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Slack is certainly not the only chat or messaging system in use inside organizations but it is certainly one of the biggest. Estimates now hold that over 40 percent of American workers now use a chat app of some kind at work. That number goes up to more than 70 percent if you happen to work for a tech firm. The company estimates that the productivity of users goes up by about a third once they get used to the software. This increase in productivity occurs primarily through the reduction of e-mail and meetings. The software structures conversations between employees in threads (or “channels” in Slack terminology) in the ultimate collaborative work environment. Employees can update the formal and informal groups they belong to in real time with information and updates. While the goal of these messaging systems within an organization is to help with communication, the dissemination of knowledge, and decision making; the reality of how the system gets used is far more complicated.
In addition to helping work productivity, the system gets used for team building and personal use as well. These differences can sometimes begin to get confusing, especially when Slack’s interface allows users to communicate in a way that resembles social media. New York Magazine author Molly Fischer states, “It takes the group dynamics already present between co-workers and douses them in digital accelerant. Experiences familiar from other forms of social media—the avalanche of group consensus, the fear of missing out, the publicly performed friendships, the sudden exposure—become, with Slack, part of the work world.”* The same things that are addictive about social media become addictive in the office’s messaging system. In fact, there are websites devoted to helping employees break their “Slack addiction.” It doesn’t take long for page 253people to start making jokes. One New York–based clothing designer playfully tweeted during a four-hour software outage, “With Slack being down, productivity in thousands of companies is currently skyrocketing.”*
Slack is built to operate effectively across lots of different devices from traditional computers to mobile devices. The result can be a “never off” mentality from employees. Instead of e-mail chains, employees find themselves as part of lots of informal conversations, and the pressure to always be adding or replying to the conversation can be overwhelming. As with most tools, the effectiveness of the medium depends on the user and his or her ability to manage, organize, and somehow differentiate the useful information from the simply distracting.
8.1 What are the issues (good and bad) with working for a company that uses a messaging application like Slack?