What Does Slack’s Dominance Mean for Work?


It seems like the market has suddenly become inundated with tech-driven work productivity programs aimed at increasing organization and efficiency. There’s Trello, Asana, Jira and, of course, Slack.

The programs have become such popular tools for organizing projects that people are increasingly incorporating them into their personal livesOpens a new window , for everything from scheduling homework and after-school activities for kids to organizing a project like painting the deck.

Slack is possibly the most popular tool of all, and its mention has become ubiquitous in many forward-thinking offices. The program is best-known as a chat tool that renders various conversation streams easy to organize and it has some handy functionalities like a search tool for chats and the capacity to share within the platform nearly any kind of file with a colleague or group of colleagues.

Perhaps still more important, Slack singlehandedly has elevated the chat room into a central aspect of the workplace for countless offices.

Chat has long been used for professional purposes, even before the dedicated platform. Some offices developed their own chat platforms for employees or, in their absence, people turned to third party services such as Skype or gchat.

Slack fills the breach

Perhaps it was inevitable that a company would swoop into the market niche. Slack now has 10 million active daily usersOpens a new window  and, to the surprise of some, legacy brands’ competitors have also upped their game: Microsoft’s answer to Slack, called Teams, has 13 million active daily usersOpens a new window .

So what does the professionalization of chat mean for the workplace?

The problem that Slack was meant to solve was considerable — reduce the amount of time people spend looking for information from within the company or seeking the right person to either answer a question or collaborate.

According to a 2012 study by McKinseyOpens a new window , “the average interaction worker spends an estimated 28% of the workweek managing email and nearly 20% looking for internal information or tracking down colleagues who can help with specific tasks.” The study estimated that better ways of communicating could increase productivity by 25%.

In some ways, it has. It’s easier than ever to reach out to a colleague with a quick question. And another question. And thanks for the answer. And comment on another colleague. And mention another project. And on, and on.

Chat has facilitated communication, to be sure, but it’s also added to the cacophony that is the world of online communication without necessarily easing the barrage in other mediums…like email.

One chief executive of a crypto asset management company, Matt Galligan, describes the problem:Opens a new window  “Because we have a distributed team, real-time communication is critical. A flurry of distraction and interruptions is one side-effect, though.”

Fixing the Slack problem

Galligan ended up developing a strategy for using Slack that worked around some of the issues, making use of different threads within the platform, which included only specific people on certain topics that were ongoing. There are many ways that people try to limit how chat infiltrates their concentration, but with an average of 200 messages sent per week by people who work at large companies – and all under the umbrella of professional communication – it can be a burden to keep up.

There are signs that professional chat programs can actually decrease productivity. RescueTime software, which measures how much time people spend with certain apps in the foreground of their computer screens, estimates that a large chunk of the average 5.5 hours people spend each day on their computers is dedicated to chatting.

When Slack had an outage, according to a report on VoxOpens a new window , employees were more productive than they had been during a similar timeframe in the preceding week.

It’s not just that Slack and other chat platforms demand attention. It’s also that every chat message that flashes can trigger a domino-effect of distraction, making it increasingly difficult to achieve deep focus. That doesn’t mean chat has no place at work; it undeniably has been a boon, especially in an age of remote work.

But it’s a good idea to start thinking about limiting its ubiquity, starting with office culture. Encourage social interactions to happen in real time and promote concentration as a value. Try to keep chatting to a minimum, making use of it when activities such as sharing files is particularly helpful.

After all, if something really needs a quick answer, you can always just pick up the phone.