Slacking on Slack

Slack seems to be the tool all companies need if they want to be a real tech company. Email is dead, and real-time group chat is required to be cool.

Slacks tagline is "Slack - Where work happens" but I must admit that I have never done real work on Slack, I have mostly been slacking.

Slack is excellent for teams that work with a high number of daly tasks, like a support or sales teams where you ping pong with colleges all day, in these types of jobs it's not a problem to be distracted all the time, your job is to react fast to input from team members and clients.

Slack is a lot less great if you work in a position that requires consistent deep concentration, like developers, designers, and management. If you do, Slack is built to kill your productivity!

Expected presence

People expect that you are present on Slack all day. They expect that they can always tap you on the virtual shoulder called direct messages and take up your time, killing your concentration, to answer a question that they most likely would be able to answer themselves with just a tiny a bit more research. It's like walking up to someone in the office who is fully concentrated and ask if they have five minutes. When do you think that person is back in the zone working on the task they were doing before you interrupted?

Message lifetime

If you leave Slack for a few hours most messages that were posted during that time is now old, hard to find and consume and most likely not relevant to you anymore.

Conversations have happened, decisions have been taken and the entire platform is designed for this to be over in real-time. I have rarely experienced someone come back to Slack hours later and restart a conversation that was answered, even if the conclusion was sub-optimal.

Real-time channels

As the organizations grow in size, the size of channels on Slack increases too. This leads to less relevant content and way more distractions. The counter move to this is to create a lot more targeted channels within the organization, but fear-of-missing-out plays us again and leads us to an endless list of channels and resulting in scattered streams of information that is hard to digest.

It's a lot like sitting in countless parallel meetings where everybody speaks at the same time, and nobody is getting any value.

Re-discoverability

The flat design of Slack where messages are weighted the same no matter what they contain makes it extremely hard to digest old content. The share volume of messages you need to read through when you are looking for old information hidden in the sea of gif's and smileys is extreme.

Other conversation forms like Stackoverflow have solved this in a great way where the question is easy to identify, and the correct answer is highlighted.

No time to think

Slacks real-time nature leaves no time to think about the question posted. Sometimes I can go for hours thinking about the best approach to a problem, but Slacks real-time nature builds a shotgun culture where people reply before they have had time to think.

So what should we use?

Communication within a company has to be a balance between real-time and thought through. It is super harmful to a company if the communication flow between team members is measured in days and each employee ends up with a long queue of unanswered requests, but on the other side, it's also hazardous for the productivity if everybody is chatting the day away.

We need tools that balance this out. Right now we are testing Basecamp out, they have a chat, but it's hidden away, there is a lot more focus on more long-form messages in a format that feels a lot like the forums we all know from the old days of the internet. This seems to work well for us, but Basecamp still has to prove itself at scale.

I am very open to other solutions and would love to hear what works for you! Please ping me on Twitter.