Say No To Slack

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My workplace uses Slack. Actually, let me rephrase that: some of my coworkers use Slack. The company for which I work has had some trouble committing properly to a communications platform, which has left us in something of a state of limbo when it comes to communicating with one another. Some people only use Slack, others only Skype, still more refuse to communicate by anything other than good old fashioned face-to-face or email.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I like instant messaging. Or more specifically I don’t like face-to-face or phone-based conversations. I am much less efficient at talking than I am at writing and am much more likely to make mistakes when talking to someone than when I have a bit of time to think about what I want to say. Email, the ultimate in asynchronous communications, is possibly my favourite way of communicating as it gives all parties involved the headspace to give a thoughtful response. There is nothing more irritating than a one word or one sentence email such as:

lol thanks

Or

Can you help me with something?

Or even the dreaded

:-)

This kind of vapidity has little place in email for me. I tend to get quite frustrated with this kind of thing, so I actually welcome an instance messaging solution as a nice in-between for these types of communication. People can have quick and meaningful exchanges on these platforms which allow them to better determine whether they can resolve what they need to resolve now or whether they should use another form of communication.

However, I cannot abide Slack.

Slack represents the worst of office communications wrapped up in a frustrating, ugly, and resource-intensive application. I dread having to open it every morning, and whenever I do have to open it to respond to the message I’ve just been informed about by email (figure that one out) it sounds like my poor work MacBook is about to take off to fight the Germans above Britain.

But Slack is not just technically frustrating: it represents a dangerous trend away from what is important in the workplace. Most messages outside of my team come in the form of “hilarious” GIFs and links to local news articles with humorous titles. That these exist in the same space as live communications about downtime and discussions about bugfixes just feels very wrong to me.

Slacking Off

I am of the belief that people need to stop filling their time at work. If you have nothing to do for whatever reason, you should be allowed to stop working and do something else. After all, you are being paid and not doing anything for the company either way, so you may as well be allowed to go and do whatever.

However, that is not the world in which we live and as such we see a lot of “look busy-isms” in the workplace. Nowhere is this more prevalent than on the company Slack channels. Slack’s all-too-eager- to-please-non-technicals nature has led to it being bundled with a whole deluge of distracting, network-intensive and irritating add-ons which not only have nothing to do with the majority of jobs but are downright distracting when they pop up.

Slack also has, of course, a whole plethora of very useful features, though I am yet to see them properly utilised in a busines environment. Threaded messages, for example, are designed to reduce the clutter in the main chat and allow conversations to be kept together out of the way. But this isn’t how other messengers such as Facebook Messenger and Skype work, and as such these see limited adoption from (I would guess) the majority of users. I’ve seen the /gifs integration get a lot of hammer, though. Very useful feature.

Now, I’m coming off as a curmudgeon here, but please understand that I’m not trying to say nobody should have fun at work. What I’m trying to say is that playing about on Slack when you have no work to do is not only counterproductive in the long-term (making it seem as though everybody is always working is a sure-fire way to keep people in offices for long days because clearly we all have a lot to do), it’s also downright irritating for the rest of us. I often just quit Slack to A) silence these notifications and B) save my poor, poor Macbook from the threat of Electron. Then I find out I missed an important message. Damnit.

Use Better

As I said above, I am generally a fan of instant messaging. I make use of Matrix every day and spent the majority of my youth on IRC. To this day I sit most of the time in chatrooms be they for discussing software production, offering support, or shooting the shit with my old university pals. I don’t want to see IM disappear from the workplace, but I certainly want to see Slack pulled.

Slack is expensive. At nearly six dollars per user per month it’s a really bank account-unfriendly way of allowing coworkers to share gifs and vapid articles. It’s also (brace yourselves) non-free software.

The crowd gasps in shock and horror

Yes, I know, it’s not a concern to most. But be forewarned: Slack is a variety of ransomware. Its free trial allows you to make full use of its features before it starts trying to extort you to get your data back. If you run a business, do not give your data to these thugs. Keep your data safe and accessible by using open alternatives such as Matrix, Mattermost, or even the venerable IRC. You can’t go wrong with the classics.