Is Slack Software Ruining The Office Dynamic? | Slack Software Hazards

What happened to good old water cooler chat?

These conversations may have seemed like a waste of company time in the past, but what if I told you there was tech out there that would become the biggest time suck your company has ever experienced?

Slack – a cloud-based communication software that currently has 8 million daily users – has done away with the need for human interaction, instead offering your office with a way to communicate and collaborate digitally.

That’s not the only thing Slack brings to the table, though.

I worked for a full-service digital marketing agency that helps SMBs with their online presence. In the six years I had been there, we had grown substantially (5 people in 2013 to more than 30 full-time employees in 2019). As we grew, our open-office plan started to dissect at a rapid pace. Soon, various teams were compartmentalized into offices and it wasn’t long before management started looking for a better way for us to communicate.

Sometime in 2016, we were called into a conference room and introduced to Slack – the workplace messaging app that Fortune 500’s swear by!

I find Slack to be a useful tool that makes collaboration and communication easy and fun. It’s essentially a hybrid of every social media platform and dating app out there and thus vastly appealing – not to mention the GIF/Emoji vernacular that’s now an acceptable thing to use when communicating with your boss.

Slack also offers a number of other benefits, like being free to use for the budget-friendly office or offering the convenience of connection through the use of the mobile app.

I concede that Slack does make communicating with my colleagues less awkward, especially because I can lighten any conversation with an appropriate GIF. Whether I’m sharing documents via the Google Suite or need to get a quick answer from someone on the other side of the building, when used properly, Slack makes my day-to-day easier.

And yet for all of the blessings Slack has brought to our small corner of the B2B world, I see user-initiated HR nightmares on a daily basis that straight up stress me out.

Cyberbullies aren’t a thing of the past. 

Slack makes workplace bullying easier both to take part in and ignore.

Cyber-bullying is a tale as old as time, one that used to be limited to social media comments and online chat rooms. Now, with the advent of Slack, it’s prevalent in places of business. Bullies who once took comfort in hiding behind a computer screen have seamlessly transitioned into the American workplace, waiting for someone to say something in Slack so that they can passively correct or publicly insult.

This may not happen in every workplace on a daily basis or ever, even, but these trolls lurked in the Millennial-driven office I worked in, waiting for a chance to bully through comments, emoji reactions, or GIFs.

Not only does this limit productivity, but it’s a major distraction as well. The natural instinct to defend oneself kicks in (I will not be publicly ridiculed!) and before you know it, thirty minutes have been wasted crafting responses and Googling reaction memes, which is a losing battle in itself because you end up looking like a fool regardless.

Slack isn’t as inclusive as it’s cracked up to be. 

Slack allows users to create public and private channels, as well as host private chats with as many or as few people as you'd like.

There are relevant private channels, like those that exist to share information among a particular team that wouldn’t make sense to anyone else otherwise. Then there are the private channels that function as gossip mills.

This Intelligencer article points out that "Slack is also perfect for conspiring and bitching” – necessary evils in the workplace, yes, but is it helpful to encourage such acts with software that makes it easier than ever to do so?

Depending on the content, finding out there’s a Slack channel you’re not in-the-know about can sting about as much as being excluded from an impromptu happy hour.

From a managerial standpoint, these private channels can pose a threat to the peace within company culture and quickly cause a divide among comrades.

Cliques aren’t formed in person anymore – they're cultivated in Slack.

Insinuation is scary.

Regardless of the method, we all read digital messaging with a preconceived connotation.

I, for one, cannot get through an email without feeling like the sender thinks I’m a complete idiot. Pepper in the passive-aggressive use of emojis and GIFs that Slack makes possible and you’re left with crippling self-doubt that says you are, in fact, idiotic.

It’s hard to get a read on how a person meant their words to be read, and harder still to decipher whether they meant that ‘/giphy What An Idiot’ reaction or not.

Slack is a major distraction.

That same Intelligencer article likened Slack to the social media of the workplace in that it “...makes the line between work and not-work blurrier than ever — the constant scroll of maybe-relevant chatter in your chosen Slack channels registers at times like the background noise of any other newsfeed."

Personally, the moment I see a (!*) notification pop up in the Slack tab of my browser, a wave of stress washes over me and within two seconds, I’m back in the throes of what’s going on in Slack. Our workplace has channels like 'Client Announcements' and 'Office,’ fairly standard channels that allow for fast, effective communication on everything from client news to the goings-on around the office.

Then there are the other channels – which can be created by anyone at any time – like 'Random' (where things like pop culture news and articles from The Onion go) and my favorite, 'Oh Lawd He Comin' (a channel dedicated to photos of fat animals).

Whether they mean to be or not, these are the culprits of daily distraction. You do have the ability to opt out of channels or mute their notifications, but then you’re left to deal with the mounting pressure of feeling excluded when it comes time to interact face-to-face with the rest of your colleagues.

When people use Slack as intended, it’s a wonderfully useful tool.

Even though we’re all adults, someone needs to lay down the law. Management should decide where it makes sense for your operation to draw the line. Relay those rules to employees, so they understand what’s going to fly, and what isn’t, when it comes to communicating in Slack.

At work, we’re ultimately using Slack in a professional setting, so be sure to act accordingly! Avoid things like mentioning explicit activities, or calling someone out publicly. If an issue arises, or you feel uncomfortable, handle it the same way you would a traditional workplace conflict—face to face or by going to human resources.

In the cases cited, issues are 100% user-generated and an excellent nod to the age-old anecdote of why we can’t have nice things. From an HR or managerial standpoint, it’s vital to be in tune with the way your employees are interacting. You don’t have to monitor every chat. However, you should be mindful of what’s going on in the public sectors of your Slack workspace.

Take notice of how your employees are engaging with each other. If you notice anything unsavory, address it directly—and in person—to nip it in the bud.

Overall, Slack does have a place in the office. Sure, the way my team sometimes uses it can be a little wacky. But it really does make my job as a content creator a lot simpler—especially when it comes to file sharing, brainstorming, and planning workplace events.

In fact, I can’t think of a better way to do those things anymore—I certainly don’t miss the horrendous email chains!

version of this post first appeared on Spin Sucks!