#slacking off at work

A couple of weeks ago I found myself in a conversation with a peer of mine in the office. We both recently stepped into management roles and were exchanging our experience with being a younger millennial manager. At one point he shared “I had to establish boundaries pretty quick, someone asked for a day off on gchat and I asked them to email me that request instead”, for the record we use G-Suite (Google’s enterprise offering) for work. I thought that comment was interesting, considering that personally I’ve seen the lines blur further and further at work about accepted modes of communication. Thinking about my work relationship with my boss we communicate across the following:

  • Face to face – usually at our weekly hourly meetings.
  • Email – for formal work updates and questions that need an answer within a week ideally.
  • Work Phone Call – quick questions and fact checking.
  • Text or Gchat – one or both of us are remotely working and need time sensitive answers.

As I drafted up my list, I realized that I also opt to gchat my direct reports when I have something more time sensitive or want to make sure my message isn’t “missed” (but what I really mean is ignored…) like an email or phone call might. Although this always feels much more intrusive and I use it sparingly, despite it all being work-sanctioned communication methods. But the more thought I put into it, the more I realized that the workplace has been pushing more opportunities to communicate like traditional social networks for quite some time and it’s changing the way we work, the expectations we have for each other, and the etiquette around how we communicate.

Cisco’s Jabber

Before I left my last job in DC in 2015, our office had just gone through a significant staffing transition which included downsizing physical office space, remote work environment for 30 percent of staff, and significant tech investment on upgraded office phones and software. One of these was in a Cisco product known as Jabber, which is a software that combined instant messaging, team chatrooms, and conference call video solutions. This led to a transition of our analog phone lines to hardware equipped for Voice over Internet Protocol (VOIP) calling which tied back to your status as shown on Jabber. If you were on a call, this was then displayed as part of your “presence information” which acted as a form of an away message. Jabber is supported across many operating systems and integrates with Microsoft Office applications, making it easy and streamlined to integrate this into the most common enterprise office suite.

This was a major shift in the way our office did work. We had a hard enough time getting select people to answer emails in a timely manner so adding a new suite of tools brought forth a lot of ambiguity. What’s the difference between calling/emailing/instant messaging someone? How many chats is too many?

Luckily, this was something our human resource department was thinking about too. And with this new job configuration, along came a whole series of new office expectations. Even around instant messaging use and etiquette:


Source: Standards of Collaborative Behavior • March 2015 • GWU

This made sure culturally that expectations were clear and established across all staff members. It cut out a lot of the questioning that we had about “appropriateness” of using each option and because it was launched as soon as the option was available it established a culture up front. These guidelines were also integrated as part of the onboarding for new staff as well, helping reinforce the culture and expectations about these tools moving forward.

Slack

I typically associate the Slack tool with young start-up work cultures, so I was surprised to see The New York Times and ADP listed as enterprise clients. Slack advertises itself as the “collaboration hub”, a tool where teams can manage discussions and meet virtually. With discussion boards based on hashtag topics (very similar to IRC chatrooms—I might be dating myself here) and the ability to @ tag teams or users, it very much feels like the work environment of the millennial workforce.

And it’s not just a trend, this past January Slack announced that it had surpassed over 10 million users. It’s no surprise the tool is appealing, not only is it easily accessible as a freemium model, it uses key language that is prevalent in social networks to make the tool easily digestible and user intuitive. This and other work messaging tools provide a “safe space” for employees to chat without feeling disruptive or intrusive to their colleagues.

Facebook Workplace

A sign that the workplace social hub is here to stay is Facebook’s investment in building up their own work collaboration tool, Workplace. The tool which launched in 2015 and leverages much of the functionality and framework that exists in Facebook’s personal social network. Newsfeeds provide an ongoing stream of team updates and announcements, group pages host projects or teams, and chat rooms use FB’s messaging service to host workplace discussions.

It’s Facebook, for work!

I believe these tools will continue to penetrate the workforce, especially as companies continue to trend towards flexible work schedules and remote offices. As with any office technology, it will require a collaborative effort between IT and human resources to help establish and define the culture around using these tools on an enterprise level. Policies around user expectations of these not only will remove the ambiguity a new communication tool could foster, but can also provide a more productive experience for employees.

Does anyone use Slack for work? Is it effective and does your HR dictate how to use the tool?

8 comments

  1. I do use slack for work and have for the last two companies I worked for. It’s a great way to communicate things quickly and bring to the attention of parties involved, but I do prefer email for more formal communication. I think often times, managers want things in formal communication so they can track for either reporting purposes or as proof that something went well or not. I think one of the most common things with slack and other chat channels is that fact that someone may have received it, but could’ve been so busy that they forgot to read it. This does go back to the idea of understanding how each person prefers to communicate on your team and either customizing your outreach to them or creating a formal process so that everyone is getting the communication the same way.

  2. I LOVE this article! Personally, I’ve never had to use g-suite for work. However, I have used both jabber and slack at different companies. My experience has been a preference for jabber as typically you must be deep linked to your companies server, whereas with slack you in theory have access everywhere. However, the downside for me was always the fear of what may await on jabber the next morning. I think as a society, not just company specific, we need to redetermine how to appropriately use the digital tools at our disposal so as to not blur the lines.

  3. This was a great topic to dive into, and an interesting post to read! My company doesn’t use a tool like Slack, but I often wish we could implement something like it (and have people actually use it) to handle quick communication needs. Instead, most questions and requests (with varying levels of significance) are handled through email. We were recently introduced to Salesforce Chatter which I understand would allow us to tag each other if we have questions, and there are groups set up to facilitate conversation by department, but not all departments have adopted it as a means of communication and it has defaulted to be more of an IT troubleshooting portal since our IT group was the one to teach us about it. I agree that there should be collaboration between IT and HR to oversee implementation of these tools and set expectations of how they are to be used.

  4. I think that coming up with a common way to use particular tools (like the gchat/ Jabber memo) is far more important than the specifics of the tools. I also think that managers need to reinforce those uses is people aren’t using it in the right way (i.e. the time off request needing to be via email). I’m not sure its “boundaries” but simply establishing norms for certain types of communications. nice work!

  5. Although I have limited experience in the working world, the company I was with last summer, and will be returning to post graduation, used Slack for the bulk of our communications. I thought it was a great and easy to use product for those short, quick questions you spoke about. Additionally, the managers seemed to benefit as they were often juggling many different projects and could quickly answer key questions or concerns from their different teams. We also used email for more formal check-ins and longer questions, but ultimately these often lead to phone calls to address the issues more quickly. Slack definitely became the primary mode of communication as the management team pushed for more, quicker check-ins.

  6. This is an interesting new trend in the workplace and certainly is something managers are going to have to manage. I’ve used slack at a startup internship and use jabber at my new company, and I find these tools to be really useful, but it is sometimes a murky line when communicating with managers. I’ve had managers who only use these types of chat services and others that really prefer email, so I think it is really on a case by case basis. For me i really enjoyed slack and found I always had a lot of issues with Jabber. I do prefer these services over email and I think it’s a good change that allows for quicker and more collaborative communication. Your work is such a big part of your life and allowing more collaborative and social features I think do a lot to bring co-workers and even managers closer together and breaks down some of the more formal barriers of traditional emailing. There should be clear and communicated expectations for all of these tools but I think they are useful and impactful in business. Great job!

  7. I haven’t used slack much, but know that I will be using it in my post-grad job. I’ve heard only positive things from the people that use it. One of my pet peeves (and stressors) is coming out of a meeting or a class and having 50+ unread messages from a group chat and no time to read through them. I can’t even imagine how useful it will be in the workplace environment!

  8. My company uses Slack and Facebook Workplace and I have to say that I love Slack. I’ve used basically all of the enterprise messaging platforms at one point or another and Slack is by far the easiest, most intuitive, and feature-rich of them all (I swear I’m not getting paid to write this comment). I could take or leave Facebook Workplace though. The tool seems to create echo chambers more than it enhances collaboration or reduces silos, just by the way it’s designed.

    I’m surprised I didn’t see Microsoft Teams on this list though! I know it’s a pretty new tool, but I feel like Microsoft has the backing to seriously take on a company like Slack. Especially when Teams is included in many Microsoft packages that companies already have, making it basically free (whereas Slack can get a little expensive).

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