As you probably heard, or suffered yourself, Slack was down for about four hours on June 27th, the latest in a series of short-term outages this year. Sorry if you had to read the “omg I have to talk to my coworkers in person!” quip 17 times. But as we waded through the same six jokes on people being addicted to virtual communication, our HR senses began to tingle.
Slack, which launched in August 2013, is a cloud-based platform that allows individuals and teams to collaborate on projects and share memes. It stands for “Searchable Log of All Conversation and Knowledge,” thus providing the helpful (and maybe fear-inducing) ability to go back in any specific channel and review its content history. It’s great for uploading and sharing files too, and it even integrates several third-party services, such as Google Drive, Trello, and Dropbox.
8 million users from more than 500,000 organizations, including 65 companies on the Fortune 100, use Slack to improve workplace communication.
Don’t worry, we’re not that grumbly 52-year old dad on your Facebook peeved by millennials and technology and everyone on their damn laptops and cell phones all the time. We’re just endlessly fascinated by the corporate world’s obsession with connectivity – in and out of the office.
Slackin’ Off at Work?
During the blackout, New-York based designer Van Schneider was one of many users to make to poke fun at Slack’s propensity for distraction: “With Slack being down, productivity in thousands of companies is currently skyrocketing.”
There are plenty of testimonials breaking down the pros and cons of Slack. Users laud it’s colorful, modern interface and believe it is excellent for short-term communication: check-ins, quick updates, and file sharing. On the downside, they say it’s time consuming and disorganized -- Slack’s notable promise of cutting down on email comes at the overwhelming cost of managing in-depth conversations in dozens of individual channels and direct interactions.
There’s also rumblings that Slack carries the addictive baggage of social media. In a piece for New York Magazine, Molly Fischer lays out its potential impact on office dynamics: “It takes the group dynamics already present between co-workers and douses them in digital accelerant. Experiences familiar from other forms of social media — the avalanche of group consensus, the fear of missing out, the publicly performed friendships, the sudden exposure — become, with Slack, part of the work world.”
There’s no mass data on productivity for any given office application. Slack’s flaws – in design or influence on employee behavior – are entirely dependent on an organization’s unique culture. And when all the tricks to maximizing Slack don’t seem to work, it may be time to look in the mirror and evaluate communication at large.
Content marketing guru Mike Alton appropriately shared this classic Simpsons gif of Milhouse Van Houten playing Frisbee alone to describe the isolation that remote employee feel without Slack. For all the hoopla over their deficiencies, Office applications like Slack or even a feature of a larger bundle (e.g. Microsoft Teams on Office 365) are creating more remote work opportunities and erasing stigmas about from-home laziness and isolation from other employees.
Research continues to show that employees are more productive when they spend some of their time working remotely. Remote employees are confident in their out-of-office productivity and comfortable depending on remote tools. In a recent survey by Polycom, for instance, 92% of respondents agreed that video collaboration helps improve relationships and teamwork, and 62% of respondents actively want collaboration technology that will connect them to their colleagues. The state of Vermont is even capitalizing on the trend, offering up to $10k to out-of-state remote workers who live and work from The Green Mountain State beginning in 2019.
We’ll continue to observe the fascinating balance between communication tools and productivity in- and out- of office. Just like you, we’re on the edge of our seat waiting for the next time Slack goes down and apocalypse begins anew.
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