May 19, 2017
Slack is a popular messaging service designed to replace office email, increase productivity, create instant communication between team members and, at times, be incredibly distracting. Slack co-founder and CEO Steward Butterfield revealed the genesis of the company’s name via a screenshot of well, a Slack message, announcing that he had come up with “a better code name” for the program previously called Searchable Log of All Conversation and Knowledge: Slack.
I use Slack for work every day. Hell, according to a statistics dashboard provided to our company, I’ve sent 19,124 messages and 230 files since we began using the app late last year, making me the 7th-ranked power user among my colleagues. In the past seven days? I’ve delivered a whopping 435 internal messages. As a company of 32 employees, we’ve collectively sent more than 538,000 messages to each other and used more than 35.1 GB of storage for 7,236 files. Sending that bandwidth of information makes me an incredibly efficient communicator; I mean, numbers don’t lie, right?
To better understand the benefits of Slack, the company collected thousands of survey responses from team owners and administrators of paid Slack teams, like Fast Horse, and released the information online. According to the study, the app has helped reduce internal email use by 48.6 percent and led to 25.1 percent fewer meetings. When asked if Slack has improved the culture of the team, 79 percent of participants said yes. How about making you feel more connected to your team? Almost 89 percent of respondents gave a resounding hallelujah. Out of 1,629 responses, 32 percent of those surveyed said that Slack has increased the overall productivity of their team. The study shows that people genuinely believe that the app improves efficiency throughout the workplace.
Something was bugging me about this. It didn’t feel right. I took the app off my phone because I was bringing the office and all its conversations home with me — to the dinner table, checking it at stop lights. Jacob Silverman examined this fragile personal and professional relationship balance in an article for Baffler, painting a dystopian immersion of “life into work” and the dangers of tracked big data. The app allows bot integrations that are geared towards minimizing tasks for the day but can process information from a user’s conversations, shared links and third-party apps to propose channels that might be of interest for someone to join. A recent update allows team members to search Slack for the best in-house source on any given topic, based on what they’ve said in Slack.
More smart features are on their way. The director of Slack’s in-house AI studio, Search Learning Intelligence, Noah Weiss, hopes to create an “intelligence layer” that would act like a personal assistant to each user. He later described how the chat app can learn about its users — their work habits, interests, even favorite TV shows — in an interview with Business Insider. In a speech at South by Southwest in 2016, Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield talked about creating a “manager bot” that will use artificial intelligence to automatically track progress on projects and remind employees about work that is due, further diving into measuring and monitoring productivity, not just facilitating it.
I won’t stop using Slack; it’s how we communicate as a team and I’ve learned tips and tricks on how to turn off notifications and stay on task. But in this Orwellian future, it’s important to remember you can turn off your screen and unplug. Try it. Let me know what you think.