Managing Slack

Photo of a street sign: "Slack End"

Over the past couple of years, the on-trend communication tool among technology types has, no doubt, been Slack. Lee wrote an introductory post about it in August, and Maha followed up a couple of weeks later with some thoughts about when to use it.

The past week saw two interesting posts that look at Slack from very different “management” angles:

  • Zach Whalen reports on his experiments (with Lee and Jesse Stommel) on using Slack as a learning management system replacement: “As I replace things I did elsewhere with things I can do in Slack, I must consider now whether those things were worth doing in the first place. Just like any other platform or tool that becomes part of my teaching, any incidental design choices can become accidental pedagogy, and the reverse may be true too.”
  • Meanwhile, Samuel Hulick explains why he’s breaking up with Slack in order to better manage his attention: “I understand that it’s my responsibility to set boundaries in all my relationships, but every software product comes with its own bias towards supporting some human tendencies over others, and I don’t think it’s arguable that you skew pretty hard towards ‘always on’ over ‘dip in every so often’.
    I’m finding that ‘always on’ tendency to be a self-perpetuating feedback loop: the more everyone’s hanging out, the more conversations take place. The more conversations, the more everyone’s expected to participate. Lather, rinse, repeat.”

We’ve been using Slack within my own group for a couple of months, and I found myself nodding vigorously at both posts. On the one hand, like Zach, we found that the only way to get traction with Slack was to have it replace internal email for a month, so we could figure out what kinds of things it is actually good for. And there is a lot to like about it as a lightweight communications and organizing tool.

On the other hand, the always-on bias that Hulick describes is real, as is the ease in which animated GIFs can start to take over a conversational thread, which for some can be distracting.

In my own use, I have vastly preferred Slack as a tool for communicating with our on-campus group than with the two other Slack teams that I’m on, which pull people together from across the country. I know Maha (and others!) have gotten a lot of mileage out of Slack in the *exact* opposite way.

Do you have any experience with Slack? What are strategies you’re using to keep your attention from being pulled into its all-consuming maw?

Photo “Slack End” by Flickr user Tim Green / Creative Commons licensed BY-2.0

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