The Missing Communication Link

October 8, 2018 • #

Slack grew huge on the idea that it would “replace email” and become the digital hub for your whole company. In some organizations (like ours), it certainly has, or has at least subsumed most all internal-only communication. Email still rules for long form official stuff. It’s booming into a multi-billion dollar valuation on its way to an IPO on this adoption wave.

But over the last couple of years there’s been something of a backlash to “live chat” systems. Of course any new tool can be abused to the point of counter-productivity. As tools like Slack and Intercom (a live chat support software) have become widespread, people and companies need to find normal patterns of use that are comfortable for everyone. In our company, Slack is where nearly everything happens — including quite a bit that, on the surface, looks like noise and random chatter (our #random is something to behold). One common argument is that people now spend more time keeping up with Slack conversation than they ever did with email. Maybe so, maybe not. But regardless, isn’t analysis of the time spent on one versus the other missing the point?

My general argument “pro-chat” is that a world with Slack adds the layer of communication that should have been happening all along and wasn’t. For me, I know that I’m better informed about the general activity of the business with Slack than without. It takes some care and attention to keep it from becoming a distraction when it’s unnecessary, but I’m willing to make the effort.

Anyone that compares the world of Corporate Slack to the prior one would notice a striking similarity in work patterns. Workplaces are social, people are people, and will talk, joke, commiserate, and enjoy each others’ company. I try to picture a world where we could effectively work as a distributed team with 50+ people dispersed over 11 states without tools like Slack. Looking at it that way, it’s easy see the downsides as manageable things we’ll figure out.

Effectively using new systems for collaboration is just as much about adapting our own behavior as it is about the feature set of the new tool. Each tool is not perfect for everything (as much as their marketing might say so). I think much of the kickback is from those that don’t want to change. They want all the benefits of a system that conforms around their comfort zone.