Slack, a team-collaboration and messaging software, went public…without an IPO. And everyone’s talking about it. Going public with a direct offering is a bit riskier because it means there are no underwriters, or those that agree to hold shares they are unable to sell to investors through the offering.
By going public with a direct offering, they were assuming they wouldn’t need that safety net. Perhaps they were able to predict that success because Slack is just one platform, part of a $3.5 billion industry of team collaborative applications that is expected to grow by 70% in the three coming years.
Like the open floor plan that many offices have begun using, this type of software is meant to establish more communication between different departments and do away with strict hierarchies.
However, some believe software like Slack is killing productivity rather than inspiring innovation. The ease of use and casual nature of these applications – what makes it appealing to some – also seems to lower the bar on communication. Meaning things one might not have felt warranted an email are being freely sent over instant messaging. This increases the amount of messages each person receives, to the point that responding to all of them can begin to feel like a full-time job in itself. It also means more distractions that, because of their ‘instant’ nature, come with pressure to respond immediately.
In an age where more and more employees are working remotely, it also becomes a tool to prove to co-workers and supervisors that one is actually working. A quick message to a group is an easy way to show they’re doing what they’re supposed to be. But these messages and more are often not necessary.
After being interrupted, it takes the average person about 25 minutes to regain focus on the task that was being worked on before, according to a Microsoft study. Getting back into a ‘flow state’ can take even longer. With the number of messages workers tend to receive in a day, this means that some workers may never have enough time to actually focus on what they are doing.
According to the McKinsey Consulting group, an average worker spends about 28% of their workweek managing emails, with almost 20% of that time being spent looking for internal information or trying to reach colleagues to help with tasks. McKinsey believes new workplace software could help bring these numbers down. But the total amount of time workers spend communicating has stayed the same since six years ago. This means applications haven’t actually decreased the amount of time spent communicating.
Unless these new team communication tools are replacing email (which they don’t show any sign of doing soon) they’re simply adding more work rather than taking it away. Having so many places where people can get in contact with you often leads to an abundance of information stored in different places that is difficult to search for later. After a certain point, more technology stops making us more productive and begins to impede work getting done.
As Sarah Peck, Founder and Executive Director of Startup Pregnant said, “faster isn’t good or bad, better or worse. Faster is just faster. If you’re sending a lot of stupid messages faster, that’s not great.” When evaluating this type of software, many focus on the ease of communication and how much quicker it can make it to get a response. But it can also lead to a lot of ~quick~ useless information.
However, there is a reason these applications are so popular and they do have the potential to help your team – if used well. Many felt that e-mail was a disaster for the workplace when it was first rolled out and now most can’t imagine the workplace without it. What helped email was developing an etiquette for what warranted an email and how it should be sent.
If you want to make sure software like Slack is helping your company rather than hurting it, try setting up rules and etiquette within your company about when and how it should be used. If no one knows explicitly what is expected, everyone will use it differently which will cause miscommunication and inefficiency. If everyone is on the same page you have a much better chance at success, as well as at recognising and fixing inefficiencies and opportunities for error that do exist. As Sarah Peck said, “if we don’t think critically about how we use the tools, we’re going to be the same exact people in a new place. We won’t be more or less efficient if we don’t think critically about our choices around how we behave with the tool.” So these tools can be of use but the tool can’t do everything. People are still involved and whenever that is the case standards and expectations need to be implemented to maintain productivity.
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