Is Slack turning us into slackers?

5 min read

Slack turning us into Slackers

Slack is the new darling of the collaboration software world. It’s growing at a spectacular pace with a valuation of $3.8 billion in just three years. It has caught the sector a little bit by surprise. I think everyone including myself thought that the space that Slack now occupies was already well covered by Yammer, Chatter, HipChat and many others. So, what is it about Slack that has led it to being adopted by millions, disrupting many big incumbents along the way? 

Andrew Wilkinson, Founder of MetaLab, the design agency responsible for developing the Slack User Interface, gave a good insight into Slack’s meteoric rise in the blog post “Slack’s $2.8 Billion Dollar Secret Sauce” about a year ago. He provided three concrete reasons: “It looks different”; “it feels different”; and “it sounds different”. Yes, it sounds all very simple, but people like simplicity and they also appreciate a fresh cool place to play in. Particularly in an office job, where many professionals can spend their time staring at uninspiring enterprise software from the start of the day to the end of it.”

Additionally, Slack has been marketed as an email killer. Stewart Butterfield, Slack’s CEO, has been a great critic of email and its negative impact on organizational productivity. In 2013, when he was preparing for launch he said “we want (our customers) to become masters of their own information and not slaves, overwhelmed by the never-ending flow.” So, three years later how is Slack stacking up against this mission?

Based on my own experience and what I experience in my workings with project teams across industries, Slack is not the pain-killer they hoped for and tragically it risks making matters worse. To adapt Butterfields’ own words, Slack’s greatest problem is that it can overwhelm based on the never-ending flow. Its ‘always-on’ constant stream of channel discussions can make it overwhelming for teams.

Many a productivity expert has informed us on how much time we are wasting disrupting our flow to check email, Slack multiplies this effect. In many cases, it has become the new corridor water cooler where the slackers get to share their constant stream of news. Don’t get me wrong, this type of communication does have a purpose in a business, but what I’m calling out here is the hype that is associated with Slack re productivity improvement. In this case, I believe they have a weak argument.

In February’s issue of the Harvard Business Review there was a very interesting article about ‘collaboration overload’ and the fact that collaboration is not equal across a company’s workforce. Collaboration gets funnelled to the usual suspects – those heroes inside your organization that help out more than others. The article points out that this can become a vicious circle with the risk of losing your best team members due to work pressure. They argue for better collaboration, a better way of distributing collaboration across the company.

Collaboration needs to be smarter to balance work and improve productivity across all staff. Intelligent collaboration systems need to involve and route work based on request topics, availability and more. This is our mission at Screendragon. We champion ‘just-in time’ collaboration. Meaning, involve me in the collaboration workflow at the right time based on events – don’t involve me too early, nor too late. For example, we work with a lot enterprises on marketing workflows, legal is an important stakeholder in the approval of work to go to market. Typically they are incredibly busy and therefore their collaboration efforts need to be managed efficiently i.e. involve them at the right time, with the right information so they can take swift decision-making actions.

Having worked in the enterprise collaboration space for the last 15 years, I can say with some confidence that Slack isn’t the answer to the burning needs of enterprise collaboration. The problems that enterprises face are more complex.

If you’re interested in finding out how you can be a ‘slicker’ collaborator then check us out. We have effectively transformed workflows for Fortune 500 companies with smart collaboration systems – removing the noise, to focus on the essentials.

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