Lauren Anderson

How Slack is Ruining the Workplace Dynamic

By: Lauren Anderson | April 10, 2019 | 
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slackEditors note: At Spin Sucks, we’re big proponents of Slack as home base for our virtual community. But we also welcome discussion, debate, and thoughtful points of view.

Remember water cooler banter?

You know, taking a little mental break to hydrate and catch up with your colleagues?

Sure, some businesses viewed these conversations as a waste of company time.

But, what if I told you water cooler chats weren’t only a traditional office phenomenon?

That a software existed, touted as a place “where work happens?”

And that said software would eventually become one of the most significant time-sucks your company ever had?

Okay, so that’s not the case for everyone.

In fact, it’s not even a case for the majority.

But it has been my personal experience with Slack, a cloud-based communication software with 10 million daily users.

While it’s useful for companies of all shapes and sizes (especially those with many departments scattered across different time zones, like Spin Sucks), my encounters with Slack have been…interesting.

I work for a full-service digital marketing agency that helps SMEs with their online presence.

In my six years of service, I’ve had the privilege of watching the company grow from a humble staff of five to more than 30 full-time employees.

As with any company, we experienced growing pains.

Soon, our open-office plan began to crumble.

Various teams were compartmentalized into offices.

While the new layout made sense, we weren’t all interacting in the same ways we used to.

To reunite us as a company, management decided to implement Slack.

Back, er Slack Story

In 2016, we were called into a conference room, and introduced to the app by a colleague who’d used it at a previous job.

We were trained on all the ways it would make our lives easier, especially when it came to collaboration and communication.

I left the meeting thinking that Slack appeared to be a useful (and fun) tool.

It’s vastly appealing to an almost entirely millennial workplace.

And, the GIF/emoji vernacular now makes it acceptable for me to send my boss a GIF of Snooki inquiring as to where the beach is, when I let him know I’m headed on a vacation.

First, the Good

Slack offers many other benefits.

It’s free to use for the budget-friendly office, and offers the convenience of connection through the mobile app.

Slack also makes communicating with colleagues less awkward, and certainly more convenient.

Mostly because I don’t have to remove myself from the comfort of my chair to get a question answered.

Overall, whether I’m sharing documents via the Google Suite, or need to get a quick answer from someone on the other side of the building, Slack makes my day-to-day easier.

Slack has even simplified my typing habits.

I don’t have to verbalize a response most of the time with the handy reaction emojis at my disposal.

Yet, for all the blessings Slack has brought to our small corner of the B2B world, I find myself reflecting on its not so pleasant uses in my office.

Here are a few of the user-initiated HR nightmares I’ve seen on Slack, that straight up stress me out.

Slack and Cyberbullies

Slack makes workplace bullying both easier to take part in, and ignore.

Cyberbullying used to take place in social media comments and online chat rooms.

Now, it’s also prevalent in some places of business.

Bullies wait for someone to say or do something in Slack they can passively correct, or publicly insult.

Said bullying can happen in the most subtle ways.

For example, I can react to a comment with a popcorn emoji to indicate I’m here for the drama.

I’m sure this doesn’t happen everywhere.

But you can always tell when there’s going to be a brawl on Slack.

The “…is typing…” notification darts up at the bottom of the screen—a blanket of silence befalls the office.

When someone calls you out, be it in person or online, it’s natural to want to defend yourself.

Before you know it, you’ve spent 45 minutes crafting the perfect response or finding a reaction meme that makes sense.

Regardless of how much effort is put into defending yourself against a Slack bully, it’s a losing battle.

Mostly because you’ve publicly wasted company time.

What Me, Distracted?

Slack can also be a major daily distraction.

My workplace has standard channels like “Client Announcements” and “Office”.

Then there are the private channels, which can be created by anyone at any time.

Certain private channels, like “Random” and my favorite, “Oh Lawd He Comin”—a channel dedicated to photos of fat animals—exist solely as a place to dump useless information/jokes/news.

Everyone loves a brain break, but channels like these are the culprits of daily distraction.

This Intelligencer article likens “the constant scroll of maybe-relevant chatter in your chosen Slack channels registers at times like the background noise of any other newsfeed”.

Of course, I can mute or opt out of a channel at any time.

But then I’m left to deal with the mounting pressure of exclusion when it’s time to interact face to face with the rest of my company.

Speaking of Exclusion…

Slack can be pretty exclusive, too—but not in a cool way.

Slack allows users to create public and private channels.

These make sense in cases where specific information needs to be shared with a particular team.

Unfortunately, some private channels are designed to serve solely as gossip mills.

Finding out there’s a Slack channel you’re not in-the-know about, stings almost as much as being excluded from an invitation to happy hour.

From a managerial standpoint, an overuse of private channels can pose a threat to peace within a company culture, and quickly cause a divide among employees.

Back on the Slack Track

When people use Slack as intended, it’s a wonderfully useful tool.

So whether you’re new to the world of Slack, or a big fan, here are several tips to help you maintain a certain level of professionalism when you’re on the platform (with room for the occasional mid-day brain break, that may or may not spiral, of course.)

Establish Ground Rules

Even though we’re all adults, someone needs to lay down the law.

Management should decide where it makes sense for your operation to draw the line.

Relay those rules to employees, so they understand what’s going to fly, and what isn’t, when it comes to communicating in Slack.

With Easy Communication Comes Great Responsibility

At work, we’re ultimately using Slack in a professional setting, so be sure to act accordingly!

Avoid things like mentioning explicit activities, or calling someone out publicly.

If an issue arises, or you feel uncomfortable, handle it the same way you would a traditional workplace conflict—face to face or by going to human resources.

Stay Up On the Goings On

From an HR or managerial standpoint, it’s vital to be in tune with the way your employees are interacting.

You don’t have to monitor every chat.

However, you should be mindful of what’s going on in the public sectors of your Slack workspace.

Take notice of how your employees are engaging with each other.

If you notice anything unsavory, address it directly—and in person—to nip it in the bud.

Overall, Slack does have a place in the office.

Sure, the way my team sometimes uses it can be a little wacky.

But it really does make my job as a content creator a lot simpler—especially when it comes to file sharing, brainstorming, and planning workplace events.

In fact, I can’t think of a better way to do those things anymore—I certainly don’t miss the horrendous email chains!

What have your experiences been with Slack? Share your comments below. You can also continue the conversation on the free Spin Sucks Community on Slack.

Image by Eduardo Davad from Pixabay

About Lauren Anderson


Lauren is the Director of Content at SEOM Interactive. She is a savvy copywriter on a mission to create insightful and imaginative content for all of SEOM’s clients. Her background in search engine optimization allows her to analyze a piece of content before, during and after it’s created. Having written for a number of respected publications in a variety of industries, there isn’t a topic Lauren can’t cover. Lauren earned her Bachelor’s degree in Entertainment and Arts Management from Drexel University. When she’s not crafting content, she’s working on her memoir or planning another vacation.