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Slack empowers the worst behaviors of agitated companies.

If you are already struggling to keep up with conversations or stay organized, Slack hurts more than it helps. While you read and respond to 100’s of messages per day in your Slack channels, your brain might release some serotonin, and you might feel a sense of import and connectedness. But what have you actually accomplished? What is your output? What did you deliver that you are proud of? How have you impacted the bottom line?

Communication tools fall on a spectrum of Asynchronous-to-Synchronous. Each has its purpose. Slack’s tools are primarily built to interrupt you and force real-time communication with you. This can serve a wonderful business purpose, as I’ll share below. For most, though, it’s a business-killer, and CEOs, CMOs, and anyone else connected to the business bottom line should beware!

With Slack as a backdrop, your team will interrupt each other to the point of no return, focusing everybody on the brushfires while the forest fire burns nextdoor, unnoticed.

Interruptions Cost Your Business Money.  Slack Is an Interruption. 

When a coder or website developer is interrupted, it costs you productivity/money.

Interruptions hurt craftspeople & artists the most – the very people who do the profitable work of your business. It also hurts the businesspeople in our organizations – the ones who are trying to move the needle on the business!

Slack is Not Organized

Sadly, Gmail is more organized than Slack, no matter what Slack’s marketing people might tell you.

Comically, Slack introduced threaded comments a while back to make try and mimic threaded email comments. But, unlike in email, Slack’s threaded comments actually make its problems¬†more pronounced!

I have so far refused to join my customers’ Slack channels, because I know that Slack channels are a clusterf*@% and have an inverse relationship to productivity.  (i.e. The more I’m in their Slack channel, the less work I’m able to complete.)

Instead, I tell customers to use email or use my 911 Website Emergency form.

It’s funny that Slack’s marketing campaigns say something like, “Be more productive with Slack!” when that’s the opposite of what usually happens when people us it.

Slack makes us think email is the enemy, because who doesn’t hate email, right?!

(Slack ad above): Less email? Sounds good! Wait…you mean that email is now spread across multiple channels in Slack, and the conversation goes on and on and on without much thought?!

But what they fail to mention is:

  1. The problem with email is the same as the problem with Slack: Humans are not thoughtful unless you create a culture of thoughtfulness!
  2. That email you would have gotten is now separated into 50 separate chunks of thoughtless gab across multiple Slack channels. Agh!

Slack also advertises that you’ll have to sit through fewer meetings! Who wouldn’t want that?! Well…I’m sorry to tell you, but that 1-hour meeting you just avoided is now spread across a 12-hour day (or more!) and across multiple Slack channels. Congratulations – You still have to attend the meeting, it’s now just a messier meeting.

(Slack ad above): Fewer in-person meetings, perhaps…but get ready for the craziness that is round-the-clock chat to cover what could have been covered in a 1-hour meeting!

Instead of bemoaning meetings, create a culture of effective meetings!

When to use Slack

Slack isn’t all bad, though – it’s just a communication tool after all. In fact, we use Slack at The Mighty Mo! WordPress Design!

Sometimes we need to interrupt whatever important thing our teammates are working on in order to do our important thing.  That’s when we use Slack. We use Slack as the interruption & real-time communication tool it literally is!

Is It An Emergency?

I don’t think there is anything in between in life: It either needs my immediate attention (Slack), or it can wait until I get to it (Email).

  • Slack/Phone/SMS = Emergency!
  • Email/Basecamp = Get back to me on your time.

The most annoying thing to me is when I’m deep at work on an important thing, and a teammate pings me in Slack or text message with something that would be better-suited to an email.

Use Slack as You Would a Phone

The best advice I can give you is to treat Slack like a phone call or sms. Slack says, “Drop what you’re doing!  We need to talk right now!”

If you wouldn’t sms someone’s cell phone with that thing, then you shouldn’t burden someone with a Slack message.

At a high level, my advice is to either use Slack more intentionally to tidy up your freelancing business or dump it entirely.

When to Use Email, Basecamp, etc.

When you really need to get work done at work, you need asynchronous tools (email, Basecamp, etc.). These distraction-free tools are there when you need them and get out of your way when you don’t. Doing deep work requires that these tools are at your disposal, not vice-versa.

For example, at my company, we use Basecamp for asynchronous project management. We use email or scheduled phone calls for random conversations. We use Slack when we need to interrupt each other to get immediate answers/feedback.

When in doubt, strive for calm. Slack is for agitated companies.

I’m curious: What’s been your experience with Slack, email, etc.? Let me know!

Additional Reading: https://m.signalvnoise.com/is-group-chat-making-you-sweat-744659addf7d

Originally published Jan. 2, 2018.

Updated Aug. 17, 2018.

Updated June 17, 2019.