Slack! duh de duh duh duh: what is it good for?
January 20, 2022 6:13 PM   Subscribe

I'm 50ish business type person in tech and education. Had a conversation with a person similar demographics to me but in medicine. Conversation could be summed up as "I hate Slack, but everyone wants me to use it".

I (person A) have been invited to Slack but never used it. Person B had it as a work requirement and ended up being "not invited to keep the job" due to "not being responsive".

Person B says that's a fair complaint, but that every other person her age also hates Slack.

Slack (the software) may be fine, but the conversation was more about "how do you interact at work"? Topics that came up:

* they expect us all to be gig workers, which means we work for 10 companies.
* OK, I'm a gig worker working for 10 companies. Now each company has their own Document Management System (DMS Google Docs, O365, SharePoint, Slack, Teams, etc...)
* every DMS sucks
* Wasn't emailing DOC or PDF files a reasonable workflow in the before times?
* Slack (etc.) have an "always on" workflow - too much fucking information, no context, and no sense of "I need to work now, bugger off" - expectations of instant reply.
* this is probably all made worse by competing factors: COVID and Medicine's rush to telemedicine.

I suggested that she and I, though awesome people, are old, and the youngins found our weakness.

Maybe we just suck at Jobs 3.0?

Looking for anecdotes from people who (A) like Slack (etc.) as a business workflow (bonus points if you are teh olds) and also (B) don't like it for reasons.
posted by soylent00FF00 to Computers & Internet (39 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
I'm a good 20 years younger than you, in academic medicine, and I hate Slack. I guess if you were at a single workstation all the time, it might be fine, but on any given day, I'm at four different computers between clinic rooms and my academic office, not counting my desktop and laptop at home. I refuse to put work apps on my phone to be constantly pinging me for attention.

Frankly I view Slack as the bastard love-child of email and twitter. Take the worst parts of each and smash em together to create a piece of software that adds no value but that my division wants me to use anyway because it's the Shiny New Thing.

I guess there must be a use-case that people find helpful though. Curious to see what that might be.
posted by basalganglia at 6:43 PM on January 20, 2022 [2 favorites]

I fall squarely into the "I hate slack" camp. Stepping back I think my main issue is how it is used at my company. It has become a sprawling mess and on any given day I need to watch a dozen rooms to stay in the loop. When I have a question that can't be answered in one the rooms I regularly spend time in, it becomes a wild goose hunt trying to find an answer. Someone will suggest room A. Someone in room A will suggest room B. Only room B is private and I spend half a day getting an invite. Someone in room B suggests room C. I receive no response in room C. I'm only slightly exaggerating. More seriously I fnd it makes it difficult to focus deeply on my work.

My, admittedly syndical, hunch is that companies like it because it has great tools for monitoring employees.
posted by phil at 6:44 PM on January 20, 2022

I'm 67 so I reckon that counts as old. I'm in a 20-person department of whom five keep Slack on all day. It's hugely useful to me in real-time collaboration with a specific coworker with whom I often need to share code snippets, quotations, attachments, images, links, and just discussion. As I'm moderately hearing impaired Slack also means I understand 100% of communication, but that's a special (though hardly rare) use case. If I had incoming messages coming constantly from all 20 folks in the department I might have less patience with it.
posted by Creosote at 6:46 PM on January 20, 2022 [13 favorites]

As an Old (I'll be 58 mid-January), I just look at Slack as AIM with some extra features. I've been using various chat programs since the late-90s, and Slack is just another one in a long line of similar applications.

At my work I can just as easily e-mail you a Word doc as I can send it to you in Slack, and 90% of the time I use e-mail. Slack is for quick back and forth conversations between people or teams.

I remember when the only way to have that quick back and forth was to get up and walk across the building to see the person, and I'll take Slack (or Teams) over that any day.

It can get overwhelming, especially if people treat it like a synchronous conversation. But if your team/company understands that it is an asynchronous tool then it works really well. We have people on multiple continents across probably 12 time zones, so you learn that if you message Bill at 9am your time, you might not hear back until the next morning because they've replied overnight.
posted by ralan at 6:48 PM on January 20, 2022 [12 favorites]

I'm 40 and I love Slack, which I guess has a lot to do with the company I work for. They don't expect me to be a gig worker and they explicitly tell people to NOT expect instant replies to Slack messages. We often treat it like leaving a voicemail for a colleague in another timezone. They're also strict on limiting the number of tools we use (that is, just one chat tool, just one DMS, just one HR system, etc.) and they don't use Slack as a substitute for a file management system like Google Drive. Also, for me emailed documents = a million disparate versions, people changing versions simultaneously, merge hell when you're trying to finalize something. But I see a tool like Google Docs as the solution to this, not Slack.

A couple of other things I love about Slack are how easily I can ask a question to a group of people (when I don't know exactly which person or team is the right one to start with) and how easily I can search the chat history.
posted by neushoorn at 6:50 PM on January 20, 2022 [4 favorites]

I fully admit to being rather disorganized when it comes to email, but every other day when I have to go digging through 100 different email threads started by my boss to find some specific piece of information or instruction buried deep within one of them, I sit there seething, and wishing she'd just get on the Slack that I had set up for our team months ago....
posted by wats at 6:54 PM on January 20, 2022

I'm also about 20 years younger than you, but the majority of my coworkers are around your age. I like it for our office, and I haven't heard others complain. We work in client consulting, so our channels are specific topics and kept separate fairly well. E.g., #schedule, for Google Calendar alerts and personnel schedule changes (leaving early, train is late, etc.); generic catch-all work-related stuff; accounting-related updates (when clients pay, etc.); #Consulting Team A, #Consulting Team B; and so on.

Our office is small enough that we can go to each others' desks to discuss things, and often talk across the room for short topics; but we also don't really have a culture of emailing each other personally about every little thing. If I get an email directed to me from a coworker, it's important, or too complex to talk about in Slack DMs.

Everyone has it installed on their phones, but there is very little after-hours communication. It's useful to stay in touch when people are out of the office on consultation calls, though.

Anecdote unrelated to the job itself: ~4 years ago I was stranded after work thanks to a freak snowstorm shutting down trains, with taxis no longer arriving to pick people up waiting for one. I could barely get in contact with my supervisor about what to do and nearly walked home 2-3 hours in the snow. In the end, I spent the night on a couch-bed at a 24/7 spa (work paid for it), along with a couple hundred other people. That incident moved up the timeline of our office adopting Slack, because one of the first channels created was #EMERGENCY.
posted by lesser weasel at 6:58 PM on January 20, 2022 [2 favorites]

50, corp slack user, love it. they've made some updates I'm not crazy about, but the mix of sync & async comms works well for me
posted by askmehow at 7:00 PM on January 20, 2022 [6 favorites]

I'm 50, and use Slack to run my lab. Works well for purpose-dedicated channels, general announcements and conversations that people can join (or not) as they see fit. It also helps compartmentalize, for me, that my lab is all there, not mixed in my email with everything else on my plate.
posted by Dashy at 7:01 PM on January 20, 2022 [2 favorites]

As an Old (I'll be 58 mid-January), I just look at Slack as AIM with some extra features.

Same. I'm 53. I see it as a way to quickly DM someone, read back on a discussion that interests me (when I wasn't around), or see pinned topics or find files. I like how you can have a ton of channels and I can ignore all the ones that I'm not involved in. I like that you can have off-topic channels that don't poison other threads where people are trying to do work. In fact, I have too many Slacks in some cases (a lot of hobby Slacks) and I like that I can basically keep them all OFF by turning off notifications and not opening the app if I'm not working. When I was working here-at-MeFi I liked that we had our staff meetings there so would have a record of what was said in case you didn't come to the meeting.
posted by jessamyn at 7:05 PM on January 20, 2022 [4 favorites]

In my thirtysomething IT professional opinion, Slack and Teams aren't Document Management Systems. Email is extremely not DMS, given how easy it is to forward/reshare emails and how easy it is to wind up with a zillion slightly different versions of documents in different people's email attachments.

Google Drive and M365 are DMS.

Microsoft Teams, Slack, Zulip, Jabber, Skype, Discord, and AIM are messaging tools, which are excellent for when you want to send a short, time-sensitive message like "free donuts and coffee in the East Wing break room" to a big group without the intrusiveness/urgency of phoning or texting them, or the clunkiness of emailing. The more sophisticated ones (Slack/Teams/Discord/Zulip) also really good for asking questions and chatting about hows and whys, in part because the power of keyword search can allow many present and future employees to learn the answer to a question as a result of one senior employee explaining the thing one time.

Admittedly, a good chunk of messages in many organizations are related to emails, in-person meetings, documents, or other stuff, like your in-person work conversations would be, but people who aren't physically in the room for whatever reason don't get left out.

Different organizations - and different people within those organizations - will use messaging tools a little differently.

I highly recommend configuring your notifications per-channel/per-class/etc., because how often people want to be nudged by their messaging tools and where is highly individual.
posted by All Might Be Well at 7:12 PM on January 20, 2022 [7 favorites]

Mid-40s and although I dont love-love slack, I like it a thousand times better than email, and about a million times better than chatting in person or (gasp!) the phone. I've been at my current 10,000 employee, publicly traded company well over a decade, and I've seen the progression from all email all the time to email basically being an after-thought. You literally could not pay me to go back, I wouldn't take the job.

* Its not as intrusive as visiting / calling a person
* It has a written record of what was said that can be referred to later
* it has threads and topics than can be used decently well. Compared to huge email chains - never, ever again.
* you can edit your comments if you say something stupid!
* its search is better than most non-google email systems
* everyone is so much accessible. I can slack random person i've never met and it's not weird in the slightest. That might just be my social anxiety speaking.
* i can be as available or not as I want, but that might be my company's culture shift due to covid. Set my status to away, snooze notifications, and there's no expectation to answer for a reasonable time. But because it's on my phone, I can be accessible, and do all the comms for my job from my phone anywhere i want (without actually using the phone part, of course!).
* somebody slacks me something useful, i star it and can easily find it later. Its still in its original context, but is also found via its starred-status. And each starred message has a unique link I can reference in my own notes if need be. I have never, ever been able to organize email like i should with folders, tags or what say you. I have lost literally years of valuable info sent via email. Email is where information goes to die.
* "Wasn't emailing DOC or PDF files a reasonable workflow in the before times?" OMG, it was horrible. Which version do you have? Are we tracking edits? Give me a link to a google doc, for the love of god. Pin the link to the top of the channel, it's there for everyone, without having to dig through days of emails.
posted by cgg at 7:18 PM on January 20, 2022 [20 favorites]

I love Slack but I don't use it for work. Friends and I use it for fun. At work we use Teams and I hate that.

51 year old, working in non-profit.
posted by cooker girl at 7:20 PM on January 20, 2022 [2 favorites]

I'm a 50s executive assistant, my boss is about the same age and is the COO; we're at a tech/manufacturing firm. My company uses email and Slack.

There are people of all ages and demographics and types of roles here; the corporate/executive level, techie/research/design, computer coding, and assembly-room/factory level. Slack use varies wildly across the company - I'm sure that there are very active Slack channels in the teams where everyone is on the younger end of things, and there are a couple people who insist on using Slack for everything, but then there are also people who insist on not using Slack, to the point that they've made flat-out company-wide email announcements to that effect.

Most of the company-wide information and messaging gets spread via email now as a result, and so for me, I've only used Slack a) to communicate with the people I know like it, b) as a third means of contact when I'm trying to reach someone and they're not at their phone, or c) on the casual company-wide "water-cooler" kind of channel that was for things like "I have a couple basketball tickets I can't use, if you're interested let me know".

However, we are on a comparatively small side as a rule - I'd say only 50-100 people in the building or thereabouts - so whatever instantaneous contact Slack is supposed to provide is circumvented even further by being able to physically get up and walk down the hall to someone's office all "yo, Gabe, do you have that whatsit my boss needs for his 12:30?" My boss also likes occasionally coming in with New Fun Toys that will purportedly make it "easier" for us to speak between our offices, but we both end up falling back on the phone anyway because we're both used to phones and both slightly Luddite in our ways (the dude has an entire antique writing case and a fountain pen he uses regularly); he just gets seduced by the fancy new whizbang toys sometimes before realizing they don't really work any better than the old tech for our specific purposes.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:31 PM on January 20, 2022 [1 favorite]

I have too many different conversations with too many people to make email make any sense. It would be impossible to keep track of which conversation was which. Instant messaging has been around since I was a kid. And I've had instant messaging at work a long time. Slack just makes instant messaging easier,
posted by bleep at 7:33 PM on January 20, 2022

Here's how one instructor recommends using Slack or a similar tool in remote classrooms, in case that perspective is helpful to the original asker or to anyone else here.

Like you, soylent00FF00, I also think poorly of misguided and often accidental "always on" expectations that creep into a team or organization that starts using a Slack-like tool. But these expectations are mitigatable by good leadership. Managers can set norms about expected responsiveness times.

I strongly prefer Zulip (disclaimer: I did some work for them) to Slack, partly because the software is open source and I trust the company isn't going to get sold and start doing awful things to my experience and with my data, but also because it's much easier in Zulip to modify what I get notified about and what I don't, and to leave a conversation for a few days in the secure knowledge that I can catch up later just as I would with email.
posted by brainwane at 7:39 PM on January 20, 2022

I'm about your age, and so is Lord Oscar. I love Slack, while he hates it.

What I like about it:

My email is an indiscriminate pile of spam and debris these days, so I don't constantly check it. Using threading hides things I want to see and not using threading makes it impossible to follow conversations. With Slack, if someone wants me, they can ping me and I'll see it, even on my wretched phone.

I can set up notifications so that I am notified for stuff I want and not notified for stuff I don't want, even down to the level of being pinged for words or ignoring whole channels. Channels can pin useful documents. I can search the history of everything to find stuff.

I haaaaaate phone conversations/zoom/whatever. I find text chat is the most natural way for me to converse, because I type fast and the asynchronous-ness (slight or longer, depending) works well with wherever I am on the spectrum.

People these days seem to want to text rather than use email. I hate texting even more than voice, because while I type fast on a computer, on a phone I'm basically stabbing the thing angrily with one finger and swearing. Slack is much better, because I can do that on a real computer.

Things Lord Oscar has complained about:

He does check his email constantly, so he'd rather use email (and I guess enough of his co-workers comply that he's not left swearing at his phone, which he likes even less than I do).

He doesn't type as naturally as I do, so synchronous conversations don't work for him.

It's another platform to learn, and to try to pay attention to.
posted by LadyOscar at 7:42 PM on January 20, 2022 [1 favorite]

"This meeting could have been an email" -> "This email could have been a Slack message."

I'm an Old who remembers IRC (and Slack is a kind of mass-market souped-up IRC) so I'm comfortable with the idea of having an ambient space that allows different levels of attention, though with IRC you needed ways to stay logged in to scroll back.

I think Slack works especially well as a collective outboard brain, a searchable repository of emergent knowledge in its original context, the kind of stuff that wouldn't necessarily go in formal documentation but isn't part of your day-to-day work memory. (For me, it's a way to remind myself of how I addressed a broad family of issues that tend to show up months apart without obvious warning.)
posted by holgate at 7:55 PM on January 20, 2022 [1 favorite]

Slack can be very useful if properly controlled with bots and careful curation, and it serves as a decent chat client for random stuff. It also allows easy cross references as you can paste all sorts of things into it, from screenshots to video links, from document shares to MP3s, even other slack threads. It feels faster and more interactive than email, and bots can patrol it easier than email parsing for automatic processing. So with proper configuration, it can act as an organizer of workflow. But I personally was ambivalent about it. I don't like how intrusive it is, as I'd rather only check for work stuff when I'm at work, rather than be notified on everything. But I understand how people would want to use it for everything because it's there.
posted by kschang at 7:58 PM on January 20, 2022 [1 favorite]

I'm 49 and my project used Slack primarily like a chat client. I set Do Not Disturb hours and used it to keep in contact with my team in India. We only expected immediate response for a couple hours each day. Occasionally we shared documents, but mostly it was useful for adding screenshots to the conversation. I prefer it to MS Teams for chatting but Teams has better presentation tools.

I've seen it used in place of standups by Agile teams.
posted by irisclara at 8:14 PM on January 20, 2022 [1 favorite]

I’m 40, and surprised myself by liking slack. Major caveats: we use it as a place to dump information for various field based projects and the expected response time is hours to days. It’s nice to be able to put a couple photos in the project channel with a question from my phone, and people can look at it when they have a minute. Also good for documenting “how are we going to do this and why” conversations when you are asynchronous and not at a desk. I appreciate how granular the notifications settings are, everyone can pick what works for them.

I was worried it would be an always-on rapid-response hellscape, but it doesn’t have to be that way.
posted by momus_window at 8:15 PM on January 20, 2022

Slack is great if handled well and awful if not. Synced to my calendar, with regular periods where I pause notifications and making sure not to check it unless I’m actually working, I find it quite handy. People ask me a lot of questions that are better communicated this way than through email or a call.

I *hate* Slack when used injudiciously though. I don’t want to receive important information via Slack, or any question that requires research, or anything that puts me on the spot. I hate when people don’t understand that the “in a meeting” icon *means I’m in a fucking meeting.* It doesn’t seem like it would be that hard to judge what kind of communication should or shouldn’t happen via Slack, but there are always a few people who just don’t get it. To some extent I blame institutional communication policies for this.

I’m in my early forties for reference.
posted by aspersioncast at 8:25 PM on January 20, 2022 [1 favorite]

I'm 46, and I started using Slack with my coworkers a few years ago because at the time I was going to be the first "remote" worker for my firm although we didn't really classify me as such at the time. My closest team contacts were in a different office with my firm than I was, so during my onboarding process when I was working in the same office as them for a few months, we started experimenting with communication methods other than email and what we had as a company chat client at the time, which was tied to our phone system and didn't save messages once the window was closed. Those methods were basically Slack and Zoom, but eventually my company adopted Teams and Slack has fallen by the wayside. Just about the only things we use email for now are meeting invitations and document transfers, and I greatly prefer Slack/Teams to email for most things. Why? I work in architecture, and have a number of projects going simultaneously. Teams/Slack allows there to be a different conversation category for each project rather than an inbox of undifferentiated emails. I'm mostly sitting at my computer all day anyway, so paying attention to Slack/Teams isn't really an interruption for me. Our old chat client didn't allow posting of images, which Slack/Teams does and is really useful in my field where I can snip a portion of a drawing and ask "what's going on with the thing here?" One note is that I've disabled as many of the notifications on Teams as I can, so I only get a notification if I'm specifically mentioned, and even then it's just a red number appearing on the teams icon in my taskbar. Otherwise, I'm checking my channels often enough that I don't really need notifications, and I have a decent enough idea of what's going on in projects and our overall workflow that I can sort of predict when I might have something I need to respond to anyway.
posted by LionIndex at 8:52 PM on January 20, 2022

48 and I like slack. However we don’t use it for any formal work communications - just for project based discussion or random work banter. Honestly without it I would feel even more isolated from my workmates in the current WFH situation.
posted by piyushnz at 9:57 PM on January 20, 2022

I'm late 30s in tech, and I much prefer Slack to email. As a remote worker, it's also the only way I can get some approximation of office banter and humor.

This might be a generational thing because the older my coworkers, the more they seem to prefer email. It might be because I grew up with instant messaging in my formative teen years.

For me, email is stressful because it doesn't distinguish between urgent and can-wait. I get an unread notification for every email, which forces me to read it just in case, whereas I know that nothing's urgent in Slack unless I'm explicitly mentioned or DMed. It might be the workplaces I've been in, but I've never felt pressured to reply immediately. In fact, I like that people tend to only send messages during working hours because of the synchronicity expectation, whereas emails can come any time (and I have PTSD from former coworkers who would have active email discussions at 11 pm and then argue that I didn't have to read them until morning). Finally, email always gets spam, no matter what, and that's not really a thing in Slack, or at least, it can be controlled.

I do dislike it when people use Slack as an archival source of information, or for long complex messages.
posted by redlines at 2:03 AM on January 21, 2022 [1 favorite]

I'm 40's and have been online for over 25 years, dislike Slack and Teams because there's a chunk of unhealed trauma from (my country's version of/our ongoing international) Eternal September. They aren't irc/XMPP/Jabber in that I can't use my own tools to connect and manage the interactions, so they suck. Teams also makes me gag, it's MS Sharepoint trying to be sociable.

The context matters, so these remote tools replace some of being face-to-face, in hallway or planned meetings, or leaving sticky notes (eg Post-It's) on monitors, emailing for slow async conversations or recording decisions, and internal office instant messaging. (I've worked in places with office instant chat for over a decade.)
* Good meetings matter: arrive with an intent and close the thing down when you've met that intent or won't get the outcome you want.
* Phone calls are good when they use their strengths to transmit tone of voice as well as words. Voice calls in chat have poor lag and almost need signals for 'I'm done talking' and 'I request the floor'.
* Instant Messaging is always going to fall into asynchronous back-and-forth. If you need faster back-and-forth, go to a voice call.
* Async IM means you can leave a metaphorical post-it on someone's desk for them to respond to later.
* Expect autonomy and to be treated like an adult; ask-forgiveness-not-permission for being unavailable outside office hours, because it's your boundary to enforce not giving time to the workplace when you're not being paid for it.
* Make 'chance meeting' messages a thing you do, on a regular cycle: ask people who you don't directly work with, but would see round the office, how they're going so you can take a metphorical coffee or cigarette break with them.
posted by k3ninho at 2:48 AM on January 21, 2022 [1 favorite]

Mid 40s office worker, and asynchronous text is my favorite communication method, so Slack and the like work for me just fine for most day to day things that don’t need the long form of an email.

There is no expectation of immediate response in my office. That’s a workplace problem, not a tool problem.

We don’t typically use Slack to exchange documents but we do use other DMS for that and I so prefer it to emailing documents around. Assuming people actually use it, don’t fuck up the versioning, etc., which is a challenge with some coworkers who don’t really understand how versioning works.
posted by Stacey at 4:14 AM on January 21, 2022

Early 60s. My office started using Slack just when I was getting into reading Cal Newport on people losing the ability to focus, so I was not impressed with the idea of a new toy that was going to fracture everyone's attention even further. A few years in and working entirely remotely, I still think it makes it harder to focus, but it can also be useful when someone has a quick question. There's also a lot of socializing going on - though maybe it's not that different from what would happen if we were in the office. I think in person, there's a lot more chance for clues that you're busy right now - in Slack (unless I'm missing something), you can just set yourself as away - not "available for work stuff but not the latest on your nephew's theater group."

I think a lot of people just want the new thing without really assessing whether the benefits outweigh the downsides - Newport talks about this a lot. If you're interested in this issue in general, I'd recommend his book Deep Work. The problem with the workplace is that you don't always have a choice when someone higher up is entranced with the latest thing.
posted by FencingGal at 4:30 AM on January 21, 2022 [1 favorite]

To respond to your two main complaints with why I, a 42 year old project manager in the tech space, disagree, and to challenge your perception a bit:

- DMS Sucks, emailing documents was fine: No it was not fine. I remember very clearly combing back through my email, where is the document, is this the last version of that document, how can I tell, does it say FINAL FINAL FINAL? Do I have this version of Word/Numbers/whatever? My god no. Now it sits on a GDocs Folder and I can open it and I can see, "Last edited on MM/DD/YYYY by xyz person" praise the lord. If I never have to dig through my email again for an outdated copy of a spreadsheet, I will have reached Valhalla.

- Slack (etc.) have an "always on" workflow - No, as others have pointed out, your workplace appears to have an always-on expectation. Different things. If you are busy and need time, change your status to a STOP emoji and write "heads down time" or something. This will show up to your coworkers. People may still send you messages but you can respond to them later.
posted by Medieval Maven at 4:57 AM on January 21, 2022 [6 favorites]

Mid-40s, tech role, formerly in-office but full-time WFH since March 2020. I like Slack. I've liked instant messaging tools for as long as I've had access to them, and Slack is a good one.

I like IM for lots of reasons, but here's probably the most important one: If I discuss something with someone in person or on a call, and I'm not writing stuff down, I will forget the details, possibly within minutes. But if I *am* writing stuff down, I'm not really participating in the discussion. So if instead we have the discussion via a typed medium, it's perfect: I'm participating fully and I've got a record to refer back to. And I spend pretty much the whole day at my keyboard, so it feels natural to communicate that way.

Here are some of the reasons I think Slack is a good IM tool:
  • It has good search tools: it's easy to find those old discussions to refer back to them. I don't have to remember which channel or conversation they were in, the way I had to with Skype.
  • It supports non-startling notification (with a bit of configuration). I've managed to get it set up so that nothing ever pops up or makes a noise; it just highlights the icon in my taskbar. As someone with a world-class startle reflex, this matters.
  • I can control how much of my attention it requests: I can turn off notifications altogether, or mute channels I don't particularly care about, or turn off notifications for a specific channel or conversation. Company culture is relevant here: there is no expectation that people will see messages immediately or respond to them as soon as they see them.
  • It's easy to see what I've missed overnight (we have staff in multiple time zones) or after a few days off.
  • I can set my status to Do Not Disturb if I don't want people to bother me - or Offline if I don't want them to even know I'm at my desk. (Again, company culture helps here.)
  • It's trivially easy for me to share screenshots with people, something I do a lot ("what do you think of this approach" or "I found a weird bug").
  • The formatting tools also make it easy for me to share code snippets laid out like code.
  • And if I do want to jump onto a quick call with someone, that's easy too.
Also, the support team have been very good when I've had bugs to report. That's a huge plus.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 5:00 AM on January 21, 2022 [5 favorites]

I’m 50 and can love Slack. Like email in an organisation it can be used terribly or brilliantly or somewhere in between.

I freelance and every company I work for uses Slack and sets me up with an account with access to that projects’ channel(s). It’s invaluable for little questions, brief catch-ups and status messages, etc. Also I can DM people individually when I have a quick question. Email gets used a bit - some longer things are better in email - but most stuff in this situation works better in Slack.

I think the trouble is that a lot of companies don’t give much thought to how Slack should be used. So you end up with vast numbers of channels to keep track of, no thought about how and where (or whether) documents should be shared on it versus any other way, and it becomes a chore to keep up with rather than a useful tool.

I only have work Slacks on the computer I use to do work. I have Slack on other devices but only for the several social Slacks I’m on with friends (for which it’s also brilliant).
posted by fabius at 5:06 AM on January 21, 2022 [1 favorite]

50 years old. Slack is the default form of communication within my company; our way of work literally could not exist without it or something very similar, so "like it" or "hate it" is kind of irrelevant.

We have a bunch of different office locations, and about half of the company is fully remote. Google Meet is how meetings happen, Slack is the replacement for just about everything else -- hallway conversation, asynchronous "FYI" notices, broadcast of company or department announcements, questions, cries for immediate assistance, you name it. Email is basically not a thing anymore; it's used for contracts and other super-private communications, and a handful of third party vendors (though most of them have their own dedicated slack channels within our workspace at this point.). We don't use it for document management, because it's not designed for that, but as a quick way to move a file from one person to another it's fine.

I'm old enough to have lived through this same type of transition already; back then it was the transition to email. I don't love the fact that the default form of intra-office communication is a proprietary platform, but I have to acknowledge that email isn't a sufficient replacement: we rely on the history in slack channels, when new people get brought in they can read through the past discussion to get context. Trying to do this through email `cc`'s just wouldn't work.

We had one new employee about my age who was very habituated to email and resistant to slack. It took her about two weeks to figure out why everyone was annoyed at her not answering messages, and sending her own into a void that nobody was checking.
posted by ook at 6:18 AM on January 21, 2022

Being asked to use instant messaging while also seeing patients is a tough ask,especially if there is an expectation of an immediate reply. Providers tend to be highly mobile and need to give undivided attention during patient interactions.

As a full-time remote professional knowledge worker in healthcare, I need an instant messaging app to be functional. I use it to ask the quick questions we used to be able to do in person, to connect in more casual ways with coworkers, and have a clear repository of information for projects.

As others have noted, being able to go back and look at the actual conversation around a decision or idea is very helpful and decompresses my need to take detailed notes. It also cordons off discussion about a topic in a clear place, so none of the weird topic switching people sometimes do over email.

The idea that we’re all supposed to be gig workers is not my experience as a professional, and isn’t true for medical providers (with the obvious exceptions of contact staff and locums).
posted by jeoc at 8:01 AM on January 21, 2022

I hate Slack, but not on principle--it's in the way that you use it. My office started using it during the pandemic when we were working from home, and it was pretty helpful. It allowed us to keep things organized in topic threads, etc. But my boss, who has insisted that we keep using it now that we're back, just doesn't do it in a way that's helpful. If she has something she needs to share on a given topic, she may (1) put it in the topic thread, which is useful, (2) send it as a DM, which is less useful, or (3) use the "reply" function in a DM, which makes it less visible, and thus the least useful. It's a tool for organization, but if one person isn't doing it right, it's much worse than simply using email.
posted by goatdog at 9:26 AM on January 21, 2022 [1 favorite]

I'm 47 and working for a corporation that signed up for an enterprise account with Slack before it signed up for an enterprise account with Google, in terms of priorities.

Slack isn't perfect, to me, but I'd say that's partly due to restrictions my company has in place that prevent us from doing everything Slack can do (only images can be uploaded, third-party Slack apps have to go through a whole approval process and there has to be a contract between that vendor and us, etc.) Despite that, it has almost entirely replaced email as a form of communication for us. Now, I'd say 90 percent of the emails I get are notifications from other internal systems about stuff that happened that might need my attention. A lot of those notifications have moved to Slack, though, because of the ability to integrate Slack and other tools.

I haven't really articulated this before, so bear with me, but I think one hurdle for Slack use in a corporate environment is that Slack is designed for self-management. A lot of the questions that come up in our company's global "Slack help" channel tend to be along the lines of "How do I add my manager/director etc. to X channel or Y workspace?" (Other than making the channel available in more than one workspace, the answer basically is YOU don't do it for them. THEY do it.) I've had easy access to email and the internet since since it was in my college dorm room in 1993. Poking around web sites and apps is kind of second nature to me, but for a lot of my coworkers (and I'm not certain of anyone's ages so I can't definitively say it's an age thing) they're not comfortable with poking around and figuring Slack out.

I and two other members of my band who use Slack at work lobbied hard to move our band's communication over to Slack last year, in order to cut down on multiple text message threads and remembering who was on Android or iOS. So Slack has worked well in that sense, too.
posted by emelenjr at 10:18 AM on January 21, 2022

I'm a software engineering manager, I'll be 61 next month, and I love Slack, especially when it is used well (reasonable channels, people use threads versus a stream of consciousness, and it is the primary communications mechanism).

When used well, it has the following benefits:
- I can follow channels I am interested in and see what is new.
- I can easily search to find a conversation I dimly remember from months ago.
- If I need to get in touch with someone quickly (we are all remote), I can @ them.
- Most of the time, I can see if people are around (status indicator).
- I can look at it on my phone when I'm not in front of my computer.
- I can put docs in a thread and find them later.
- It helps with coordination during production incidents.

Yes, much of this can be done with email also, but I find Slack easier to search/use than gmail.

I regularly check 3 Slack workspaces:
- My current company.
- My previous company's "ex-employees" space.
- Rand's leadership slack
posted by elmay at 11:07 AM on January 21, 2022

I am sending you this Slack message to ask if you got the email I sent?
What are you working on?
Did you get that thing?
Are you there?
Did you get this thing that somebody else sent?
It's time sensitive!
Are you on it?
I need to know if you are on it!
I'm coming over, because you're not answering
Oh wait, I see you're at lunch
Ha ha
[Party parrot emoji]
You're at your desk though, right?
Laura wnts2 no if we 1 on this, but she snt it 2 wrong wkspc, i no ur not in Omaha nvm why I left my job.
posted by sageleaf at 11:27 AM on January 21, 2022

I wrote a piece about how to understand slack from an email veteran's perspective. Like how to convert all the ways you used email into Slack, and how to think about Slack as a replacement for email, and what behaviors on your own end can change as a result. Hopefully it helps!
posted by mathowie at 12:32 PM on January 21, 2022 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Excellent responses, I learned a lot, and next time I get invited to join a Slack channel, I will know to think more about the group's culture/expectations/ethos, and worry less about the technology.
posted by soylent00FF00 at 7:41 AM on January 22, 2022 [1 favorite]

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