I am a Slack user, but I don’t use Slack
A case against the toxic work culture it cultivates
I consult businesses.
As a result, it doesn’t matter what and how I feel about Slack, I need to use it. The businesses I work with expect me to. Most of the times they seem to think they can’t function without it. So, I have a Slack account, and I am a member of countless teams.
Then what do I mean when I say “I don’t use Slack”?
It means that I am not always connected! After all, that is what Slack is there for, isn’t it? It doesn’t matter where you are or what you are doing, you are always connected to your team. The tagline says it all — Where work happens!
STOP ME IF YOU’VE HEARD IT BEFORE
It’s a Thursday evening and you are home. Your phone lets out a notification tone. You unlock it to find a message from someone in your marketing team who is sharing a design with you, or your manager has just messaged you asking for a design for an emailer that needs to go out tomorrow. No matter whether you were the manager or the resource in that scenario before you know it, the conversation has stretched on till 11 pm, and its time for bed now.
For all you know, that could have been a lazy Saturday afternoon when this whole event unfolded. No matter whether it was a Thursday or a Saturday, both those times were supposed to be a time we fondly like to call “me time”.
All Slack has managed to do is eliminate the “me time” from our lives. It has made us all transition to an era where we are in a constant work mode. Always connected. Always working. Always brainstorming. Always thinking of that bottom line. There is no downtime from work now. Whether you are at work, in transit, at home, in a meeting, or sitting on the loo — you are always connected to work.
Proponents of Slack, at this stage, would like to remind you that there is DND mode in there, and that is an option you can exercise to ensure that you are not disturbed by those pesky notifications when you need to tune out of work. But one wonders if that is the reason why the much-touted Do Not Disturb mode exists in Slack. Let us look at how Slack talks about that feature.
Do you see something interesting there?
Only one instance of “prefer not to be notified” in there. Compare that against the three instances that are put in to emphasize how it enables you in working better. “Focus time”, “help you concentrate”, “override DND to notify you of urgent messages”. That’s just peachy, isn’t it?
The DND feature has always been marketed as a feature they built thinking of the users, but in their sales pitches, it has always been talked about of as a feature that helps your teammates tune out of ongoing discussions to focus on their work better.
And even if you are someone who is using DND as a tool to enjoy some ‘me time’, as any psychology major would tell you, you would stop exercising that choice because of the sheer fact that it highlights your status in front of every single person in your team. (And let’s not even talk about the overriding DND product feature.)
So what do you do? You leave it be, and live under the impression that since you are at home or out with friends, you are actually enjoying your personal space.
And maybe you are. But if you are someone who has had to put down his/her drink to respond to a message in a team group, then you ought to know better.
THIS CULTIVATES AN EXTREMELY TOXIC WORK CULTURE
When everyone in your professional circle is exuding this kind of behavior, it slowly starts seeping into you as well, and before you know it, you have become part of a toxic work culture where you are expected to be in work mode all the time. The result? You are always feeling worn out with work, feel the incessant need for a much-needed vacation and probably end up resenting work as well.
The result? Your productivity goes for a toss, your motivation to work is always swindling, and you start getting more and more irritable. You suffer both personally as well as professionally. But in the short term, your team is getting the most out of you. So, YAAYY, I guess?
SO WHAT DO I DO?
I piss people off, that’s what I do.
There is an age-old saying that goes something like “Time and place for everything.” And that is what I believe in. I don’t answer calls just because you called me. I don’t feel the need to respond to an email or a chat immediately just because my phone notified me of it. And I won’t put myself on your beck and call all the time just because that is what you are used to.
I. Don’t. Answer. Calls.
Yes. Calls are a rare phenomenon for me. I would respond to your emails and chats within a reasonable timeframe (since I keep some slots of my day to respond to emails and I respond to chats intermittently). But no calls, please. If you need to talk, you have chats and mails. Whatever you need to talk about, you can talk about there. As a matter of fact, over calls and mails, you tend to be more precise and we won’t end up wasting each other’s time.
I’ll put my phone on Mute.
You know that little slider on your phone that will put your phone on mute? I use that quite often. Not just midway to set it to vibrate, but all the way to mute. And then I’ll just set my phone down. Why? Because I can, and I should, and I must. Any calls, messages and emails I will miss out on, I can always get back to them later. But the personal time I will miss out on if I am constantly ON, I won’t get that back. Ever. So, on mute it goes.
It has happened countless times that someone has informed me that I am getting a call. I will thank them, but more often than not, I won’t answer the call. Because it isn’t the time to answer calls. My phone is on mute for a reason.
I’ll set the expectations straight.
People who know me, and/or who work with me, know a lot of this. They know I won’t answer calls during my downtime. They know they won’t get replies instantly. They know they will get delayed responses during off-hours.
And guess what, they have accepted me like that.
We are always living in the fear that if we don’t follow conventional rules, we would get ostracized. But that is not what happens most of the times. Because the other person understands the reasons behind such stone-age methods. It may seem unusual to them at first because that is not what they are used to, but they will come to accept you like that.
SO IF I AM NOT CONNECTED, THEN WHAT DO I DO?
I seriously hope that you did not need to ask me this one question because if you did then probably you need to start following my method as well. :-) You, my friend, need some time just to yourself. Not today, but every day.
But to answer the question, I’ll pet my pup. I’ll let him play with me. We would goof around. I will read a book, watch some curated clips of Brooklyn Nine Nine, catch up with a friend — uninterrupted.
I’ll just be a guy and not an invaluable resource to a business.