Entrepreneur Lifestyle

Part 2: My Love-Hate Relationship With Slack

Employees obsess over it, young HR-tech startups want to integrate with it, it has over three million paid subscribers; love it or not- Slack is a part of your work life
Part 2: My Love-Hate Relationship With Slack
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(This is the second part of an article series. Click here for the first part)

The Slack website states that,”If your team is starting a project, hiring new employees, implementing code, checking a contract, approving the next year's budget, doing an A / B test, planning the next location opening, or using one of many other opportunities, then Slack is just right for you.” Let’s figure out how.

The unpaid version of Slack- Is it efficient?

There is a clear difference in the views of organisations that have the paid subscription and the ones who don't. Anna Juliana Kletzmayr, Head of Marketing at Heaven HR, who is happy with the paid version of Slack, points out, “If you don’t have a paid subscription it makes your (work) life harder as you can’t find information anymore that you have been writing about with your colleagues.” The few cases in which unpaid versions suffice is in smaller teams that define what information has to be exchanged on Slack. A 2016 blog by Christoph Magnussen, founder and CEO of Blackboat, says that the ideal team size to use Slack is 5–20 people, five being the most efficient. “To this level, Slack will boost your internal team performance. Anything beyond 20 will get noisy within the channels and you start setting up private groups, which is basically a step back towards closed email-like communication,” he notes. Not much has changed since Christoph wrote this, except that the love for Slack has grown even stronger.

Why every second person loves Slack

Startups, big corporates, freelancers, or academics- everyone is on Slack, and for a variety, of reasons. Ina Wagner, head of student relations at CODE University of Applied Sciences, which has about 25 faculty and about 250 students on Slack, says, “I am basically communicating every detail with our students via Slack. Communication via email or other ways would not allow me to jump from topic to topic. It also helps us to have international calls with professors and students far away from campus.”

Anna, from Heaven HR, continued her praise for Slack by mentioning how the possibility to create different group channels helps to keep current on all their projects. “That’s different to other tools like Jira or Wunderlist, which are only used by specialized departments. So we can create groups that work cross-departmentally,” she adds.

Andreas Hauser, a 22-year-old who works in Factory Berlin, a coworking space with 3000 independent professionals on Slack, swears by the use of this tool. He tells me, ”Since moving to Berlin in August, maybe 50-75% of my network has come from the Factory Slack team.” Believe it or not, people are networking on Slack and they feel it’s more personal. Beware Linkedin!  

Freelancers on Slack

Remote professionals or freelancers cannot stay away from Slack, even if they want to. Maren Lesche, Founder of Startup Colors, who works with different clients across geographies, says, ” In the Slack channels I work, sometimes up to 50% of all users are external. This is the big advantage of Slack in comparison to internal messenger systems: You can onboard any person, it does not matter if he or she is part of your company. In these cases, communication is as effective if you consider that freelancers are working on different projects at the same time and are most likely not in one Slack channel 24/7.”

Maren, who “inherited” the use of slack from her previous employers has six different Slack channels running at once. Slack is not competing with Trello, Wrike or Asana, but rather with WhatsApp, Facebook Work (now cancelled) or Yammer, according to Maren.

“Interestingly, all the groups I work for use Slack in many different ways. Some focus on sharing information and communication in public channels. Others utilize the individual group and 1:1 chat at its best. The biggest struggle I see is over-communicating and information overflow in Slack.” Probably a good idea is also to tell your employers as freelancers that what are the kind of messages you will look at Slack for and not. In my experience, phone calls are most effective for my remote employers and I usually now just ask “yes” or “no” questions on Slack.  

Is it really making your team transparent? What about data privacy?

Let me tell you a secret (the elephant in the room). Even though your employees know that you can download all the data on Slack, they still use it for gossip, personal conversations, and planning lunch or smoke breaks. No harm in it, though. Stefan (name changed), a startup employee in Berlin, shares, “ I have been quite fond of it (Slack) overall, so far. My attitude towards it turned, however, when we switched to the enterprise version and I realised that my personal conversations could be snooped at any time. They were also essentially accessible to HR and could be used against you if things turned sour”.

The Slack website now says that the tool is end-to-end encrypted, but no one had clear answers when I asked them about privacy issues. Many startups are building their business models based on the communication exchange that happens over Slack - to track personalities of employees and track performance. How fair is this?

Integration with other tools

The challenge is that while Slack is dominating the workplace, there are still other tools which have to be integrated with Slack to complete workflow functionality. Ina from CODE University shared that they had to build a wiki and intranet system where the University provides general and more static information to everyone so that nothing is lost through over communicating on Slack. “We integrate Trello, Absence.io and Hubspot (via Zapier) into Slack. It works quite well,” she notes.

Maren from Startup Colors also uses Trello and was previously a user of Asana and Wrike. “Some of them can be integrated but none of these tools integrates super well. This is the reason why startups like Botconnect are exploring how they can build solutions on Slack to optimize the potential Slack has.“

“The integrations go even beyond the tech side.  For example, we have an integration with Hivy, an office management tool concerning requests ranging from I want almond milk to I need a new monitor,” adds Stefan.  

Slack’s claim to replace emails

In September 2017, Slack claimed that it will replace all email exchange. Will his happen anytime soon? Probably not, because, as Ina says, “Communication via Slack sometimes gets messy. We started to develop some rules on how to communicate with each other”, and Anna agrees that everything between the lines is usually missing while you communicate on Slack. For example, it is harder to understand the urgency or time sensitivity of a task or detail. It’s important to remind each other to ask questions about those details. “You have to be aware of the possibility that, just because you posted it on some channel, it doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone is up to date.”

Finally, I committed to Slack...

The problem is not with the tool but with the way I use it, or how people around me treat it. My bone to pick with Slack still remains- whether or not it is establishing a healthier work environment through improving communication and relationships. It leaves me to question how we can improve conversations within teams while we use Slack.

As we combine tech tools with our teams to track performance or communication, human relations cannot be ignored. Use the benefits of Slack, but also talk to your employees about how and why they should use it. Having said that, I cringe a little less now as I have trained myself to use this tool to my benefit. I check it only a few times a day, I have clear rules on what I will communicate through Slack, and I am learning how I can actually use it to save time and not waste it. It is a relationship I work every day on.

(The first part of the article can be found here)

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