The Slack platform is part of an always-on culture. Basecamp co-founder Jason Fried said group chat was like being in an all-day meeting with random participants and no agenda. However, Nir Eyal, author of the new book Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life, told me something funny: Slack employees themselves aren't distracted by their own creation.
"I don't think the problem is the tech, but that we don't have the skill set and don't have the cultural environment to put tech in its place," Eyal says. "Put tech in a corrosive work culture and tech will perpetuate the dysfunctional work environment."
He visited Slack while writing his book and noticed three reasons why their employees aren't distracted by their own product.
They feel safe
"They feel psychological safety in their environment to be themselves."
The follow-up to the bestseller Hooked, Indistractable says there is one primary reason why we get distracted: to avoid discomfort. The more uncomfortable the environment, the more likely you are to grab your favorite vice. The dopamine hits of social-media notifications or new email buzzes often fit the bill.
They can talk
"They have a forum to talk about their challenges and problems."
Whether in independent or group work environments, it is crucial to have lines of communication open to share and give feedback.
I talk about it in a previous column:
Our lives can be a blur of late nights/early mornings, airport hopping, and crunch times. Cultivating a reliable set of colleagues and mentors should be built into your schedule, just as you would make time for strategic planning or for budget allocation.
Knowing you have support to discuss your issues makes you less likely to abuse the latest tool, tech, or vice to quell discomfort.
They are unified
"When I visited, just as I came in, there was a sign on the wall saying 'Work Hard and Go Home.'"
This one is key: You can have all the strategies in the world, but it doesn't matter if your work culture doesn't support your decision. Policies have to come from top-down. Jason Fried's own Basecamp community platform doesn't allow after-hour or weekend messages to force people to stop using it (his excellent book Rework gets into more details).
Similarly, Slack's own leadership sets the workplace pace with their own behavior. As Jeff Bercovici wrote when Slack was Inc.'s 2015 company of the year:
Having been part of two failed startups, [co-founder Stuart] Butterfield has no illusions about how often opportunities this big come around. But by this time of evening, Slack's offices have pretty much cleared out. That's how Butterfield wants it. Back in the Flickr days, he worked 60-plus hours a week and expected everyone else to keep up. Since then, he's become a different kind of boss. He and his co-founders are all parents, and they've been careful to make Slack a place where grownups with lives feel welcome.
So Eyal says distraction problems are a product of the culture, not the tools.
"If your boss calls you at 7 p.m. on a Friday, is the telephone the problem or is your boss being a jerk? The problem isn't the tech, but the boss."