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I have said this before but the way Slack is used today is most of the time a net negative of the modern workplace.

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.






You seem stuck in the past and project your problems onto others. For many, IM and chat rooms do not cause productivity problems. Different companies use Slack and other tools in their own way, have their own policies as to what is expected and what not.

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.


> 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.

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: http://www.paulgraham.com/makersschedule.html


This, please. Why on earth EVERYONE is expected to be "on the ready" all the time? I understand it may be the case for some people but...not being on the ready means you're on your leisure time?

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.


I have a theory that certain job titles are amenable to people with poor boundaries. The first Pointy Haired Boss I encountered was a customer. Dumber than a post, his primary skill seemed to be in getting things he didn’t deserve.

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.


And there are plenty of shops where the engineers are perceived to always say no, and to be unresponsive to management needs.

It's a spectrum, and requires managerial talent to still the right balance. Letting the engineers just say no is not the solution.


If you find someone who tells you they can violate the laws of physics, they're lying to you, and they'll be gone before you ever figure it out.

> I cannot do any substantial programming or data analysis if I expect to be disrupted.

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.


It's a matter of cost-to-interrupt. IM substantially lowers that, the same as home visit is more expensive than snail-mail spam is more expensive than e-mail spam.

Which is why we can duplicate a team of 20 by a team of 2 and get roughly the same output.

>> Also, it is work time, you have to expect to be on the ready, and answer people that needs something from you,

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.


I can definitely appreciate how distracting it is to get nagged on slack. unless it's a manager, I will usually take at least 20-30 minutes to respond. this tends to cut down on a lot of the lazy questions. people figure out that if it only takes twenty minutes to solve their problem, they may as well just do it instead of waiting the same amount of time for a response.

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.


This reads like undermining coworkers while cuddling up to management. Why do you peers not deserve immediate replies but manager does? Why should someone spend 20 minutes researching something if you can point them in the right direction faster?

I estimate twenty minutes as the average cost of answering a question. I'm only obligated to help co-workers if it costs me less time than it saves them. if a manager in your tree asks you a dumb question, they are squandering their own resources. I'm not obligated to stop them.

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.


> I'm only obligated to help co-workers if it costs me less time than it saves them. if a manager in your tree asks you a dumb question, they are squandering their own resources. I'm not obligated to stop them.

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.


> Wow such a team player! You must be a joy to work with.

Sarcasm, insult.

> 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

Another insult.

> Perhaps your hatred of interruption is due to insecurity or anxiety about your abilities.

Another insult.

> Be helpful and compassionate

The jaw-dropping, tone-deaf, blind-to-what-you-are-saying sentence which causes me to post this comment.


> why the contempt?

Hey I have a question maybe you could help me with. If I saw someone projecting really hard, what should I say to them?


the original post contained a small disclaimer that annoying, low effort questions do exist (with a strategy for dealing with them), followed by several examples of questions that are important to answer promptly. I even said most of the questions my coworkers ask are in this category, and I mentioned it again in the followup response. the main thrust of the post is to get people to consider how allowing themselves to be distracted by high-quality questions is worth the hit to their individual productivity. I really don't see how you can read all this negativity into my posts without totally ignoring the overall context.

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.


Why stop there? I can finish nearly all of their work faster, maybe I should do that too.

That's exactly what the Pause Notifications for 30m/1/2/4h/until tomororow/next week dropdown is for.

> 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.

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.


> 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.


Yes, I have also heard that repeated ad nauseam. I think it is highly debatable and individual.

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".


The vast majority of SpaceX and Tesla work is pure logistics/operations (and everyone I know at either company hates it). You think all those people are doing physics or engineering?

> 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.

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.


An email basically never expects a response

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.


I think it works better if you modify it to "An email basically never expects an immediate response".

Yeah, that doesn't work either. 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. You need to jump.

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.


>> Setting up rules on the mail (e.g. bounce the icon on MacOS)

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.


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.


To draw an analogy to snail mail, sending an email is basically the equivalent to chucking something in the cheapest post option there is. It may be delivered in the future, it's often delivered particularly quickly but not always, and the sender doesn't really have any indication that it's actually been received by a human.

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.


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).

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.


That first sentence feels a bit like an ad hominem attack to me. There's no call for that here.

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.


> That first sentence feels a bit like an ad hominem attack to me. There's no call for that here.

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'.


The fact that "others" might not have OP's problem (or perhaps they're just in denial), does not mean that OP doesn't have the problem, nor that the problem is unimportant.

> 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.

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.


> 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.

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?


I am the answerer as much as the requester. Either way, it is not entitled to expect helpfulness from your professional colleagues.

How do you know whose turn it is to be the helper or the helpee? Do you take shifts? How about pair programming instead of a stream of interrupts?

Taking 20-30min to respond is still helpfulness.

Yes, it is. In my OP I specifically mentioned client (app) settings with this in mind. A lot of times taking 20 minutes to answer is perfectly fine.

For most people. Covid-19 won’t be a problem. Just because something isn’t a problem for the majority doesn’t mean it isn’t a problem. Even a huge one.

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)


> 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

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]


> 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.

Oh man, the amount of presumptuousness packed into this comment is obnoxious.


It really just reads like someone whose roles have been more focused on a series of time-critical tasks rather than deep work which requires uninterrupted focus. A bit of a lack of experience, or imagination.

As someone in ops I do both types of work, and having spent the last six years in an open office environment I know all about how distracting interruptions can be. At the same time, you are at work and cannot expect to behave like a recluse.

I think you are misinterpreting. Besides, it goes way. Where I work, and I will take a guess and say it is like that most places, sometimes people need an answer promptly (might not be life or death, but sometimes, in my line of work, it can be), from me, from others. If that is the case, I think an @-interruption is appropriate.

Oh I see. I love the double standard of HN. When the discussion is about remote where you can have complete focus alone everyone is suddenly up in arms about constant collaboration and communication along with endless churn of in person meetings and water cooler conversations for socialization; yet when we discuss a tool which you literally put on dnd then it suddenly prevents you from working.. not the endless office chatter. Clearly people just wanna appear to work by going to the office. Oh and to everyone who is suggesting we should use email, you clearly haven’t experienced work email spam, just ask the attorney next door and you’ll grasp it . It ain’t better than slack. At least you get to dnd with slack.

I strongly disagree with this. It is impossible to work on a task and engage in concentration to solve an issue with constant interruptions. If you're only doing negligible pithy "problems" then it's fine but for difficult problems you absolutely need to be able to concentrate. Here's some other real-life examples where concentration is important:

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.


You seem to believe that one person's desire for prompt information is more important than another's think time. That is only true in rare cases.

Our team has become more productive since the switch to fully remote, and we use Slack all the time to facilitate our communications.

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).


> we use Slack all the time to facilitate our communications.

> 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.


So there are organisational differences, okay, fine. That isn't Slack's fault?

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.


I cannot imagine a company dictating your Slack habits. If that happens, there is something else entirely at fault and Slack is not the problem. I see Slack receiving the same type of criticism agile work methods get, they all boil down to the same type of commentary: higher management using all the tools available to micromanage the workforce for personal gains. Any tool can be misused and that most of the time is not a problem with the tool itself.

That's not an issue with the tool, that's an issue with people's usage of it.

The company could just as easily expect you to be reachable by phone or email at all times.


Is Slack extensible for an async mention/message? I know as the user you can change the notification settings for different channels, but can the sender explicitly state this message is not vital/immediate?

Create channels that are explicitly described as being for non-immediate communications and get your team to use those for that kind of conversation.

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.


>> Create channels that are explicitly described as being for non-immediate communications and get your team to use those for that kind of conversation.

This sounds a lot like an email thread.


Not that I’ve found, and even in DnD the favicon updates making you realize someone is waiting.

I hate Slack.


It’s pretty typical of the manager/employee tool adoption cycle. Slack is 100% a net positive if your job description requires you monitor multiple things to make sure they are all ok and resolve issues in a timely manner. As usual people with this job description often get to pick the tools used and don’t see why it’s not “so fun” for their employees to keep up with the firehose they’ve inserted in their computer/phone.

You can easily mute channels you're not interested in or are too high traffic tho? I usually mute most channels except for a handful I use for my current project/team. And when I need to concentrate I put slack itself in "do not disturb" mode (usually a couple times per day but not for very long each).

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.


It's not managers spamming slack channels. It's people discussing issues.

On that topic, I really like David Allen's "hierarchy of communication channels" (name is mine) in Getting Things Done. He says that when you need to discuss something with someone, you should consider the following communication channels, in that order:

- e-mail

- 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.


Do you think there might be a problem with leaning on a book that is nearly 20 years old when you are talking about communication in the modern workplace?

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.


There might be a problem in taking it too literally, but I think the underlying concept is very current, and maybe even more important than when the book was written: as much as possible, favor keeping a written trace and avoid disruptions to others.

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".


> - put topic on a "list of things to discuss i next meeting"

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.


I'd probably put "ask them face-to-face during lunchtime" first. Email feels like quite a heavy cannon for many things.

> "ask them face-to-face during lunchtime"

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.


Interesting take. We talk about work-ish things at lunch quite often. It seems to be more of a break from doing work vs. a moratorium on thinking/discussing work-related things. I mean, a huge number of my relationships with coworkers are solely based on working together; what other common ground do we share?

Haha, I meant this for people who already talk about work stuff during lunch. Not with people who'd prefer not to.

Still, asking right before/after lunch is less interrupting.

I think slack’s secret sauce isn’t actually the day to day team work stuff but the cross team communication and fun aspects of it. I’m on a slack team at work that has 50k people in it spread across 5 cities and sometimes multiple offices in each city. There are topics to talk about almost anything you’re interested in from board games to parenting to woodworking to whatever. I think it makes the whole company feel connected to each other as people in a way that email or face to face meetings or phone conversations or regular instant messenger could never accomplish.

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.


>> 50k people in it spread across 5 cities ... I think it makes the whole company feel connected to each other

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.


We (small business with 7 employees at desks and another 5 on the floor) use it exactly the way you suggest. As the sole IT staff, I get the most messages from the other employees, and send out the most, with the company president close behind me. Two online sales staff, the lead shipping clerk, and the physical store manager follow from there. The warehouse manager doesn't bother with it, and the CFO detests the idea of it (she's also one of the oldest team members at 49).

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.


My team of 200 people's sole form of communication is in slack. The only emails we get are calendar invites to meetings.

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.


No tool is going to do the job of establishing boundaries with your team members so you can do your best work. You decide that.

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.


I moved from a job with Slack to a job without Slack. Finding myself more productive. Some people use Slack but since I saw on the first day that it is not the main medium for comms I now outright refuse to use it anytime anyone mentions it. Nobody seems bothered and email, phone and in person is prefered. And we all (15 employees) regularly worked from home even before this situation.

> making it extremely difficult to work on a complex task without taking the risk of missing an important decision/discussion

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.


To each their opinion but I work remote, which is so modern and logical and amazing that I vow never to take a non-remote job again. Slack is critical to my job.

It really depends on the culture. When I write code, I close all chat apps, and check them for notifications every 2-4 hours. Everyone who works with me knows it and understands the reasons behind it. They have my phone number in a case of a real emergency.

You're in charge of your own productivity and your own work patterns. Train your coworkers to respect them.


I think you answered your own question with the ´Dopamine’ comment. Slack clearly has an addictive game effect on its users. And since it pleases the crowd and has no visible downside, it’s tempting for busy small/medium business owner to just let it sail initially.

>, Slack has been pushed as the replacement of email [...]

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.[1]

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.[2] 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.

[1] do a mental search & replace :

  s/email/chat
  s/snailmail/email
...on this excerpt from https://www-cs-faculty.stanford.edu/~knuth/email.html: >Email is a wonderful thing for people whose role in life is to be on top of things. But not for me; my role is to be on the bottom of things. What I do takes long hours of studying and uninterruptible concentration. I try to learn certain areas of computer science exhaustively; then I try to digest that knowledge into a form that is accessible to people who don't have time for such study.

>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

[2] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=18321783


That trope was old before but is even more irrelevant in these turbulent times when people are forced to work from home. What are you suggesting as an alternative?

I disagree, Slack became the online equivalent of "butts in seats" and in those turbulent times it has more potential than ever to be wrongly used.

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).


>Email is still a way better tool for long complex asynchronous opinionated discussions.

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.


That may be your personal experience, but I doubt that it's universal.

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.


Those documents are famously read synchronously in silence at the start of those meetings though.

I never worked there, but I wouldn't be surprised to find out some managers expect it to be read before the meeting so we can start it on time. Those managers would be likely to communicate that preference forcefully at the start of the meeting.

Oh, there are plenty of cases where people ask me to write documents. They don’t read them though. They’re just props I’m expected to have when explaining verbally in the meeting.

To make decisions quickly, I totally agree.

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.


Email is a bad tool for discussion.

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.


Email is a bad tool for discussion in that it lasts too long, and too many people can save copies; it's far better to have ephemeral and limited-distribution discussions, so if something obnoxious or actionable is said, nobody is opened up to legal actions.

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.


Every enterprise-friendly messaging system offers configurable retention policies. Messages involving certain roles or keywords may need to be retained for years to comply with regulations, while others can be deleted after a few days to minimize risk.

I completely agree with you. By writing I was thinking about RFCs not emails.

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.


When collaborating over ambiguous topics where the potential to be misunderstood is high, you need to use the "richest" communication channel possible. Body language, facial expression, and the fast feedback loop can help you quickly establish a sense of common ground.

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.


> When collaborating over ambiguous topics where the potential to be misunderstood is high, you need to use the "richest" communication channel possible. Body language, facial expression

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.


I completely disagree. If the problem is complex you need to have an in person discussion on a white board rather than writing a long winded email that will mostly be filler information that the reader already knows. It probably won't even answer the issue the reader wanted to know either. And now you've wasted 30 minutes.

Have you ever learned about something complex from a book?

That would imply you don't need a whiteboard and 10 minute meeting in order to transfer information to one another.


Interesting question. I've tried to self-study from books alone, and it's never worked. The book always seems to work best in concert with the professor or TA's whiteboarding.

Wasn't thinking about email but more about RFCs.

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.


> 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).

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.


> Email is still a way better tool for long complex asynchronous opinionated discussions.

Yup. Every time you have a product discussion in Slack, it’s like taking a $100 bill and lighting it on fire.


While I share some of your feelings about IM at work I have learnt it depends on the personalities within the team.

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...


I never used email growing up. Real time chat has always been a much more effective method of communication. Email just causes confusion as people misinterpret questions and then write long-winded answers to the question that they misunderstood resulting in a waste of time for both parties. Iterative back and forth communication is key to figuring out an issue. Email does not work.

Email needs to die.


Email is the most efficient way to communicate if one can communicate clearly. It is a way straight to hell if one can't. It is a tool. It can be used. Or abused.

People who don't read comfortably don't like email. (They also don't like closed captioning.) We can't organize the workplace around their preferences, however.



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