I admit it, I’m a total Slacker, but I’m also an avid Tweeter, Linker, Grammer, and Snapper. In this sense, I’m referring to my addiction fondness of digital tools that help us connect, learn, lead, and innovate. This week I researched the digital tool Slack, which is self-described as “where work happens”. It is an online communications tools where teams can collaborate with one another and has tremendous integration with other tools, such as work flow management tools like Asana, microblogging tools like Twitter and video platforms like YouTube. The cloud-based software was first launched in 2013 by the founder of Flickr, Stewart Butterfield after a failed attempt at creating an online game. Slack provides users with more than instant messaging tools or internal communications portals because it connects with external programs and incudes this information into the Slack content stream seamlessly (Koetsier, 2013). If you insert a video, it automatically plays in the content stream.
As David Weinberger (2011) discussed, this aggregation of content provided by Slack allows for filter forward, or the phenomenon when filters do not decrease, but increase the amount of information and knowledge the user has access to; however, Slack takes this a step further by presenting this information in one interface and with full search capabilities. The tool also provides users with the ability to categorize conversations into channels to keep projects, initiatives, and topics organized for the user.
The tool has quickly been adopted and utilized with both small and large companies with great benefits. Clay Shirky (2014) commented on the importance of studying how people collaborate, I would argue that Slack has been recognized as the tool that disrupted traditional collaboration in the workplace. One of the best features of Slack is its simple user experience, making it attractive to a seasoned technology geek or a smartphone newbie (Brown, 2014) and allowing for a similar experience in both mobile and desktop versions.
From a leader’s perspective, Slack creates an easily accessible and free, communications platform for connecting individual team members both on- and off-site. Did I mention the Slack emoji integration? This feature can add “tone” to sometimes toneless written and emailed communications to one another. It provides a virtual community to team members where documents can be shared or lunch plans can be arranged. In the words of one user, “If you go to work in a drab, colorless building, work can feel sterile. Slack isn’t sterile” (Tetzeli, 2015).
From my own personal experience, I found Slack incredibly useful to connect my team within an advertising agency. Agencies tend to draw employees who are naturally curious and passionate about digital tools. As the former leader of the public relations and social media department, I noticed that Slack not only provided the tangible benefits of decreased inter-team email and increased levels of collaboration, but it also brought the team closer. It was common for our Slack channels to light up over the weekend as team members shared their weekend plans, client projects, or just shared a virtual drink with one another.
Can this constant this connectivity lead to information overload, employee burnout, or blur the lines among a leader and his/her followers? These can be potential downsides of the tool. In addition, because users can set up new, private channels, there is the possibility that the tool can be used to fuel rumor mills and water cooler gossip. But a leader faces these challenges in both the virtual and real world. The key is for the leader to provide a forum for addressing these issues before the run amok.
Given the benefits and drawbacks of Slack, with great confidence, I still profess: I am totally a “Slack”er!