Slack Is Gossipy Email With Push Notifications

(Bloomberg Businessweek) -- Like the open-plan office, Slack has become a controversial fixture of white-collar work. The company behind this workplace instant messaging software, Slack Technologies Inc., is preparing to make its stock available for the first time on exchanges in a quasi initial public offering.

For the uninitiated, Slack is emailish, but instead of an inbox it has “channels” open to a few or many co-workers. It’s like getting a window into your colleagues’ email inboxes that shows only the stuff you care about. Slack also ties into other software so a manager can see a Word document, scan tech support requests, and approve a worker’s vacation in one place.

Slack was released in 2013, and tech and media companies became some of its most ardent adopters. Employees on Lyft Inc.’s corporate accounts team, for instance, use Slack to give their colleagues and bosses quick reports on potential clients, which are fed automatically into a sales database. Online clothing brand Everlane Inc. uses Slack to coordinate customer returns.

At its best, Slack is a place for productivity to blossom and for bonding to occur among co-workers who might not all be in the same office. Is this better than email? Mostly. Slack makes easy some collegial interactions that might not happen otherwise. It’s useful if you work with different teams at once, and it’s more conversational and fun than email. (Slack lets you create customized emoji replies and fire off a GIF of, say, Beyoncé, with a two-word command.)

That’s also why there’s been a Slacklash. Channels fill with irrelevant conversation or drown in dumb jokes. Like text messaging, the app feels as though it demands instant read-and-­respond, giving the workday a frenzied feel. Email still exists, so Slack is an added attention hog. While the company tries to mitigate some of these harms, there’s no shortage of Slack-frustrated workers. “I hate Slack” returns 13.7 million results on Google. The gripes show the pushback against unhealthy technology habits isn’t confined to our personal lives.

Slack isn’t the only young company sensibly seeking to replace the 20th century tech that has been grafted onto our 21st century workplaces—and also not the only one to engender love-hate emotions. The problem may be us, not the technology. It’s easier to change software than to remold people and organizations ingrained with decades of bad habits.

● Failing Up

Slack started in 2009 as a messaging app for employees of Slack Technologies’ predecessor. Today it has more than 10 million daily users.

● Fan Club

Most organizations using Slack pay nothing. Some 40% of revenue comes from the 575 customers with $100,000-and-up subscriptions.

—Ovide is a tech columnist for Bloomberg Opinion.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jillian Goodman at jgoodman74@bloomberg.net

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