Butterfield “Slacks” every 10 minutes. When does he work?

I’ve been working remotely for almost 5 years now. With the bulk of the team in Chennai (India), and then a few people here and there on the other side of the world. I’ve come to realize that asynchronous communication is a big reason why email still rules business communication and it probably will for the years to come. I look at it as one of the greatest inventions of this century, after the Internet itself. And no, Slack is definitely not going to kill it, FastCo.

Yesterday, I stumbled on this post titled How Slack uses Slack (yeah, pretty late, I know. That’s why the Internet is so fascinating!) and this very quote disturbed me a bit:

I rarely in a working day go more than 10 minutes without looking at Slack. I mean, we’ve been in this room for an hour, and I’ve looked at my Slack instance a dozen times. — Stewart Butterfield, Slack’s cofounder and CEO.

A question popped out of my head — when does he really work? Of course, communication is important and Slack is a great tool for that, but that’s not where “real” work happens, right? Unless you’re paid to… well, just “chat”.

There’s Microsoft’s Yammer, Facebook at Work, Atlassian’s HipChat, VMware’s Socialcast, and a few others that are popular in the enterprise chat software market. Slack is probably the coolest of them all. The Slack bots are intuitive, and the company has done well for itself. Heck, they’re the poster child of the modern day work communication landscape. But hey, who works within the Slack interface? I think Butterfield has a habit of going over the top. Remember when he said Slack has no sales team and still does over 60M in revenue? OK, I’m a big fan of the memo that Butterfield shared with his team in 2013 — “We Don’t Sell Saddles Here”. But hey, come on. At that scale, eventually, everyone has a sales team.

Contrary to this, I like what Jason Fried said a couple of weeks in a post where he described how the teams at BaseCamp work. Quoting him,

Splitting work and communication and management across separate tools/products is 1. a highly inefficient, and 2. makes it very difficult for the whole team to see the whole picture.

Earlier this year he listed several reasons on why group chat does more harm than good for your team. Is group chat making you sweat?

Group chat is like being in an all-day meeting with random participants and no agenda.

The biggest problem with chat tools is the expectation they come bundled with by default. That you’ll respond immediately. The “read notification” that some of them have doesn’t make it any better. It’s the form of the medium that I have a problem with.

When you send an email, you don’t necessarily expect an immediate response (I know some people respond to most emails the moment they see them in their inbox, but the medium doesn’t make you assume that by design). With chat, things change dramatically. When people see you online, they expect an immediate response.

My productivity peaks when I mute chat notifications. Well, all kinds of notifications. They’re probably one of the biggest distractions of modern day web workers. It does feel a bit awkward at times when I have my phone, computer, tablet, and watch all trying to notify me about my mom calling me on FaceTime. :)

Don’t get me wrong. There’s no way I could have survived as a remote worker, without a great chat tool. Btw, I use Zoho Chat at work (dogfooding, of course). But I don’t like peeping into my chat application every 10 minutes. There are times when chat is the best way to communicate — be it catching up the team first thing in the morning, broadcasting a message in real-time, deciding on where should we go out for lunch, or even asking for a quick feedback (yay or nay) on a copy. But once I am set to doing real work, Slack my chat application is the last thing I want to see.

And no, I’m not alone. I’ve seen people breaking up with Slack, offering advice and guides on how to stay productive when using Slack, and calling it the Ultimate Workday Distractor.

One reason why I love Slack is the communities that I find running on it. I’m part of around 10 Slack groups including the MakerHunt, Product Marketing by Drift, and Buffer amongst others, and they all offer great insights from people outside of the organization but in overlapping domains.

Which tools do you use to get work done? Which ones do you find the most distracting? I’d love to hear from you on twitter.

Originally published at Nibbles, bits, and bytes.

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