I’m a Total “Slack”er

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.

slack-app

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? 100 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!

14 thoughts on “I’m a Total “Slack”er

  1. Nice review. I left Northeastern just as our center was about to begin using Slack. We picked up on it after observing how several of the student computer science teams used it to develop an application for us. But I have not had the chance to be a slacker! I am considering using it in my Masters level Education and Social Media class, but I would hate to give up Twitter. Would it make sense to use both?

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    • Dr. Watwood:
      I can see a definite benefit for using Slack in your Masters class because Slack allows for deeper conversations because there is no character limit and the separate channels provide the opportunity to share and collaborate easier than having to create hashtags to follow the conversation.
      The integration that Slack provides with other social tools and its ease of use in mobile also provide greater levels of connections for the user. For me, Twitter has become such a great tool for following live events and quick information sharing through Twitter chats, I do believe there is benefit in using both.
      I’m currently working to compare the pros and cons of Slack compared to Skype for Business for my own professional setting, and I still am favoring Slack. It is just so easy to use!
      -Krista

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      • Krista,
        Skype for Business is actually part of the O365 suite. When you put all those tools together, it provides for awesome collaboration. I am pretty overwhelmed realizing how many different tools are out there that target similar outcomes. We get comfortable with a set, then get introduced to new ones.
        Thanks for the introduction to this tool. I had heard its name, but only got the real information from you.
        Thanks,
        Shawn

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ll admit (sadly) that I had never heard of Slack before reading your post. Therefore, you might say I’m also a slacker, but in a much more traditional sense than you! However, I’ll also admit (in a more encouraging turn) that your review has me highly intrigued! I appreciate the broad scope of connection and collaboration that are made possible through Slack’s single integration of various platforms, along with the host of additional value-adding features. Noting that my current professional environment is among those that Koetsier (2013) described so appropriately as having a “crippling dependence on email”, I am eager to explore opportunities to implement with my teams.

    I think you also raised (near the end of your comments) a very important issue for leaders (and entire teams, really) to consider as it relates to our expanding digital environments: boundaries. Obviously maintaining boundaries does not constitute a new interest (or need) for leaders or followers, but technology has introduced some interesting nuances.

    The connections that can evolve through tools like Slack are meaningful, and valuable on a number of levels. These seem indicative of a web revolution that is much more social than technological. Without boundaries though, implementation of this (to an extreme) could have negative consequences in both our private and work lives: (1) it might erode work-life balance (as we’re always connected, always on, etc.); and (2) the social side can become so prominent that important work messages are drowned out and missed, with productivity suffering as a result (I have personally encountered this in a previous environment and with another group messaging tool). I’m sure there are others too. Have you encountered any challenges along these lines, or others…and have you or your organization felt the need to establish and communicate such boundaries (either proactively or in response to concerns)?

    Concerns notwithstanding, I’m really looking forward to continued exploration of Slack. Thanks for sharing!

    -EA

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    • Onefootraised:

      You bring up some excellent points about boundaries. From my professional experience, I know that some of my followers did set up their own channels to collaborate, share information, and sometimes vent. As a leader, I felt that they needed that space. And, I never provided an expectation of a requirement for “always being connected”–that phenomenon came from them. In this case, I simply followed their lead. As the conversations would continue into the evenings/weekends, any team member that had not connected did feel a little isolated, but was always advised to “go back and check out the channel.” I think in my experience Slack provided a nice outlet for my team. Although every industry is different, when working at advertising agencies, there is a bit of an understanding that you are “on” quite often.

      I look forward to hearing about your thoughts as you continue to explore the tool!

      -Krista

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      • I just switched to an iPhone this week (yes, inspired by this class), and was introduced to an application called Blind. It lets you post to a blog anonymously, so the company water cooler is a safe zone for those using it – so they say. I checked out my company’s chat, and it was very interesting regarding chatter about what is happening, or about to happen in the company. So there are multiple tools for the chatter to occur. I think that the best a leader can do is to do the right thing, be as transparent as possible, and remember that these new tools get closer to the Santa song, “he knows when you are sleeping, he knows…”.
        Thanks,
        Shawn

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  3. Good morning Krista,

    Thank you for providing this review of Slack. I had heard of it before as a colleague mentioned a preference for it, but I did not know much about it prior to today. I am unsure whether or not this would be a useful tool for my organization. One of the things about being a fully integrated Google institution for higher education is that we use Google Hangouts frequently. As you mentioned, dependence on email in the workplace and at home is staggering. A survey conducted by Adobe (http://news.adobe.com/press-release/marketing-cloud/media-alert-adobe-survey-reveals-americans-dependence-email) identified a seventeen percent year-over-year increase in email use by respondentss. Our use of Hangouts has reduced the dependence that you described on email in significant ways. One great way in which we use Hangouts is when my customer support team is working collaboratively on campus events. They can quickly use Hangouts together to troubleshoot or ask questions of one another. It seems Slack has similar functionality.

    One thing I did not notice about Slack was any kind of video feature. Did I miss that? That is another way in which we have reduced our dependence on email at my organization. I can quickly start of video Hangout with a colleague to answer a quick question when that person is located across campus or at another of our campuses.

    I will say, while Slack might not be the perfect fit for my organization, the benefits from such a tool can improve communication at any organization in ways that will be easily visible to the leader. Thanks again for providing this review.

    -The Ayes Have It

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    • Hi, Ayes:

      Thank you for your thoughts and your openness to reviewing Slack in greater detail. I also appreciate that your question made me go back and research the capabilities of Slack a bit more. In mid-December, Slack did launch video capabilities (Garner, 2016). This actually came into fruition thanks to the acquisition of Screenhero in the first quarter of 2016.

      And, in full disclosure, my experience with Slack has been solely with the free product which is available, not the paid levels.

      Again, thank you for pushing my research efforts a bit further.

      Reference:
      Garner, R. (2016, December 13). Videoconferencing comes to Slack. CNET. Retrieved from https://www.cnet.com/news/videoconferencing-comes-to-slack/

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  4. Great review, Krista! It’s really nice to hear your perspective, having used the tool in an actual business setting.

    A few years ago, I was doing some project work/consulting with a company that used Quip (https://quip.com/). Slack seems to be very similar in its structure and features, but the focus is on real time communication vs. document creation (in Quip). I see that Slack does have document integration… do you know how that works in terms of collaborative creation and editing from within Slack?

    My experience with Quip was a little frustrating because I felt like it actually ended up creating more clutter (folders, documents, chats, etc), and more work. For example, I was working on a proposal and kept getting interrupted by teammates who wanted to weigh in on things even before I had finished. I think this led to using Quip as a crutch to feel “busier” without actually accomplishing anything of value. Perhaps it was due to the individual/team dynamics. We actually had one teammate who would constantly go into other documents and make unhelpful, critical comments on things!! I’m wondering what your thoughts are on how a tool like Slack affects the depth and quality of interaction among the team. What strategies have you used to make sure that the tool isn’t causing extra work?

    Thanks!

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    • James:
      Thank you for sharing your personal experience on working with social tools. Slack provides tremendous integration with a number of apps including those for document management (Google Drive, Dropbox, Box, and Quip). In regards to your question about creating more work when using some of these document sharing tools, it seems best to establish document/folder naming rules. I find this to be an issue when using shared drives on our own server. If these naming conventions are not established, then searching for files can be frustrating as no two people will call the file the same thing.

      -Krista

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  5. Krista – just a quick note. Great review and super marketing for this tool! We have small pocket groups using Slack and those that do love it. I jumped in and out but once the project I was on with that group ended so did my use of Slack. You have enticed me to re-engage. The big challenge right now is finding collaboration tools we can all agree on and use instead of having such a wide variety in use. Again – super review.
    ~Tricia

    Liked by 1 person

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