We have moved away from Slack at Tideways over the last three months, because I found Slack is already annoying, even with just a four person team (plus the occasional freelancer). For me, it disrupts deep work phases and knowledge lost in the depth of chat history. I can’t imagine how unproductive Slack must be for larger companies.
As an engineer, I have learned to be productive when I have a quiet space and can tinker on a problem without getting interrupted. Slack makes this very difficult and at least for me, is a primary cause of anxiety and fear of missing out (FOMO).
While at first sight it seems chat is asynchronous it really is not.
- If you wait for a long time to reply to a message on chat, then the discussion thread is already spread in the history of the chat room and messages back and forth interleaved with many additional messages that are not related is not helpful.
- In addition chats online status indicators exist just so that you know if someone can answer any question directly, increasing communication anxiety.
- If you set yourself into some kind of do not disturb mode or mute a channel, then its easy to miss important conversations and get left out of discussions or decisions. Reading up on long conversations you have missed is hard with chat tools.
- By also sending Github commit messages, OpsGenie and Tideways alerts, excerpts of HelpScout ticket updates and other “events” of the business into Slack through various integrations we made Slack the primary tool to check if anything is going on. While it is important to see what is going on, this almost never has to happen in realtime and by connecting it to the chat, we excuberated the previous points and everyone is checking chat even more frequently.
Jason Fried summed it up much better than I could in this blog post.
We are now using Github (issues and pull requests) and Basecamp (Messages, Todolists) to replace Slack. Both tools allow us to have context sensitive, asynchronous discussions on specific topics.
Since work never happens in a vacuum, I would be happy to have only a single realtime notification tool (OpsGenie/PagerDuty) that sends notifications to poeple currently on-call, and only about problems that require realtime attention. Everything else, including chat, can be part of a daily summary e-mail or screen.
My ultimate goal is to get longer stretches of uninterrupted time to work on features, customer support or operational issues. Under time pressure the last 3 years I realized that productive and concentrated tinkering on projects is my number one driver of happiness at work. I consider this a primary value of my company, and it takes work and distance to the current status quo to make it happen.
If you want to follow up on this ideas on your own, I can recommend the books Deep Work by Cal Newport, The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Keeping Your Sh*t Together by Sherry Walling and It doesn’t have to be crazy at work by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson.