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Stop Blaming Slack

James
August 24, 2020

These unprecedented times have caused many companies to shift to or expand their usage of communication technologies, such as Microsoft Teams and Slack. With this expansion have come teething issues - as would be expected.

What I didn't expect though is the number of articles decrying Slack specifically as mostly a terrible thing, and that it "has made work more taxing". To those writing these articles: stop blaming Slack.

Slack is not a real-time communication app

Slack (and other workplace communication tools) are primarily intended to replace (or supplement) email. You know, that incredibly slow, old-fashioned, and unreliable mechanism. The one where you have to trawl through endless replies/forwards/"I don't think they're CC'd into this email chain" messages to find the actual information you want. Or even more accurately, to often find that most of the emails you receive you don't even need to read.

Slack steps in here, allowing companies who use it to create channels, stick all the people related to that topic (ie #team-marketing), so that anything the marketing team needs gets posted there.

Just because you've posted it however, doesn't mean that someone will respond immediately. Slack is an asynchronous communication tool, just like email. It just-so-happens that because it's so much easier to use, that people tend to respond more quickly. With that said though...

Do not expect instant replies

The main complaint is that "there's a lot of interruptions", because Slack users are sending and receiving between 800 and 2,500 messages a month.

As I've noted above, just because a message has been sent does not guarantee immediate response - nor should you expect that as a user or company. Users can be busy in a meeting, or concentrating on getting some work done. Slack has an excellent "Do Not Disturb" function which when turned on, will inform other people trying to message you directly that you have notifications paused, and give you (the sender) the opportunity to override this if it's urgent.

It's important that you respect the Do Not Disturb flag, and that your employees can feel free to turn it on without fear of being hounded by unnecessary messages. I'm sure if you could wait 2 days for a reply by email, you can wait a few hours for a reply by Slack.

Here at DVELP, we encourage staff to block off so-called "Monk Time", and turn on Do Not Disturb mode for the entirety of that period; this way staff can signal to others both in their calendar and via Slack that they're busy, and to not expect speedy replies.

Stop having loads of communication tools

Yet another issue is that "now I have to monitor email and Slack" - again, not Slack's fault - it's your company.

While it's true Slack is not a complete replacement for email (you still need to email people outside of your organisation, unless you have brought them into your Slack org via a shared channel), Slack should replace all internal email. I should only be checking it for external communications, which I should receive a lot fewer of in the first place. If people are still sending things via email that should be via Slack, employees should feel able to say "Hey, for future communications can you pop into our Slack channel?" without fear of reprimand.

If you find yourself having to check multiple communication apps, then please, for the love of all that is holy, as an organization pick one and ditch the others. Be that Slack, Teams, Facebook Workplace, or whatever. You may say "Oh but the marketing team prefer X and the business ops team prefer Y", but at the end of the day it's much-of-a-muchness. You will reduce hate, workload, and stress by having a single internal communications platform.

Why should I bother?

Anecdotally, at a previous company I was receiving ~200 emails a day - maybe 30 of which needed addressing by me. Another 50 or so were "FYI"-type CCs. The rest were garbage. Now at DVELP, I'm in the Slack channels I need to be in, and I can immediately see which channels have new messages and if I've been directly mentioned, all without actually opening said messages. I can choose to address these at my own pace (if I see #super-critical-project blinking like a Christmas tree, I may answer immediately for example), and via good company practice and usage of the Do Not Disturb function, get some decent blocks of time to concentrate on tasks.

Email is slow, clunky, insecure, and out-dated. Yes it has its use as being a universal electronic communication form, but for the same reason I don't fax people anymore, you shouldn't be sending emails when much better alternatives are available.

Pick a single communication tool, champion its use, and don't expect more of your employees just because you've got a shiny new app. Stop blaming Slack; it's your processes at fault.

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