- Trello/Basecamp/Asana/Monday/Etc: Use your project management tool as the default communication medium for everything. e.g. “Which payment gateway does [customer] want to use?” When required, escalate to one the the following mediums.
- Slack, SMS, & Phone Calls: Use Slack, SMS, & Phone Calls for blocker issues that require you to interrupt someone, and you deem it worth the cost of that interruption. e.g. “I need your feedback on this proposal [link] immediately so I can get it out the door by noon.”
- Email: Use email sparingly, as it is duplicative of your project management tool. Use it for private correspondence about your health issues, salary, etc. or for stuff that doesn’t have a place in project management. e.g. “Let’s converse about my salary.” or “Let’s converse about how we use Slack internally.”
Slack empowers the worst behaviors of humans at 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. The real-time chat interruptions also multiply the damage inflicted by business owners on their own strategy!
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!
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, because most of the time only half the people are using the thread – the other half are posting in the main channel – agh! Disconnected threads are worse than multi-topic threads!
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’s freeway billboards try to convince us that email is the enemy:
What those billboards fail to mention is:
- The problem with email is the same as the problem with Slack: Humans are not thoughtful unless you create a culture of thoughtfulness!
- 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 requiring more of your attention and precious headspace, not less.
Instead of bemoaning meetings, create a culture of effective meetings!
I missed an important note recently where a teammate asked, “Well didn’t you see that on Slack?” “Yes, I saw it,” I replied. “But it was sandwiched between a Judy’s concern for the lunchroom refrigerator’s power cord and a note from our CEO about the sick leave policy.” I was skimming, because there was no context.
As anyone who has ever tried to communicate company profits to employees will tell you – context is everything. Slack provides absolutely zero context on conversations. In Slack, there’s no way to tell an important, company-impactful conversation from a cat meme!
Furthermore, if you aren’t paying for Slack, your messages will disappear at some point (only on their paid tiers are you able to search throughout time). So beware of storing company policies, important notes, or really anything you want to find later on Slack.
Slack isn’t all bad, though – it’s just a communication tool after all. In fact, we use Slack at The Mighty Mo!
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!
Before adopting Slack, consider why most companies adopt Slack (2-minute read).
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.
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 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.
I’m curious: What’s been your experience with Slack, email, etc.? Let me know!
- Is Group Chat Making You Sweat? on SignalvNoise
- The Great Slack Debate on the Brian Lehrer Show
- While it is generally a horrible tool for Asynchronous communication due to the fact that it was built from the ground-up to be a synchronous tool, John pointed out that it is possible to use it effectively as an asynchronous option:
– Check out Twist.
– Buffer’s Slack Agreements
– Asynchronous communication: The world’s biggest medium sized problem
Originally published Jan. 2, 2018.
Updated Aug. 17, 2018.
Updated June 17, 2019.
Updated Sept. 10, 2019
Updated Feb. 28, 2020