The collaboration space has seen a lot of players come and go over the decades. Each has purported to solve the collaboration “problem” and be the harbinger for the end of email. The fact that this article is being emailed to my editor and not otherwise transmitted shows you how well that has worked.
Recently, Stefan Pfeiffer wrote about this phenomenon and noted that Slack was starting to lose some of its shine. His points about the increasing information silos are correct. When we communicate in new ways, we rarely remove old methods. There is the inevitable overlap until the incumbent system, or more often the new one, falls by the wayside. Slack’s ability to avoid this same fate rests in its ability to switch from trying to become the center of work to being an augmenter of productivity, while being able to survive the growth of information.
Slack Fills a Real Need
Slack clearly fills a critical need. It allows people to collaborate beyond the borders of their own organization. It enables “public” conversations as if you were all working in the same office, which in some cases is the case. Even more critical, its direct messages allow you to flow your conversations between public and private venues.
Add in the omnipresent Slackbot and the integrations pushing more information into your channels, and you have a useful communication platform. In many ways it has achieved the Facebook for the enterprise we’ve been looking for since we started naming everything from the web to the enterprise version 2.0.
On the computer I am working on now, I have eight Slack workspaces, though I spend most of my time in three of them. On another computer, I only have two configured. Slack allows me to control my context in each environment. I can leave behind the clutter of my other workspaces when they might detract from my focus.
Slack is clearly fulfilling a need for me and millions of other people. However, it isn’t perfect.
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If you want a record of something, Slack is the wrong place to keep it. You can flag things, set up reminders, and do all sorts of useful things with add-ons. However, the march of time progresses, and conversations keep scrolling into the past.
If you go offline for a while for a conference or a vacation, important decisions and references are lost. You simply cannot review everything that has transpired across multiple active Slack channels, much less across a variety of workplaces.
The Slack ecosystem keeps expanding to add capabilities to address this and other weaknesses. The problem is that at its core of existence, Slack is not “work." It is just like email, only in a different form. It is more synchronous than email, which is both a blessing and a curse. However, in the end, you use other systems to do actual work.
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Email Plus Slack: Find the Balance
Your teams need clarity on when to use Slack and when to use email. Both allow you to collaborate and communicate. Slack is protected from spam but I don’t have to invite someone into my email system to collaborate with them.
But what I end up with is multiple silos. The biggest difference is that I can push data into my email inbox. I can even push Slack updates into my inbox. My account in Slack is registered to my email address. That alone is a remarkable display of the importance of email over Slack.
What we need is a Slack workspace that is more fully integrated into the tasks that we do. Email does this through using a well-defined protocol. I can craft emails in other systems and they’ll be sent on my behalf. People can reply to email directly from some systems and the response will show-up in that same system.
We need to be able to use Slack in the same way. I’m not suggesting we open Slack up to broadcasts from anyone with the address. That is how we got to the current email spam problem. However, we need to be able to embed Slack more deeply into other systems.
If I can interact with Slack without leaving the context of my current task, then its value will increase. That focus and integration into people’s everyday workflow will keep Slack in the center of things. Adding features to Slack won’t achieve the same end. It would simply complicate the user experience that has made it so successful to date.
Digging Deeper Into Where Work Happens
Slack has made my life both better and worse. Microsoft Teams is good, but when Teams came out, I was already using Slack. Teams was literally a second tool with no differentiation in feature set aside from having a more restrictive set of people with whom I could collaborate.
But both tools suffer because I have applications where I do work, and I have email, and I have my Slack workspaces. Toggling between two applications is hard enough. Adding a third, or fourth, really starts to break the flow of work. I recently had a really productive afternoon accomplished in part because I locked myself away from all the silos and stuck to my business applications. It was great but when I came out I had to check a daunting number of systems to catch up.
Slack has a good chance of sticking around. It takes instant messaging to a new level, but it isn’t the answer to everything. If the people you need aren’t in the workspace where things are happening, you are stuck. If we could IM anyone from a personal channel, that would be ideal.
However, like eRoom many years ago, some features may be too ingrained in the system DNA. Maybe Slack’s cloud infrastructure will come to the rescue and expand the capabilities. Time will tell.