Jeff Maurer, former writer for Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, recently made a funny observation on how to deal with Slack interruptions:
“You can mute notifications: Just go to ‘settings’ > ‘notifications” > ‘never get promoted’, and turn the slider to ‘on’.”
I think that gets at the one of the under-appreciated factors of adopting any sort of technology at work — the culture of the organization. There are un-written rules and expectations that influence how new technology gets used.
Leaders can influence how their teams use always-on 24/7 tools like Slack to avoid the drawbacks of always-on 24/7 working. Shonda Rhimes’ email signature reads: “I do not answer calls or emails after 7 p.m. or on weekends, and if you work for me, may I suggest that you put down your phone.”
I think the same tone could be set by leaders in the age of Slack. We have to learn to navigate the tradeoffs of faster communication and productivity — and set boundaries.
A software company called Pathway introduced a “Zen Day” each week where they ask employees to put Slack in DnD mode to snooze notifications.
Cal Newport brought attention to the importance of this sort of boundary in his 2016 classic, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World.
More recently, Cal reflected on some of the implications of Slack:
“Employees who use Slack check communications tools more frequently than non-users, accessing them once every five minutes on average—an absurdly high rate of interruption.
“Neuroscientists and psychologists teach us that our attention is fundamentally single-tasked, and switching it from one target to another is detrimental to productivity. We’re simply not wired to monitor an ongoing stream of unpredictable communication at the same time that we’re trying to also finish actual work.
“E-mail introduced this problem of communication-driven distraction, but Slack pushed it to a new extreme. We both love and hate Slack because this company built the right tool for the wrong way to work.”
With any new tool, particularly a communications platform, technology moves faster than an organization’s ability to adopt it effectively. It’s up to us to figure out to make the tools work for us and not the other way around.
Here are a few related cartoons I’ve drawn over the years: