Cutting Slack some slack


Every new workplace technology has an adoption curve.

The move from mail to fax, then fax to email. A shift from typewriters to desktop computers to laptops and tablets – all of them brought much excitement, but plenty of challenge for new users.

But eventually, we all get on board – mostly because we realize that for any initial frustration, the benefits of mass-adopted technologies in the workplace ultimately outweigh the challenges.

Enter Slack. As the company prepares to go public, the voices are loud on both sides of the debate on the latest workplace trend. It’s become nearly impossible to find a new article about the company that isn’t an immediate deliberation about its role in today’s workplace.

For some, they see the IM-ing of corporate conversations as a detractor from productivity and efficiency. For many of my generation and younger – those of us that grew up identifying ourselves more closely with our ICQ and AIM numbers than our SINs – it’s been a welcome addition that seems second nature. For the power user, it’s become a tool that would be nearly impossible to go without.

But “nearly impossible” and “essential” are two very different things. So, for those considering adopting Slack (or its competitors like Microsoft Teams) in their workplaces, or those who are struggling to see much (or any) value in doing so, a few considerations:

Removing remote-work barriers

I had used Slack in the past, but it wasn’t until become a predominantly remote worker that I became a true believer.

The ability to communicate ideas and next steps in real time while on a conference call, or hold impromptu brainstorms with colleagues in six locations, can help to move projects forward more quickly by removing the barriers inherent in being physically removed from your team.

Even just trying to get a laugh out of a colleague 100 kilometres away with a well-timed GIF helps to alleviate the odd moments of productivity-zapping isolation that can come with being physically removed from your colleagues for extended periods of time.

It’s an enhancer, not a game-changer. Allow your team to opt in or opt out.

For some people, a face-to-face meeting is always going to be more effective than a video conference. A phone call will be better than a text. And an email will always be better than an IM.

Workplace technologies are supposed to enhance the working experience for each individual user. But every worker has different preferences, and different ways of working most effectively.

By allowing staff to opt in or opt out in a manner that fits into their role and their work flow, they can determine first-hand when (if at all) they can derive value from the tool.

Deadlines are time-sensitive. Adoption is not.

When it’s absolutely critical that something has immediate attention, and there’s any question about how timely it could be addressed on Slack, default to email, phone or carrier pigeon – basically whatever has already been shown to get the job done when time is of the essence.

Just because a new technology can help to make it easier and faster to get things done, it should not be considered the default until all members of that project are completely on board.

Simply put, Slack will not be the solution for everyone. But neither was PC, BlackBerry or PowerPoint.

Nonetheless, allowing teams to try new tools to boost productivity and effectiveness, and learning first-hand how it works for team members and their projects, can have a very positive effect on collaboration in your organization.