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Is Slack Making Slackers of Us All?

It’s not even noon and the Slacks are flying. Monday morning is here and the “Game of Thrones” channel is a fury of fan theories, mortality bets and fiery dragon memes.

HR pipes in on the Free Food channel to let us know breakfast pastries are on the bar. And in another channel, a meeting just got cancelled for a site we’re about to launch — turns out we’re in great shape to make our mid-week deadline. In our own little corner of this virtual water cooler, the copy team is trading headline suggestions and pictures of our cats causing weekend mayhem.

Before Slack launched in 2013, this kind of real-time office collaboration was unheard of. An addictive blend of social media and instant messaging, Slack has become so ubiquitous and so essential to workplaces like Nebo, that it’s the second thing I check when I get to my desk — after my email and before I begin my daily tasks. And whether I’m writing, editing, researching or uploading copy on our company CMS, I’m always running Gmail, Google Calendar, Basecamp and, last but not least, Slack.

I’m not sure how it happened, but somewhere along the way email lost its place in the pantheon of office communication. A dark cloud always descends over me when I see the big chunk of bold type reminding me that I have 30 unread emails. In contrast, no matter how arduous the task being assigned to me, somehow action items that come from Slack never feel this way.

Perhaps it’s no surprise that Slack grew out of an intraoffice communication channel for a never-released video game called Glitch. With its 80s design aesthetic, seamless emoji integration and endless gif possibilities, Slack just feels like fun. It’s addictive and, quite honestly, it feels like a lot like slacking. And no matter how much we may love our jobs, when we’re at work, we all like to feel like we’re somewhere else.

For offices like Nebo, which are staffed by millennials and stocked with Ping-Pong tables and apocalypse-sized hordes of La Croix, Slack has become an office perk that can’t be overlooked. In fact, Slack is used by some of the biggest, least slackiest companies in the country, including 77 percent of all Fortune 500 companies and mega brands like NASA, HBO, eBay, Sony, Ticketmaster, PayPal and The New York Times.

It seems slacking has become big business. In June of this year, rumors of Slack’s valuation tipped the scales at $9 billion, drawing overtures from tech titans like Amazon, Microsoft, Google and Salesforce.

Slack Makes Play Out of Work

So why, exactly, would some of the biggest, most valuable companies in the world let their workers slack on company time? Perhaps the answer lies in Slack’s subtle illusion of freedom. Employees who feel free and untethered are more likely to have a positive view of the company they work for and, as a result, more likely to work hard to make their mark.

And if work becomes fun, these same employees are more likely to spend their nights and weekends slacking on Slack and knocking out a few deliverables along the way. Slack’s stats seem to back up this theory. The average user stays plugged in 10 hours a day. With more employees logged in and workflow documented and saved in real time, it’s easier to find out what employees are working on or, well, not working on.

OK, so Slack’s not just gifs of unicorns farting rainbows. In addition to these productivity hacks, Slack’s meteoric stats make a strong case for its workplace value. Boasting over five million daily users, 60,000 teams and 100 million monthly hours spent on the app, the average user Slacks for 140 minutes a day. If you’re thinking this sounds like a colossal waste of time, think again. Slack claims that companies who use the service experience a 49 percent reduction in email, 80 percent improved transparency and a 24 percent reduction in the number of meetings.

Here at Nebo, I can certainly attest to these stats. With most of my tasks and deliverables living in Basecamp and much of my communication taking place via Slack, I send and receive an average of 10 emails a day. And Slack certainly decreases the number of unnecessary meetings. Most of our projects have their own designated channels, cobbling together all the disparate departments who work on each account. As projects heat up closer to site launch, SEO, copy, design, dev and paid media can chat simultaneously in real time — achieving meaningful progress without the hassle of in-person meetings.

Those of us who are old enough to remember office cultures before the dawn of Slack can recall the days of useless one-question meetings, creepy in-person check-ins and toilsome one-line emails. These days Slack has become such a go-to for communications like “are you done with that report?” and “what is the goal of this deliverable?” that I wonder how any of us ever got by without it.

Where Slack Slacks

Of course, not everyone loves Slack. Here at Nebo some of our higher-ups consider Slack more of a frenemy than a friend. Swamped and pummeled with a never-ending stream of slacks from presumably every department, some of our c-level players prefer the decisiveness of a face-to-face check in. Slack’s real-time quality also has a kind of impermanence to it. When coworkers make requests in Slack, there’s no way to save all those requests or turn them into action items. Are you listening Slack? We’ve got a couple great suggestions for your next update.

Like any form of social media, Slack also has a knack for getting in the way of actual work. With studies showing that it takes 25 minutes to get back on track after an interruption, a few juicy Slacks from podmates could rob hours of productivity from your day. And with workplace interruptions adding up to $1 trillion in lost revenue for the U.S. economy, some bosses may wonder if their workers really need another outlet for distraction.

Blurring the lines between work lives and private lives, Slack fosters a casual intimacy that’s impossible to achieve through other forms of office communication. These qualities are what make it so appealing, and also so dangerous. Slack so closely mimics in-person, conspiratorial communication that it has the potential to brew divisiveness — creating gray zones of isolation, gossip, impropriety and exclusion that can test any HR policy.

And despite Slack’s ephemeral feel, beware the power of the screenshot and the permanence of cloud backups, as Gawker discovered when management’s Slack messages were subpoenaed and read in court during the monumental Hulk Hogan privacy lawsuit.

The Upside of Slacking

Despite its many downsides, when Slack is at its best, it becomes a kind of living library of company culture. And for many companies, including Nebo, Slack is the first real introduction to office life. Browse our list of “just for fun” channels and you’ll find one dedicated to “The Bachelor” called “bachbetches.” Others are devoted to music, cooking, girl stuff, crazy cats, coffee buddies, “Harry Potter,” book club and yes, even one ominously entitled Club Damnation (I’m a proud member, I must say).

For open-concept offices like our own, Slack provides an outlet where workplace friendships can thrive. During my first week in the office, a member of the copy team asked me to Slack her an article about alien megastructures. I knew, then and there, that it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. And while nothing can or should replace the joy and humanity of face-to-face communication, I would venture to guess that most Nebo friendships begin on Slack.

Through a constant game of giphy roulette and a full roster of reactive emojis, Slack has a way of cultivating intra-office jokes, myths and legends. We have a bunch of custom emojis that include everything from the faces of our office dogs to a beloved team member’s beard, a La Croix can, Nicolas Cage as a cat face and, thanks to our inventive designers, a stick figure break dancing (or humping?). Our Dev team has even programmed Slackbot to say, “you shut up” every time someone says the phrase on a Slack channel.

Nebo also has a Kudos channel that lets colleagues congratulate peers for amazing work or for staying up all night to meet an important deadline. It’s a great way for us to discover what others are working on, and an avenue for coworkers to acknowledge a job well done with a stream of congratulatory emojis.

For many at Nebo who work remotely from home, Slack is their office atmosphere. And while we don’t get the opportunity to work closely with everyone in a company of 80 people, Slack is a convenient way to cross teams and channels and get to know colleagues from other departments — their humor, their pets, their hobbies and the things they care about. After all, there’s nothing like a good Hodor joke to bring people together.

Whatever you think of Slack, I imagine that most of us here at Nebo think it’s pretty great. It cuts down on busywork, increases our productivity and helps make our office the awesome, human-centered agency that it is.

Well, that’s all I’ve got for now. I’ll get back to sending my cat gifs. Actually, I’m feeling a little dangerous. Maybe I’ll type in “/giphy attack llama” and see what comes up.

Comments

  1. August 22, 2017 @ 12:26 pm
    Jason Jehosephat says:

    Almost no activity is described here that doesn’t already play out in my office’s Outlook email–other than all the stuff that’s a distraction from work, but we do that outside of email.