Earlier this week, the ubiquitous workplace messaging app Slack suffered a worldwide outage. People freaked out and vented on Twitter. Lots of folks have deeply embedded Slack into their everyday work life. Inc likes Slack so much that they named it the 2017 Company of the Year and published a  cheat sheet on how to up your Slack game

I think Slack works fine as a messaging tool, in the right circumstances. But I have also seen Slack utterly destroy the productivity of teams and office environments, overriding the benefits that it may have been providing in terms of connectivity and helping people communicate. And everyone has that one person on their team--the Slack user who seems to reply to a group Slack in five seconds, who posts multiple GIFs in any conversation, and who even replies to emails in Slack.

Three Questions That Diagnose Your Slack Problem

In my years of using Slack and managing teams that use Slack, I came up with three basic questions that I found helped people determine whether they had a healthy or unhealthy relationship with Slack.

1. Do you post GIFs regularly? Posting a GIF on Slack actually requires a fairly concerted effort. You need to find the GIF, preview the GIF and then post the GIF. Finding just the right GIF takes time and attention that pulls you away from any deep thinking task. Additionally, GIFs demand attention from others in a Slack channel--including those who really only want to get their job done. 

If you post GIFs too often in your team's Slack, you probably have a Slack problem. 

2. How many private Slack convos do you create? There are very few circumstances where a private Slack is a good thing. Like GIFs, private Slack conversations demand your colleagues attentions. They shout "This is IMPORTANT."

The basic rule for successful important conversations is to pick up the phone and talk. Focusing on a specific conversation in a phone call will probably yield much greater clarity and will resolve more quickly than an endless Slack with both parties dropping in and out of the thread. Additionally, if a conversation is truly sensitive, you probably don't want to. put it into chat--for a variety of reasons. People behave very differently in email and chat than they do with voices or in real life, and usually, in tense situations they behave far worse.

If you find yourself with a mass of private Slack convos stacked up, consider it a sign that you have a Slack problem. 

3. How many Slack conversations are you running simultaneously? I once witnessed a horrible situation where a manager made an honest comment about someone that should have been shared in private. The manager spent several months repairing the damage to the relationship. This screw-up happened, in my view, because that manager often maintained 10 or more simultaneous Slack conversations.

As human beings, we are not made to talk to 10 different people or groups at the same time. Our brains get confused. And each time we switch from one conversation to another, our brains needs to reabsorb the context of that particular conversations. This also makes us not only confused and unproductive but also unhappy. The Trello Blog ran a great piece on how "Context Switching" ruins productivity

If you are running more than two or three active conversations at the same time, you may have a Slack problem. 

Many people use Slack quite effectively but far too often Slack becomes something that reduces productivity and happiness. So ask yourself (and your employees or colleagues) these three questions to help ensure that Slack is a useful tool rather than a waste of time. 

Published on: Nov 3, 2017