This week the New York Times’ Style section asked an interesting question. “Slack wants to replace email. Is that what we want?”
The company says it has 88,000 paying customers — a sliver of a sliver of the world’s desk-and-phone-bound office workers, and fewer than work full time at, for example, Google’s parent company, Alphabet. Speaking of Google, the company has a Slack alternative of its own, called Hangouts Chat, as does Facebook, in Workplace. Microsoft has Teams, which is bundled with its Office software and which the company says is being used by more than 500,000 organizations. This multifront attack on email is just beginning, but a wartime narrative already dominates: The universally despised office culture of replies and forwards and mass CCs and “looping in” and “circling back” is on its way out, and it’s going to be replaced by chat apps. So what happens if they actually win…?
For the right office, it’s a huge relief to chat. “I know for the engineering team it’s a game-changer,” said Shannon Todesca, an employee at CarGurus, an automotive shopping site. “It’s used to keep track of code pushes,” she said, as well as system errors. Workers also report dentist appointments and sick days to the #ooo (out of office) channel, preventing inboxes from getting clogged, or an early heads-up from getting lost. At Automattic, which runs WordPress.com and a handful of smaller internet services, Slack is the glue that binds a fully remote “virtual office” of nearly 1,000 employees living in dozens of countries and working on vastly different products…
Rank-and-file employees were more likely to share concerns about the new era of office chat… Most common were mixed feelings, often related to privacy and productivity. “We’ve had to consciously discuss using Slack less often,” said Lacey Berrien, who works at marketing startup Drift. “I had our IT team check a few weeks ago, and we were up to over 950 Slack channels,” she said, “and that doesn’t count the private ones….” I have also spent the last 10 years at companies where work chat was the norm and observed the arrival of Slack with both relief and suspicion. Finally, a better work chat app. Then: Oh god, this is really how people are going to work, now?
I remember using chat logs to trace back the discussions that led to buggy programs. (Though obviously you can do the same thing with archived emails.) So I’d be interested to hear how Slashdot’s readers would answer the question.
Should Slack-like chat clients replace email?