How Slack destroyed my company’s communication — and how to fix it

2015-09-27

First of all, I really like Slack – it’s a beautiful product and their growth is phenomenal. But on it’s path to replace email and other tools for intra-company communication, it lacks a few components.

I run Weld, a small company building a new web and app building tool for non-techies. Before Slack we used Trello for planning and talking about our product, Google Drive for file sharing, and email for everything else.

Then we got Slack, and boy it’s such an approachable product, so informal and inviting. Just write what you’re thinking, or drop an image into the conversation.

But then a few months in, we started seeing some issues:

  1. Everybody’s talking, no one is listening. It’s so easy to create content, it produces this avalanche of information that is hard to keep up with. I’m never sure messages I write on Slack are read, not read, or read but ignored.
  2. No accountability. Email is more directed – if you’re on the TO: line and there’s a question inside, you’re expected to reply. Being @mentioned in a Slack conversation doesn’t carry the same meaning.
  3. No context. In Trello, all conversations and attachments were connected to a certain product feature. This slowed us down, but made discussions more organized and easier to follow. Sure we use Slack #channels for larger topics, but not with the precision we had before. Also, lack of threaded discussions (except on attachments) make some hilarious chat logs when multiple topics are discussed simultaneously.
  4. No history. In Slack, there is only “now”. It’s easier for our designer to re-upload a sketch, than it is for me to find it using Slack’s search tools. Before, that sketch would’ve been uploaded to a particular folder on our Google Drive. Slower to do, but easier to find months later.

In essence, the current version of Slack gives you a “sugar rush”: short-term gains at the expense of long-term efficiency.

This instant appeal is no doubt a key factor in Slack’s growth. But the downsides are challenging its sustainability.

Solving Slack

How could you solve these problems? Here’s some suggestions:

  • Threaded discussions would make conversations easier to follow. I know this is already in beta.
  • An inbox could solve accountability. This parallel view could show you all messages where you are @mentioned, and make it easy to reply in context.
  • Being able to update previous attachments would make file management more sustainable. To have only one entry for e.g. “the latest logo” would make it so much easier to find the right version of a document.

Where next?

I think Slack has the potential to be the singular communication tool for many businesses. But for now, we at Weld are re-activating Trello and Google Drive for filling our own communication gaps.