In this essay, Kevin Kwok attempts to differentiate between productivity and collaboration, with a focus on how Slack has failed as yet to become the nervous system that combines these things.
This take is one of the better summaries of where Slack sits in the stack of business productivity tools:
A new generation of functional apps have risen, with messaging and collaboration built directly into them as first parties. And with them it becomes increasingly clear that Slack isn’t air traffic control for every app, it’s 911 for when they fail.
There are many examples of products that have built in their own native versions of “chat” for the collaboration layer — Figma, Google Docs, Dropbox, and others. This breakdown of Slack into its three primary functions feels accurate in my experience with the product on several different teams:
Every Slack message about a new document your feedback is wanted on or coordinating about what a design should look like is a failing of process or tools. Slack is exception handling. When there’s no other way to make sure someone sees and update, or knows context, Slack is the 911 that can be used.
Slack serves three functions:
- Else statement. Slack is the exception handler, when specific productivity apps don’t have a way to handle something. This should decrease in usefulness, as the apps build in handling of these use cases, and the companies build up internal processes.
- Watercooler. Slack is a social hub for co-workers. This is very important, and full of gifs.
- Meta-coordination. Slack is the best place for meta-levels of strategy and coordination that don’t have specific productivity apps. This is really a type of ‘else statement’, but one that could persist for a while in unstructured format.
Even in agreeing with this, I’m still a huge advocate for Slack and think the net benefit is still hugely positive. After 5 years of using it, I still believe that much of the backlash against Slack as a distraction is conveniently missing the point. Detractors look at the downside and miss the upside; they see all of the watercooler noise and miss the fact that in a pre-Slack universe, the relative calm also came along with missing the valuable nuggets of info that get passed amidst the river of content in Slack every day. There are still kinks to work out, to be sure, but I’m long on Slack and its sister tools as beneficial over time.
And one more point Kwok makes here — feedback loops in collaboration earn their keep on being low latency. When you see a change made in an Asana task pop up in a Slack notification, you’re still a couple clicks away from getting to where you can engage:
More and more apps in all categories understand that collaboration should and must be built in as a first party if they want to best serve their customers. Notion, Airtable, etc all understand this. The feedback loops of collaboration get so short that they become part of the productivity loop.