Apps: How Slack is changing office culture
It’s not your imagination: “Slack is ruining your life,” said Nicole Gallucci in Mashable.com. I know because it’s destroying mine. When I first signed up for the workplace-messaging app, I was told it’d be an efficient and fun way to communicate with my colleagues during work hours. “I was not, however, told that the addictive platform would soon creep into every aspect of my existence.” For the uninitiated, Slack lets workers set up public and private chats, like texts or instant messaging, complete with quirky emoji. Theoretically, it makes brainstorming an idea or updating colleagues on a project easier, because it’s faster than sending an email and less hassle than setting up a meeting. But it wasn’t long before I found myself compulsively scrolling through Slack at all hours of the day and night—to see if I’d missed anything important or, just as often, the latest office gossip from around the digital watercooler. And the notifications are endless, even when you aren’t involved; “whole channels devolve into a personal chat between two people, and the rest of the company is taken along for the painful ride.” So much for being more productive.
Slack “makes the line between work and not-work blurrier than ever,” said Molly Fischer in New York magazine. With 5 million daily users at companies including 21st Century Fox, Dow Jones, and the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Slack is starting to feel as ubiquitous as Twitter or Facebook. Like those social media giants, Slack chats can turn into a bottomless rabbit hole of drama and distraction. “It’s definitely possible to get work done on Slack; it’s also possible to make yourself feel like you’re working without actually accomplishing anything.” Slack also douses office politics in “digital accelerant.” At any given company, you’ll find channels devoted to hobbies, snacks, and inside jokes—and also secret chats devoted to trashing other co-workers.
“Future workers could end up looking like today’s most addicted smartphone users,” said Richard Waters in the Financial Times. But it doesn’t have to turn out that way. The social mores around how we use workplace-messaging apps “are still evolving.” If nothing else, Slack’s popularity shows that it fills a gap. It’s very good at short, intense bursts of communication on problems that need to be dealt with now, not saved up for some future meeting. Distraction is the least troubling thing about Slack, said Lila MacLellan in Qz.com. “Slack is an acronym, and its full name would make Orwell proud: Searchable Log of All Conversation and Knowledge.” It’s not hard to imagine a future in which bosses use it to measure productivity rather than merely enable it. Imagine all your workplace conversations being analyzed to provide daily feedback on your performance. If Slack doesn’t go there, one of its competitors will. ■