Cutting the Slack

Slack is taking over the world, Slack is killing e-mail, and so on, we have all heard the rants of the very much hyped company valued at billions and with an impressive user base. It does decrease e-mail usage and help teams stay in contact and solve problems quickly with everyone informed. It also comes with some real disadvantages.

Slack is taking over the world, Slack is killing e-mail, and so on, we have all heard the rants of the very much hyped company valued at billions and with an impressive user base. It does decrease e-mail usage and help teams stay in contact and solve problems quickly with everyone informed. It also comes with some real disadvantages.

I have used Slack since early beta and I have used it extensively, for the last years constantly and in several teams. I have used it for daily operations in companies I have founded and work with. I have also participated in external teams, like IBM Watson teams, external companies whose products I use and also teams like The Informations Slack channel. I really like the real-time aspect of Slack and the sense of everyone being onboard and up-to-date. The fast pace does solve problems and challenges quickly and it keeps everyone on the same page. So why am I hesitant to Slack?

Disadvantages with Slack

  1. In your face! Slack is mainly an always on product, which makes it very much “in your face”. It simply disturbed you all the time.
  2. No threading!
  3. Lost information! An important topic is discussed and suddenly someone posts another topic in the thread and the ongoing important discussion is very often interrupted or lost due to the new discussion, often with the result that the first discussion is lost and never closed.
  4. Loosing productivity! This is my main problem with Slack and also the main reason for this post. To be focused and productive you need about 30min to be fully focused. With Slack running that rarely happens. There is always a conversation going on and with today’s notification frenzy you’re already disturbed pretty often, but since Slack fast becomes crucial for your business you often prioritize Slack notifications and switch from whatever you are up to and read the new messages.

Notifications are the future?

I do not agree here. I hate notifications. I have lately analyzed my productivity and realized that notifications is a huge part of my productivity going down. Since a while I have therefore disabled all notifications on laptop / iMac. On top of that I have switched most of my work to iPad Pro, which actually promotes focused work due to the limited support for having multiple windows / apps visible on the screen. Like when I am writing this, it is in full screen on my iPad and all notifications switched off. I do have notifications turned on for most apps on my iPhone, so when the urge to get updated surfaces I just glance at the phone.

To be clear, I do distinguish between productivity work and interaction work. When I write this blogpost, working on a presentation or creating a customer agreement I want to be left alone. A lot of my other time is dedicated for interaction (been working with sales for 20 years that is a big part of the day naturally) so this anti-notification strategy does not mean I am not fast in responding which most people who interact with me probably can vouch for.

Does Slack kill e-mail?

To give Slack some credit, it almost entirely get rid of internal e-mails and tiresome CC threads, so internally it does definitely kill most e-mail. Externally it does not, not at all. E-mail is here to stay as a protocol, but there is plenty of room for innovation and potentially some upgrades to smtp would be of help to improve innovations further.

But you have always hated e-mail, has that changed?

No, it has not, but over the last couple of years things have actually changed in terms of how we use e-mail. This is most notable in small companies and definitely not seen in most large corporations where huge CC threads and attachment bonanza (versioning and storage of all those Powerpoints, hello) is still a major problem.

  • We do rarely see the Friday fun e-mail threads anymore, they are now published on Facebook instead.
  • One to many e-mails are limited due to that many companies now use Slack, Yammer et al.
  • Small talk is now published in products like Slack and / or chat products.
  • News and links are now published in other channels then over e-mail (notifications might come via e-mail though)

The main benefit with e-mail is that it is asynchronous and not real-time. Which is another thing that has change over the years, prior many expected an e-mail response very quickly and treated e-mail as a real-time channel, that development is great progress for productivity. My main recommendation for e-mail addicts is to just go through e-mail early in the morning, mid/day and a the end-of-the-day. This to stop being interrupted and feeling the urge to check e-mail every 5min or react to the constant notifications.

There is still room for a lot of innovation in this space, Slack has done a great job, but it is not the end solution. I know Slack will implement some cool things in the future, but their foundation is mainly productivity hostile which has made me positive to choose other products if I was to choose tool today.

For further reading VICE media posted a post “Turning Off Slack” that also have similar thoughts as I do.

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