Is Slack really ruining work?

Slack is just one but no doubt a popular tool for workplaces, both internally and with clients. But is it a useful tool or ruining work? 

This morning I read a really interesting blog, it made some good points about generally how we deal with constantly being online and available. 

“Slack is instant and we get a rewarding hit of dopamine every time we respond to someone or someone reaches out to us to let us know a member of our ‘work tribe’ needs us. It makes us feel valued and informed, but it also makes us fearful every time an alert comes in that we’ll be out of the loop or ill-informed if we don’t check a message, even though very few truly need our instant attention.”

I have no doubt there is truth in this statement.  I agree that constant messaging from different sources is distracting.  It’s not just a slack issue, it’s not even just a work issue. It is one of the downfalls of modern life. The benefit of being constantly connected and with the ability to communicate freely comes downsides.

But, it’s not slack that’s ruining work. Slack is just a tool. It’s us, our obsession with introducing shiny new tools into our lives and our business without consideration for how we’ll use them. 

Slack provides options for communication, it allows us to work from anywhere, at any time.  Having spent over 10 years now as a remote worker, these types of tools are invaluable. 

As a remote worker I love the benefits of being able to have “instant conversations”. Without tools like Slack our inboxes are clogged with short internal messages which need processing.  Whilst I accept messages in Slack need an element of processing, I can at least “view and ignore” whilst my emails I have to delete (and make the decision that conversation will never be relevant to me).

As I said, it’s not Slack that’s the problem, it’s us. It’s how we use the tools we have available. 

There have for many years been complaints from employees about lack of communication. It seems to me, to be what every company problem is put down to. Tools like Slack have enabled companies to go into communication overdrive, giving everyone everything. The result – communication overwhelm. 

The reality of a complaint about lack of communication is that what we really mean is – we want the information that is relevant to us. We want overviews about the direction of the business, we want to know how our role fits in. We do not need every little detail about everything going on in the organisation. Doing everything in group chats in the name of transparency isn’t going to solve any communication problem.

Communication only works if we hear and understand what is being said. Communication overwhelm stops this happening. How often do we miss emails because our inbox is so full of junk mail? We quickly scan for the information we need instead of reading everything.

Only share information as it needs to be shared, only have the right people in the conversation.  Think, if I were having this conversation in the office, would I go get Mary from Finance to join in? If in the real world the answer would be no, then don’t add Mary to your conversation in Slack. 

Start thinking about Slack as the real world, after all that’s what it is.

A Company culture where everyone is expected to be online and instantly replying is not healthy. If you’d normally only communicate with colleagues 9 to 5 then only communicate via Slack 9 to 5. Don’t expect, just because Slack is an app on their phone they should use it when they’re at home doing whatever they do in their private life.

Some conversations need to happen in real time, instantly. Great, if Slack’s your channel for this it’s a great tool. Particularly when people are in different locations. 

Equally many conversations don’t need to be instant. If this issue is so urgent that in the office you would get those needed and take them into a meeting room instantly, then I agree an instant method of communication is needed. If not, then why can’t your staff finish what they’re doing or manage their own time to join the conversation when it’s right for them? 

One of the benefits of Slack over having a conversation face to face is the people involved can join in when it’s convenient to them. So that it doesn’t disturb their work, they can plan their own time and priorities. Equally, it allows people to work at different times of the day or across time zones.  It gives us this freedom. But only if we allow it. Only if we use the tools to our advantage. 

And for goodness sake – let people use the do not disturb tools! I remember open plan offices when people stuck something on top of their monitor to tell others they were focused and not to disturb. Then came the days when we worked from home in order to concentrate on a piece of work, undisturbed. Those days seem to have gone. Did Slack do this? No! Slack even provides us the tools to take ourselves out of the conversation. Not only that, the person who needs to deliver the message no longer has to walk away and remember to come back later. They can leave the message in Slack ready for when their colleague is able to hear it! It’s brilliant! 

My view, Slack gives us an efficiency we didn’t have before. But, only if our company culture allows us to use it!

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