With over 10 million daily active users, more businesses are turning to Slack than ever before in hopes of “easing” workplace communication in the name of increased productivity. While arguably easier to share an update or ask a question on the platform, the inconvenience that monitoring another “inbox” brings is potentially stifling productivity which can easily lead to workplace chaos.
This is the view of Mike Hicks, CMO of Canadian firmIgloo Software, who discusses with Digital Journal the real challenge that collaboration tools pose businesses who do not properly consider how it will impact the employee experience.
Digital Journal: What benefits do businesses think that Slack brings?
Mike Hicks: Slack’s benefits really boil down to bringing people together who may not have otherwise collaborated by lowering the “barrier of entry.” This means that employees at all levels have the freedom to share their ideas and opinions safely within Slack’s channels. That’s what is so addictive about it. Anyone can contribute to a conversation or act as a fly on the wall and pick out the info that they need to do their job or make a decision.
DJ: In reality, how effective is Slack?
Hicks: Slack’s effectiveness is really dependent on who you ask and what they use it for. Front-line employees and teams tend to prefer Slack’s ease of communication, while leadership may find it more difficult to determine the real value, or conversely, the real cost. Consider, with workplace disruptions setting employees back 25 minutes, it can be hard to stay focused while juggling emails, instant messages, and additional tools like Slack.
In my opinion, the biggest problem with Slack is that it’s easy to fall behind if you aren’t following the conversation in real-time, making it difficult to go back and figure out what was missed. This results in a lot of lost information and missed opportunities to gain and share knowledge, which was never as big of an issue with more traditional forms of workplace communication, like email.
For example, email users are able to manage their own inboxes in a way that suits their unique work styles. With email, users have the power to step away without the concern of falling behind, leaning on the ability to follow a chain or thread and their own time management process. However, there are limited ways to organize messages within Slack, so users are likely to ignore notifications if they aren’t following conversations in real-time.
DJ: How much time does the average employee spend on Slack? Does this impact productivity?
Hicks:While the average amount of time an employee spends on Slack varies by role and industry, the overall impact it has on productivity remains the same. A double-edged sword in the workplace, Slack is great at encouraging employee engagement by lowering the barrier of entry. However, at the same time, Slack can be a cause of workplace stress and disruption, ultimately stifling productivity with employees having to constantly toggle between their focused work and checking in to see if new or urgent information has surfaced on their Slack channels.
DJ: Are any other collaboration tools better?
Hicks:It’s not about better or worse, but more so how employees use the tools they have and how organizations support proper governance and ongoing improvements. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to collaboration tools. Instead, business leaders needs to understand what they have today, how it is being used, where the gaps are, and what tools and changes in behaviors are needed to fill them.
Once understood, teams can establish a clearly defined process for each tool, which should include a roadmap of how the digital tools should evolve over time. Organizations need to think about where employees are accessing, storing, and sharing information, how they find expertise, ask questions or get help. When done correctly, employees will have a more effective way to access what they need to get their jobs done, while significantly reducing risks associated with information and knowledge silos. This goes hand-in-hand with instilling proper governance of information to ensure that confidential information remains secure and compliant processes are followed.
One of the best approaches to streamline communication and collaboration is to focus on creating a destination for employees that integrates with all the communication and collaboration tools they use. Doing this puts work and communication into context so that conversations aren’t happening in one tool, while files are being shared in another tool and project status and meetings notes in yet another tool, with none of it connected. By bringing all of the tools together in an integrated digital workplace, it allows for best of breed tools to shine while creating a holistic environment that’s been proven to improve employee engagement and support a positive work culture.
DJ: Instead of investing in collaboration tools, how else can businesses build better workplace communications?
Hicks:At its core, workplace communication style is contingent upon the workplace culture that’s been established by leadership. Businesses looking to build better workplace communication must take a closer look at the company culture to identify any critical gaps in information or knowledge. While tools have the potential to support nearly any workplace pain point, if employees are not well engaged and empowered, communication will likely fall flat and stifle productivity even without the distractions of workplace technology.