+44 (0)1273 732 888
What we learnt from our first two years using Slack
Author : Rob Ashton
Posted : 06 / 04 / 17
If you’re not yet using a chat system to collaborate with your colleagues at work, you probably will be soon. Apps like Slack (the most popular) are rapidly redefining how we communicate. And the market for such tools was estimated at a staggering $4.5 billion last year. But do they actually make life better for any of us?
Progress in communication technology has helped us become ever more connected in the workplace. First it was the phone, then the fax, then email and mobile phones, then social media. Now we have Slack and its ilk.
Whatever the tech happens to be, one thing is generally true: our brains struggle to keep up. We change our communication style much more slowly than we change tech. And the consequences can be highly disruptive (and not in the cool, desirable sense that Silicon Valley marketers intend when they use that word).
Should your company use #Slack? The highs and lows of 2 years on the app @EmphasisWriting Click To Tweet
Emails are devoid of intonation, so they can sometimes misfire badly. An off-the-cuff text may arrive at the wrong time and leave us puzzling how the sender could be so thoughtless. We shoot back a reply. A row ensues. But the odds are that things would have been fine in either case if we’d just been talking to each other.
We’ve been using Slack at Emphasis for about two years now. It’s revolutionised how we communicate with our colleagues. And for the most part, the change has been for the better. It’s instantaneous. Its archive is easy to search. Conversations are much easier to track, and it’s far less of a jumble than email. It also integrates seamlessly with our other systems and enables easy collaboration within teams dispersed across the country.
Yet it’s not without its drawbacks. We’ve noticed a definite ‘Slack effect’, which can lead to a lot of tension and misunderstanding. For one, Slack messages are generally short messages, so it’s very easy to misinterpret them as terse or abrupt.
Perhaps the biggest danger is during ongoing Slack conversations. Just a minute or two of writing nothing in the middle of a message exchange can come across as very passive-aggressive. Slack therefore pushes you to keep writing. Often, this leads you to write before you’ve had time to think of how your message might be interpreted. Things can easily go downhill rapidly if you’re not careful.
It takes a lot of mindfulness to realise when a Slack conversation is spinning out of control. In such instances, we resort to ‘time-out’ messages, where we call a halt to the conversation on Slack and take it offline. It’s amazing how a quick phone call can resolve most issues.
Slack has another downside that it shares with email and social media – it’s addictive. I’ve often found myself checking it incessantly, even on a Sunday (despite knowing that everyone else is enjoying a well-deserved break and certainly not posting updates).
Yet, despite these reservations, there’s no doubt in my mind that Slack has changed things for the better. Productivity at Emphasis is far greater than before we introduced it, for example. And it also means that everyone in the organisation is much better informed about what each team is up to. Personally, I think it’s less intrusive than email. And it solves entirely the problem of being cc’d on endless, irrelevant messages. You choose what you want to look at.
In fact, each new round of communication technology has improved things, in my view. (Compare enquiry turnaround times now with those in the 1970s, if you can remember back that far.) Besides, given the fast-paced world in which we now live, we can’t go backwards.
Why communication tech is only as good as its users. Our first 2 years on #Slack by @Robert_Ashton Click To Tweet
But the technology is only as good as its users (at least until AI takes care of that for us). As a result, the miscommunication that we’ve always been susceptible to is still there. We need to adapt and change what we write, not just what we write with. Otherwise, all the tech does is make it possible to irritate people much more quickly than we ever could before.
Image of logo via Slack
Rob Ashton (our founder) posts mainly about writing and the brain – a topic he's been researching for seven years. His personal website includes a free course based on his work.
Posted by: Rob Ashton
15 / 02 / 17
Most people think their driving is above average. That’s a statistical impossibility, of course, otherwise it wouldn’t be an average. Still, it’s what we believe. In one study, no fewer than 93 per cent of Americans questioned placed themselves in the top 50 per cent of drivers. This is an example of what psychologists call […]
Posted by: Tom Wilde
18 / 01 / 17
Writing is one of those work activities that we just assume we can do. So much so that it’s not even something we tend to give much thought to. Yet in the last decade or two, it’s silently taken over our working lives. Email alone accounts for a staggering four hours of an average worker’s […]
Advice and tips (179)
Choose your words wisely (46)
Plain English (26)
Bids and tenders (26)
Psychology and linguistics (22)
Language abuse (22)
60-second fix (21)
Report writing (21)
Reader-centred writing (20)
Online and social media (16)
Presentations and speeches (13)
Technical writing (13)
News from Emphasis (13)
Customer relations (12)
International issues (11)
Letters and CVs (10)
Numbers and finance (9)
Design and formatting (9)
Courses for companies (8)
Literacy and education (5)
Writing news stories (5)
Development of English (4)
Style guide (4)
Social media (4)
Legal writing (4)
Internal communication (3)
Writing for media (3)
Pitches and proposals (3)
PDF downloads (3)
Live chat (2)
Learning and development (2)
Conferences and exhibitions (2)
Policies and procedures (1)
Book reviews (1)
Team leaders and managers (1)