah, you'll find people who oversee money have many ridiculous expectations and when your grant and the people you are helping depend on you meetings those expectations, then you damn well do everything you can to do so.
No government or grant official is going to do "physical visits". The whole point is you do not want them expending effort on you because that will end badly for you. You need to be oil on glass as far as they are concerned.
This is why there's more expensive options you can buy - guaranteed delivery, signed for etc. that provide more robust guarantees. There's no equivalent for email, so trying to layer similar expectations on top of things that aren't designed to meet them is going to sometimes go badly.
> As a system admin, I have found folks expect e-mails to show up immediately and judge their response as such. There are certain departments of the US government who expect an e-mail response immediately when they send out one of their queries.
What do these people do when their expectations are challenged? What if an intermediate SMTP server decides to hold onto the message for 2 weeks for no real reason (yes, this happens).
In the UK, if the government needs you to do something, you get a letter. Usually multiple, sometimes sent with proof of delivery required, depending on how important it is you receive it.
You have to deal with it. Had a problem with one agency (that should actually know better) getting e-mail and I worked the damn problem (on their end, but its my fault regardless) until is was solved. You learn to call people.
In the US, you get an e-mail from a grant officer. You deal and remember that this is about the people you are helping and working for a great future.
Getting mad about technical realities in a political situation is just screaming at clouds, might make you feel better but it doesn't change a thing. Hopefully the underlings that take over will be a bit more technology savy, but I doubt it.
Slack, Teams, Mattermost, or any other real time chat application cannot replace email because they are different types of tools. They solve different problem sets, even if they overlap a bit.
I fall into the camp of people who believes that multitasking is bullshit and true productivity is only possible given long stretches of uninterrupted focus time. If someone needs something from me, they should talk to my scrum master or manager - that person will be best positioned to know the ideal time to interrupt me and get new work into my flow.
Work time doesn't mean anyone is allowed to interrupt anyone else whenever they want. Work is like a fluid, and its flow must be managed, or the plumbing is going to get stopped up or even burst.
I meant stuck in the past as in unwilling to move beyond email for primary communication, and that second part of the sentence as in not being able to see that his problems with IM might not be others'.
You're lucky that you've only worked at companies with healthy cultures around interruptions and respecting people's time. This is not true for many of us.
Scheduling a meeting requires some minimal preparation and coordination with other people's schedules. Sending an e-mail is implicitly asynchronous, with an expectation that the receive will make a a best-effort attempt to answer it as quickly as possible, once they finish their current task.
Slack private messages, name tags, and @channel/@here notifications have all of the immediacy of a phone call, but with minimal effort required by the person triggering the interruption. The power balance is asymmetrically tipped toward the interrupters.
The squeaky wheel gets the grease ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_squeaky_wheel_gets_the_gre... ) and Slack is a power tool for squeaky wheels to be as loud as possible.
This is excruciatingly entitled logic from the requester. Do you honestly think your coworkers are all taking leisure time if they don't respond instantly to your requests? Does everyone on your slack exist to answer at your beck and call?
And I can speak from vast experience: it feels great to help people, and can win you friends and in some cases referrals, but at the end of the year, it’s a crap shoot whether your boss will commend you or vilify you. Most are going to notice the things you didn’t get done, not the things you facilitated. When facilitators get laid off, office morale tanks, but they are still laid off.
The number of times I get interrupted for a question while I’m right in the cusp of unraveling some hidden truth about our code or a bug is nuts. It’s easy to get nerd sniped, especially if the other person is talking about breaking something they don’t understand.
(Personally, I think your most knowledgeable people should only be booked for like 25 hours a week and the rest of their time earmarked for consultation, but nobody above me in the org chart ever agrees)
My last job had a lot of problems, but this was one of the things they did well. They realized that the most senior people were more valuable helping others (even others in other departments) than slinging code all day.
I wish more organizations recognized that. [sigh]
Oh man, the amount of presumptuousness packed into this comment is obnoxious.
a. A library. There's a reason it's quiet and not in the middle of a market.
b. A car. There's a reason using a mobile phone whilst driving is illegal.
c. Exams. There's a reason they don't do exams in the middle of a PE lesson.
d. Cubicles or offices. There's a reason they were invented for developers to work in. Open-plan offices are the worst. IM seems to be bypassing this "cubicle" design and still expecting the same type of output, which is impossible.
Of course, if you're right that we're "stuck in the past" I expect to see all of these scenarios transform into loud, noisy affairs with constant interruptions. Obviously you feel they will?
Some people feel that asking and answering questions is the same as "work" and I worked in a place where there were many teams engaged in generating this "work", but for the developers in the company nothing was worse than constant interruptions. Some people just didn't get it. One guy even bought ear defenders and we'd go "do not disturb" on Skype because else nothing would get done and there would be complaints from these "noisy" types that work wasn't being finished in a timely manner...... ironically they were completely oblivious to the fact that they were the ones slowing down work by asking "is it done?" "how are you doing?" "can I confirm what you're doing?" every 5 minutes. To concentrate, you need no interruptions.
On my Slack channels, I get some questions about work (that then typically involve them ringing me anyway even if I answer in text, very irritating) or people posting dumb articles or memes rofl lol garbage.
Pro tip: set your notification settings to silent by default. I occasionally turn on notifications for our automated system alerting Slack channel, usually when I'm not actually at my computer.
One thing I do think we do as Slack users is rely on it too much as a general information dump: even with the history, stuff gets lost. Slack is no replacement for wikis or other more static information repositories, make sure you extract valuable knowledge out and put it somewhere more suitable (and findable).
> Pro tip: set your notification settings to silent by default.
You're lucky that your company lets you treat Slack like an asynchronous e-mail inbox with multiple channels. If you have the luxury of ignoring Slack notifications until you're ready to respond, you're in a good place.
But your company isn't using Slack the normal way. The implicit expectation is that Slack is an instant messenger, and that you're expected to reply right now. That's why the default settings lean toward aggressive notifications, and that's why you need to take extra steps to turn them off.
Slack has been a powerful tool for remote work and distributed teams, but it's also an interruption factory by default. Before I left my last company, I routinely had 300-500 notification pop-ups per day as people shifted toward DMs and managers started abusing @channel to rise above the noise and get their answers ASAP.
What kind of company says you have to enable notifications? That's some serious micromanagement going on. I'm sorry to hear you had to endure that.
The company could just as easily expect you to be reachable by phone or email at all times.
I try to create a culture where most channels are like that, and only a few channels have an expectation of urgent / immediate replies. Then I turn on notifications for all messages in those channels.
This sounds a lot like an email thread.
I hate Slack.
Also make heavy use of threads and starting new channels to keep from having a handful of "general" channels that are both high traffic and containing a lot of important info.
- leave hand written note on desk/in pigeon hole
- send IM/text message.
- put topic on a "list of things to discuss i next meeting"
- phone call/face to face
You should choose the first that fits the urgency of the situation. The idea being to maximize trackability and minimize disruptions. In the current Slack culture, I actually put IM just before phone call, given the expectation of quick answer most people have.
If someone left a hand-written note on my desk I would today put it in the same category as ‘venomous passive aggressive notes on the fridge’. It seems like possibly the least effective way to get someone to do something.
To the written note: I think that really depends on workplace culture and communication content. I see it as e-mail for printed documents. For instance, in my workplace, it is quite common to exchange printouts of scientific articles that way, with a post it "you might find this interesting".
This single habit probably takes care of 80% of the issues people have in this thread. I almost wish Slack encouraged you to elevate DM drafts to a not urgent but important status to short-circuit the interruption pattern. Then you could review this stack as a mini-agenda and batch conversation topics when appropriate.
Please, please, please don't do this. A lunch break should be a break, not a meeting while eating. Even if you don't mind working throuhg your lunch, others might.
And that ability to make spontaneous connections extends to business related topics as well — I spent about an hour just randomly helping someone on a team that I knew only from slack design a kubernetes deployment and took a project from struggling to get off the ground to going full speed ahead. I switched to a machine learning team here despite having zero work experience doing machine learning because I spend time in the machine learning channel and demonstrated that I had interest and knowledge of the topic.
It works _because_ it’s fun and distracting, not in spite of that, imo.
My actual team never uses it because we’re all sitting next to each other, usually, and our support channel is only ever manned by the engineer on call. It’s all the so-called non-productive uses that make it great.
It may help make you feel this way, but what type of connection can you have with superfulous interaction in such a large population?
Maybe you mean it helped you identify very small, niche subsets with which you have subsequently built a relationship? That makes more sense, but I'm highly akeptical that even those relationships are built in an IM network, more likely triggered by...
You side-band, async focus is not how the vast majority of organizations use slack. They explicitly adopt it as the required (i.e. everyone participates) tool for immediate, synchronous communication.
Most communication is by email, SMS/iMessage, face to face (though we are reducing that due to current concerns), 2-way radio, and phone, in that order. Slack is mainly for sharing the odd file or link, or for staff to reach me for computer related issues that require me to see something rather than hear it (screenshot, etc). We could go with any other messaging service, and before Slack we used Skype, but Slack at our level is free, easy, and runs on all platforms we use.
The idea of it "replacing" email, phone, and radio comms is ludicrous to us. I can't imagine how it can work that way in larger organizations.
I genuinely don't understand the problem with that. Slack is great- it's synchronous when you want it to be, and it's asynchronous when somebody is busy. It's easy to search through stuff, and since all of the other teams in my company use it, I can reach out to anybody in the company at any time.
Any tool can be positive or negative depending on its use and context. I do deep work and have no problem using Slack because my team talks about how we can use it best, and we use it that way.
Is this any less true for any other digital communication medium?
If the issue is things getting lost in the chat history, typically in my experience important discussions that we want to preserve will happen in a different place; comments on tickets or PRs, google doc annotations, etc. Slack is a "scratch pad" for discussion.
You're in charge of your own productivity and your own work patterns. Train your coworkers to respect them.
Yes, I empathize your perspective which is very common common among people who want to concentrate without interruptions. Donald Knuth is an extreme example of not wanting to be interrupted -- not even with async email.
However your cause & effect of why chat/Slack is popular is not correct.
Chat apps are more of a replacement for walking up to a coworker's cubicle or desk and interrupting them face-to-face.
>[...] without ever wondering if it really provides a productivity benefit.
It's a productivity benefit to the people who are doing the interrupting. We don't work in an office full of "Donald Knuths" who don't want to bother each other. Because the interrupters outnumber the deep thinkers, that's why a chat tool like AIM/YahooMessenger/Skype/Whatsapp/Slack/etc dominates.
I previously mentioned how early Facebook programmers chatted on instant messaging (AOL AIM ~9 years before Slack) even though they sat next to each other. Their behavior is not replacing "email". They are replacing "realtime speech" without making verbal sounds.
If one doesn't understand that, you'll always be mystified why email isn't used in place of instant messaging!
Email is less ergonomic than chat. Email has extra friction of entering a "subject:" line before the body of the text. Chat doesn't need a subject line because the chat room is already the implied subject. Email also has extra friction of hitting "reply" button instead of just typing. Email is oriented around the "inbox". Chat is oriented around people who are actively online.
Likewise, when my mom texts me an SMS on my smartphone, she isn't replacing email. She's replacing a phone call.
 do a mental search & replace :
>On the other hand, I need to communicate with thousands of people all over the world as I write my books. I also want to be responsive to the people who read those books and have questions or comments. My goal is to do this communication efficiently, in batch mode --- like, one day every six months. So if you want to write to me about any topic, please use good ol' snail mail and send a letter
I think it's partially the company culture that should make it clear that no substantial discussion or decisions should be made on the IM tool (Slack or something else). The issue is that Slack (the product) goes against creating such a culture.
Email is still a way better tool for long complex asynchronous opinionated discussions.
What I find the most damaging is the expectation that you should always be online watching all your channels in order to not miss some bit of information (or show that you are online, busy, doing work).
Every experienced and/or powerful person I've worked with felt and preached exactly the opposite: whatever happens, absolutely do not ever have a complex conversation over email. Pick up a phone, schedule a meeting, walk over to them, just make the decision unilaterally, literally anything else.
Consider the reported policy at Amazon of requiring several pages of written document for every meeting in order to ensure the functioning of that meeting. That's a pretty strong emphasis on the asynchronously written word.
Apparently they still do have meetings, but that may be simply a vehicle for psychological alignment more than for actual detailed discussion.
If you want to understand the why, it is essential to have it in writing.
If the problem is complex, then one guy writing for 30 minutes can provide more clarity than 5 discussing for an hour.
However, it can be a good tool for information dissemination. (There are better tools - I'd argue that sending information should be pull rather than push, but that's just my preference).
So yes, have a guy write something down for 30 minutes, get people to read it, and then have an actual conversation / chat about it.
The modern trend of people believing accusers is pushing against this wisdom, but it's still far better to not have evidence. That said, I'm sure Slack can be persuaded to destroy incriminating logs if the right pressure is applied. One of the benefits of people moving away from self-hosted solutions.
Have a face-to-face discussion and have a shared written document. If I have to chose between the two, the I would favor the written document though.
On the other hand, status updates or sharing of metrics/information can easily be done asynchronously, because the potential to be misunderstood is low. It's also a more scalable approach and persists over time.
I would dispute that body language and facial expression are somehow always correctly interpreted or unambiguous, like most forms of communication.
Written word, or a series of characters in a string, as I think we in a technical forum with many programmers in particular can appreciate, can in fact remove quite a bit of ambiguity if everyone is careful about what they type.
Github has many examples of this in-progress.
That would imply you don't need a whiteboard and 10 minute meeting in order to transfer information to one another.
I have been in such whiteboard discussions. Then I had the same discussion again one week later because another one needed the information. And again. And again.
I have heard from such whiteboard decisions. Then I heard a very different conclusion from the same whiteboard decision. And another. And another.
That sounds either like toxic work culture or maybe the way slack is used in your company has created assumptions that may not be entirely warranted.
Where I work, there is no such expectation. If it's something urgent, people use @-messages so the recipient gets a notification, with reasonable care not to abuse them. If it's anything else, it's normal messages which can be read when convenient. Some, including me, turn off Slack entirely when diving deep into some task but I still get phone notifications for @-messages and a couple of keywords I've set up for urgent matters. If people appreciate each others time and attention, it's actually a fairly pleasant tool to use. We're not a large team, though, maybe it's different in larger orgs.
Yup. Every time you have a product discussion in Slack, it’s like taking a $100 bill and lighting it on fire.
Extroverts and Introverts have different needs. Throw in the needs of Creatives or Agreeable people into the mix and there is a very wide spectrum of different needs.
Assuming all can communicate one way with one tool is a bad idea. Good managers/leaders have some intuitive sense of this.
Especially during crisis. Trait differences and unmet needs get amplified if not handled sensitively.
So whatever heuristics you want to develop on top of your observations - take personalities within your team into account - they all handle stress/info overload differently - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Revised_NEO_Personality_Invent...
Email needs to die.