"Man I murder for fun but my job is never done
From morning morn' to the setting of the sun" Gucci Mane, Murder for Fun
This is my personal tirade against Slack - the business "productivity" tool I hate the most. If you also hate Slack, I hope you find reading this as cathartic as I found writing it. If you really like Slack, you are a lost cause.
I'll add two caveats before I go on what I believe will be an expletive-riddled screed. First, my experience is based on using Slack in a relatively small company (60 people) and all of us in a single location. I can't imagine its usefulness for a largely distributed team, but I have been told it is good for that. Second, I love the Slack business model - selling into developers or smaller teams, simple and transparent pricing, very little integration upfront, and a very sticky proposition once companies get on Slack. These are all beautiful business concepts and Slack is one of the best SAAS businesses out there.
Now that the niceties are out of the way, here are a few of the reasons why Slack is the fucking worst.
1. Most business conversations should be asynchronous.
Slack tries to make it easy to connect in real-time with co-workers, creating a simple direct messaging and group messaging system to help businesses communicate. What actually happens is more akin to a water cannon filled with shit aimed at everyone in your business.
A little history to start. When we first started using Slack 2 years ago, it started off relatively innocuously. A general channel for general company announcements (people going to the pub, the need for an iWatch charger) and some direct messages. I thought, "Hey this is great. Its like gchat with a better UX/UI and a great place to communicate quickly with the entire company. " I was a fan.
Fast forward 6 months later, I'm a member of 20 different channels and 50 direct messages. The channels are where the greatest travesties are committed. For those of you that don't use Slack (you are so lucky) channels are essentially a group chat that you generally need to be invited to.
Let's walk through one of these travesties. I was a member of a channel for a new product we were launching - call it NewProductChannel. In this channel we had all the various stakeholders (about 8 people) that were involved in the product launch. The idea of the channel was to make it simple and fast for engineering to talk to operations or risk to talk to finance. Sounds great in theory.
What quickly happens is that while engineering and operations are chatting together, risk and finance are inundated with meaningless conversation. Yes, it can be good that risk and finance see those conversations so they can step in if it impacts their team or understand any potential delays. What happens instead is that they stop caring about the hundreds of irrelevant messages. Then, when finance wants to discuss a topic with risk, they have to scroll through hours/days of message to find where they last discussed an outstanding issue. This is madness.
This type of project and work should generally be done asynchronously. A daily update e-mail with the product owner relaying to all teams all important updates and a project tracker/checklist in google docs so anyone can check at any time to see the status of each element. This way you have almost real-time updates on everything about the product launch minus the 2,000 messages on the minor details. And you control the cadence at which you get the messaging.
You could argue that Slack should be used in conjunction with the daily e-mail update and the tracker. This is patently absurd. 75% of the messages were irrelevant to the people involved (should have been direct messages) and then, to make matters worse, there is an expectation that everyone has read the messages. The logical conclusion is you get a stakeholder, let's call her Katie, saying: "I told everyone in the NewProductChannel about the changes! If I can't communicate it there then what is the point of the channel?"
Good question Katie - there is no fucking point to the channel.
Slack anger level: High
2. It limits the depth and communication of ideas.
If you are sending an internal e-mail to all stakeholders involved in a project, you generally:
Slack renders all of that obsolete. It turns mature, educated employees into teenagers communicating via whatsapp.
Let's walk through an example. Assume you are building the customer flows/journey for your new product. You chatted with engineering in the morning and came to the conclusion you'd have to remove one of the on-boarding features to ensure you could still hit your ship date and simplify your MVP.
Here is what that communications looks like on an e-mail:
After discussing with Katie and John this morning, we believe that we should take Feature X out of the MVP of the product launch. Here was our thinking behind it:
When we launch we will be tracking to ensure that the expected customers remains consistent (sub 10%). I will be responsible for tracking and will report back post launch. If you have any questions please let the group know by close of play today."
Here is what the same communication looks like in Slack
"@channel I spoke with engineering this morning. Will need to get rid of feature X in this version of the build to hit ship date. Simplifies things. Let me know if you have any questions."
So why did Slack suck for this?
These are scary differences for anyone in a fast moving business. Making matters worse, Slack finds more maddening ways to make everyone's life worse. For example, they added an ability to respond to a particular message with a separate thread. So now, you don't know if you can even scroll through the channel, you might have to scroll through the sub-threads. Fuck Slack.
Slack anger level: Irate
3. Take e-mail anxiety and ratchet up slack anxiety by factor of 10.
Its exhausting and anxiety-ridden enough to wake up or come back to 40 unread e-mails (I'm an inbox zero fan). Slack is massive multiplier to this exhaustion and anxiety. Instead of just 40 unread e-mails, I now have to add 20 slacks from 7 different people and a lot of buzz in some of the channels I'm in.
Now this wouldn't be that bad if people treated Slack like e-mail. With an e-mail its generally accepted, at least in my experience, that a 24-hour turnaround for non-urgent e-mails is appropriate. And urgent e-mails are usually marked as such or you know you need to respond because you get to read the subject line and who it came from.
Slack destroys the elegance of e-mail in three ways.
The nail in the coffin when your company uses both e-mail and Slack is you don't know where information is stored or communicated. If someone sent me a slide deck 2 weeks ago, now I have to check e-mail and slack to find it. So essentially we added the worst communication tool man has ever invented as the primary means of communicating in our organization. Yay.
Slack anger level: Fiery hatred of a 1,000 burning suns.
4. Let's stop taking crazy pills and go back to e-mail.
E-mail works really well if you know how to use it. Slack ruins lives. That's all you need to know.
Slack anger level: None - full cathartic exercise complete.
Also, thanks to John Biggs at TechCrunch for his hatred of LinkedIn for inspiring me to write this.