Collaboration software like Slack lets companies enjoy reap many of the benefits of meetings without the hassle and waste of corralling employees in a conference room. At his own company, Slack founder Stewart Butterfield has taken this principle to an extreme. 

“People can go to work every day for a year and not really get anything done because they’re just doing the things that they felt they were supposed to be doing,” Butterfield tells The New York Times. “We just went through this process of canceling almost every recurring meeting that we had to see which ones we really needed. We probably do need some of the ones we canceled, and they’ll come back--but we’ll wait until we actually need them again.” 

Being deliberate about meetings rather than treating them as a matter of routine fits into a larger ethic Butterfield is trying to cultivate at Slack. “When we talk about the qualities we want in people, empathy is a big one. If you can empathize with people, then you can do a good job,” he says. 

“One way that empathy manifests itself is courtesy. Respecting people’s time is important. Everyone should try to make the lives of everyone else who works here a little bit simpler. So if you’re going to call a meeting, you’re responsible for it, and you have to be clear what you want out of it.” 

By the same token, Butterfield says, employees who find themselves in meetings they don’t need to be in should feel free to excuse themselves--but don’t be a jerk about it." 

When I interviewed Butterfield this past spring, he portrayed Slack as an antidote to the dysfunction of an office culture in which meetings are a necessary evil. "There are bad habits in certain workplaces that develop around control of information--people hoarding information, or only disclosing things to certain people as a means of preserving their own power," he said. “We have all these status reports and stand-up meetings and ways to try to coax information from one part of the organization to another. Whereas when you’re using Slack, everyone can just see what’s going on because the default mode of communication is public.” 

Published on: Jul 13, 2015