Is Slack really worth it?

Apr 5, 2016 · 7 min read

Slack is a cloud-based communication tool aiming to simplify collaboration within teams and organizations. The service, founded by Stewart Butterfield, was officially launched in February 2014 and literally blew up — valued at over $1billion in October 2014! Slack continues its rapid growth with more than 2 million daily active users. The company is based in San Francisco and has more than 250 employees.

If you haven’t been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard about Slack, maybe you’re even one their users. A lot of businesses are moving to Slack like web start-ups, and here is the reason why.

Some advantages of Slack

  • Think of it like an IRC Chat Rooms 2.0 : keep Slack open all day like a group chat window — it’s very well optimized for that use case. You can create persistent chat rooms (channels) organized by topic, as well as private groups and direct messaging and discuss with your teammates all the day long.
  • Slack integrates with a large number of third-party services teams are using everyday (like Github, Trello, …): this way, the team can be synchronized, notified in real time of what’s happening outside of Slack.
  • All content inside Slack is searchable very easily, including files, conversations, and people.
  • You can drag and drop files and TADA : your files are shared with your teammates. And of course, Slack integrates with services such as Dropox or Google Drive so that you can share documents hosted on these services.
  • Slack can be with you all the time : it offers very good apps support — even desktop applications for both OS X and Windows.

Why this post ?

There is a lot to say about Slack, about how it can streamline collaboration and so strengthen your business. By the way, you’ll find a lot of posts on the Web about that.

Slack is full-heartedly supported from the beginning, generating a hype that has been attracting a lot of users and has skyrocketed its valuation beyond the 1 billion dollars.

And it can’t be denied that Slack is a very good tool that fits the needs of a lot of teams, maybe yours.

But Slack is certainly not a perfect fit for everyone. Some biases in the features, in the user experience, make it not really suited for all kind of companies and may even be considered as deal breakers.

I’d be really interested in your thoughts, so please let me know in the comments.

Slack cons

Keep up with conversations, not so easy…

On the surface, one would think that it’s very easy to follow and participate in a conversation: you go into a channel, fill in your text in the input field, hit enter and you’re done!

But things are not always as they seem. In Slack, like any other chat app, conversations are a constant, reverse-chronological stream of messages : each channel is a place where you and your teammates chat. You’re having as many chats in parallel as you’re in active channels. And so, you spend your time coming and going seamlessly between your active channels, trying to get back up to speed with who is talking to whom about what…

Like when you’re chatting, you cannot go and buy a sandwich, even if you’re starving because otherwise, you won’t understand why everybody is posting cat gifs when you come back…

All the more as, when a lot of people are chatting simultaneously, multiple conversations are happening at the same time, in the same channel. They can get interwoven and it can be hard to follow the threads of each…

As I read it on another blog post, trying to keep up “with the manifold conversations in your manifold teams and channels requires a Skynet-like metapresence”.

It’s finally the main difference between chat like synchronous conversations and email like asynchronous threaded conversations : want that conversation about this big lead proposal? Quite easy on email ! On Slack, it’ll be jumbled up in a channel somewhere, interwoven in with an assortment of other conversations.

With Slack, you’re like tarzan in the jungle, jumping from message to message in order to find your way…

Conversations are ephemeral

The nature of a synchronous communication is to be meaningful at the precise moment it happens. On Slack, discussions are pretty much over when they scroll off the page. And without that context, restarting a discussion that took place a few days ago is difficult, let alone a few months ago.

Everything cannot be synchronous and it’s really a need in a company : even if a user is willing to communicate, there are many long-running processes where the state of the process is spread across time and chatting about it without full context is difficult (like coding a new feature of a software, or selling a product to an important lead).

Being able to have deep long-running conversations, to retrieve a complete conversation with all its context is one of the key features that is missing to Slack I think!

And I don’t speak about the basic plan: you must pay if you want to search beyond your most recent 10,000 chats. That’s only about 20 days for a typical 10-person team.

Is our team really more productive ?

One legitimate question : does Slack really keep its promise ?

We’re on a mission to make your working life simpler, more pleasant, and more productive

Clearly, when you adopt Slack, one of the main expectations is to make your team more productive.

Have you already been on an active Slack platform? You cannot deny it, it requires a lot of attention. And the problem is our attention is limited!

I’ve often read a comparison between Slack and the water cooler. The water cooler is important : it acts as a miniature oasis : everyone’s getting their recommended daily intake of water… But also it’s the place where each of us can bump into any other team member and have a quick conversation about work, play, life, and everything else. In a word, it plays a key role in team collaboration. And certainly, like me, you like to go to the water cooler from time to time. But, would you like to work just next to the water cooler ? I don’t think so !

Slack is asynchronish

This productivity problem is compounded by the fact Slack, or at least conversations on Slack are not really synchronous, neither asynchronous by the way : as I was saying, you cannot be available / online all the time. Neither your co-workers!

And even if a user is online, it becomes hard to keep up if there are too many conversations and you cannot respond immediately all the time.

I like the word used in a blog post : Slack is asynchronish, neither really synchronous, nor really asynchronous.

The main problem is that in a channel, you don’t know who is really keeping up with the conversation, and who’s not. And so, you send a message like in a bottle thrown into the sea: hoping for a response, you don’t know if it will come in a few seconds or a few hours… Don’t wait for too long… ;)

Slack is not for everything

Finally, you do have to understand what Slack is, and also what it isn’t. Slack is a super IRC, clearly effective as a unified triage point — an information inbox that serves as a notification tray for all your team’s services.

But Slack is not an ideal point of interaction for communication that needs to be organized, conversations which result in actions : if you read a message asking you to do something and don’t make a note of it, it will scroll away and there will be no persistent reminder. Slack is not a project management tool.

With Slack, you can discuss ideas but you won’t get any answer to these more fundamental questions :

  • Has this issue been reported ?
  • Is somebody doing something for that bug ?…

Apart from its channels, Slack does not provide any way to organize, classify conversations, give them meaning, convert them to tasks.

Slack is not for everything : for things like tickets, issues, etc. applications like Gihtub or Asana are good for much more organized communication. For communication with customers, email is one of the best way to go. For asynchronous communication within your team, well Slack is not the way to go. Understand how your organization works and what you need. If you feel the need to have both, synchronous and asynchronous communication, maybe Slack does not really fit your needs.

What I’ve read several times from Slack users is:

  • 4–10 people: Slack is great : you can set up channels. Slack closes the feedback loop faster and that can be extremely valuable when decisions have to be taken quickly
  • 10–50 people: It’s getting noisy. You have to establish rules to make it work and do not kill productivity
  • Above 50 people : Slack can be difficult to manage and maybe you need a tool which mixes synchronous and asynchronous communication like talkSpirit

Illustrations by Serge Rohani • UX designer @

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