Since Slack launched in 2013, it’s led to a reimagining of workplace communication, a space once dominated by email. The digital collaboration platform has overtaken the knowledge work sector; 65 of the top Fortune 100 companies use Slack, and employees at large companies send an average of 200 slack messages per week.
Instant Messaging (IM) has been posited as the cure to email-itis, but like its predecessor, it drains productivity and limits focus. Slack and other instant messaging platforms are not necessarily the problem, it’s how we use them. As organizations increasingly use Slack to communicate in a digital remote working environment, it's more important than ever to build a healthy - and effective - Slack culture.
IM effects on productivity
Research has shown no difference in distraction between Slack and email. Considering that these distractions result in up to 23 minutes of lost time for every interruption, it’s clear Slack has not so much replaced, but just added to, the number of distractions we face each day at work. Time is Ltd. data reveals that throughout 2021, the average amount of Slack messages received steadily increased to almost 125 Slack messages received every day, by every person. Meanwhile, during this same period, people sent 30-40 messages daily on average. That’s a lot of distractions!
When we’re constantly checking for the latest message, we’re inhibiting ourselves from getting into a state of “deep work” — a term coined by Cal Newport, a computer science professor at Georgetown University, to describe a state of intense, focused attention. As we’ve written before, focus time matters, and the importance of it cannot be understated.
Excessive, unnecessary, or ineffective swarms of messages rob people of time and wear on employee wellbeing. The consequences of this are reduced engagement and potential turnover, as we’ve seen with The Great Resignation.
Here are a few tips to get Slack right.
4 crucial ways to improve Slack culture before it's too late
There is no one-size-fits-all solution for Slack and other workplace communication tools. Every organization uses platforms differently, and what works for one organization doesn’t necessarily work for another (the same is true at the team level within businesses). However, there are a few ways to ensure Slack is facilitating communication and productivity, rather than slowing them down.
1. Reduce DMs & use public Slack channels
In a recent Time is Ltd. blog, Transparency is Key to Making Slack Work Within Your Organization, we discussed the issue of transparency with Slack. The prevalence of private channels and direct messages in a workplace increases the probability of silos by hiding pertinent information from key players, thus splintering decision-making and collaboration. Slack’s own best practices state that 70% of communication should be within public channels for optimal transparency.
Utilizing public channels more often, and developing a general familiarity with Slack etiquette, promotes inclusivity and transparency within an organization. Private channels certainly have their place, but by limiting them to very specific use cases, you can eliminate excess notifications (and distractions) for many others. In the data below, you can see that public channel usage has increased throughout 2021. This clearly shows that companies are recognizing the need for more transparent communication.
2. Identify and delete redundant Slack channels
Decision-makers within an organization can alleviate instant message overload by simply deleting channels that contain redundant content or involve too many of the same people. If channels are inactive or response times are particularly slow, that may be a sign the channel is ineffective.
That’s why Time is Ltd. is working on a free solution that provides Slack admins easily identify public channels that “should” be merged. This tool analyzes channel similarity by the channel users and content type (algorithmically collected and analyzed using Natural Language Processing). The current product is in Alpha, but if you work at a company with 250+ employees and would like to test it out, then please email our CTO, Cyril Hoshyl at email@example.com.
3. Make time for messages
Measuring the typical frequency of Slack messaging is another way to determine how much time is lost to instant messages. Our data shows that, on average, people send a message on Slack every 23 minutes. But Slack is meant to be an asynchronous means of communication; meaning you can communicate on your own schedule. Employees can pause notifications for certain channels and set aside time each day to check Slack. Doing so creates a clearer divide between focused work and communication time, and limits the number of distracting notifications throughout the day.
4. Identify when Slack vs. email is appropriate
Email is still a crucial component of workplace communication, and it can work alongside Slack as a tool for ongoing conversation, real-time communication, and sharing collaborative materials. Conversations between key players requiring longer, more thoughtful responses will benefit from email. On the other hand, a quick status update or question for a colleague can best be answered through Slack. Understanding how these collaboration tools can be used in tandem, and creating company-wide policies to enforce such, can empower employees to craft a healthier, less-distracted, and more productive work schedule.
Measuring Slack culture
Time is Ltd. can help you track the number of Slack channels, usage of public and private channels, and direct messages, so that you can determine which conversations are being siloed. Time is Ltd. Analytics visualizes these trends to manage peoples’ communications more effectively, give them more predictability, and have a more focused work day.
If you’re interested in learning more about Time is Ltd.’s powerful Slack Analytics, then don’t hesitate to reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.