Is Slack killing office productivity?

“We want (our customers) to become masters of their own information and not slaves, overwhelmed by the neverending flow,” said co-founder and CEO Stewart Butterfield, in the memo he issued to the Slack team two weeks before the 2013 release of the very successful chat and collaboration app.

In business, email is the no. 1 means of communication. But with over 4.35 billion email accounts existing, and an estimated 2.58 billion email users sending 122 trillion emails every hour, we are caught up in an information glut. Email has become everybody’s favorite productivity punching bag. It’s the thing to blame for why we aren’t getting work done as well as we could.


So when Slack came along, being touted as the end of email, a collective hurrah was heard across the Internet. The excitement is evident. Not three years after its beta launch, the number of Slack’s daily active users has passed the 3 million mark. The app boasts 930,000 paid seats.

Yet for some users the hype is already wearing off. Why?It seems that Slack’s strategy for freeing us from the tyranny of our email inboxes involves doing it with a constant stream of chatter.

People are complaining about Slack’s own “neverending flow” of information.

One of the most widely read put-downs is Slack, I’m Breaking Up With You. In his essay, Samuel Hulick says “With you in my life, I’ve received exponentially more messages than I ever have before… it has been absolutely brutal on my productivity.”

An article titled much more strongly — Slack, The Ultimate Workday Distractor — says, “With Slack, true heads-down focus and intention is a thing of the past. Slack will make sure you always have… an opportunity for procrastination.”


Then there was the participant in this Reddit discussion, who is a Slack user but who slays the messaging app’s promise of an email-free future with a succinct: “Don’t give up email for Slack, it’s not worth it.”

It’s easy to see where the complaints stem from. On average, a worker checks his work email 3.2 hours every day. How long is a user plugged into Slack on a workday? An astonishing 10 hours.

That’s almost half a day of an always-on stream of information. Aside from communication about work, there is also a lot of what Samuel Hulick calls a “Diet-Coke-and-Mentos-like explosion of cat gifs, bot feeds, and emoji mashups.”

Studies show that it takes us an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to a task after being distracted. We have to ask: If Slack provides us with possible distractions more hours than exists in a workday, when do we ever really get to work?

Originally published at Blog.