If you’ve ever longed to create and share bizarre animal GIFs with your co-workers at the touch of a button or instantly chat with your teammates on every device in your possession, Slack is the communication tool of your dreams. If your goal is to get stuff done and leave work, on the other hand, Amanda Hess’s account of Slate‘s Slack experience might give you pause.
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“Goofing off on Slack is really fun,” Hess writes. “The chat system makes it easy for users to create their own inside jokes. …P.J. Vogt and Alex Goldman, co-hosts of the Gimlet Media podcast Reply All, have created little emoji of each other’s faces that they use to further develop their lovingly antagonistic office relationship: Goldman drops a P.J. face in Slack to try to get his attention; Vogt inserts the Alex face to signify ‘bad news.'”
Snazzy bells and whistles aside, the platform itself is sort of a turbo-IM; at the company’s site, a visual tour shows potential users how they can use Slack to unify team communication in one searchable location, create channels for projects, teams, and topics, and integrate with other apps and technologies like Twitter, Dropbox, and Google Drive.
What Slack Does Well
The workplace has changed more rapidly in the past 15 years than it has since the industrial revolution, and apps like Slack can help smooth over some of the bumps. If you work for a company where half your staff works at home, and the other half in an open office – plus, everyone’s on a flex schedule – Slack and its kin can make collaboration and teamwork easier. No need to cancel WAH, in other words – just move the conversation online.
The twist, of course, is that by bringing so much of office chitchat online, Slack also makes it easier for managers to chime in and suggest new deliverables.
“Nothing quiets a boisterous Slack channel like a Slate editor dropping in to ask, ‘Who can turn this conversation into a piece of content for Slate.com?'” Hess writes. “Even the bosses at Slack make sure Slack doesn’t get their workers off track. For a while at Slack HQ, whenever a Slack thread inevitably digressed from its stated professional topic, a picture of a mild-mannered baby raccoon would be posted in the thread to remind chatters that they’re ‘having a conversation that’s best had in another channel.’ But now, the company has set up a bot with a raccoon avatar that can be anonymously summoned whenever employees digress.”
The Downside to Slack (and Other, Similar Technologies)
Which brings us to the not-so-rosy side of Slack and its ilk: it goes down easy, but it’s still medicine. Managers and owners might be delighted at the ability to turn idle chatter into product, but for workers, it potentially means more time at work, more work created from what appeared to be goofing off, and less productivity per working hour – which ultimately means less time to do anything but work. Bottom line, it moves the water cooler into the conference room and locks the door.
Then there’s the fact that over-reliance on any productivity tool can tank production. Email was once the wave of the future, even if you’d have trouble convincing a Millennial of that fact. The same goes for older chat technologies and even the telephone. (The less said about fax machines, the better.)
Ultimately, any tool is only as good as the hand that wields it. To get the most out of Slack or any communication app, companies will need to set rules around its use. If they’re smart, they’ll take work-life balance into account. An overworked employee is an unproductive one, no matter how much fun they’re having in the process.
Tell Us What You Think
Do you think technologies like Slack are helping or hurting productivity? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.