How did Slack make work so much fun?

lauraevemcleod / December 16, 2017

Slack, as they say, is really where work happens. I have become a real superfan of Slack, as have a lot of people around the world, but I do think it’s contributed enormously to how we collaborate in the workplace.

Until around 18 months ago, I lived in a virtually Slack-free zone. One of my ex-colleagues used it occasionally to communicate with his SEO community friends, but I just passed it off as one of those over-hyped tools-of-the-moment. But I was 100% wrong.

Now Slack is my entire work world. It’s the first thing I launch in the morning. I check it en route to the office see if there’s anything I should be aware of in term’s of team doctors appointments or if anyone’s little late in. Or if I am running a little late. I see what’s been happening in other offices overnight, check out what company announcements are going on, who’s birthday it is or what links have gone up in the PR coverage channel. There’s likely a cool article or two that’s been shared, which I can check out whilst I’m avoiding eye-contact with people on the U-Bahn.

But the thing is, I don’t dread it. I don’t look at it like I used to look at the mail icon on my phone with such a heavy burden. It’s fun. I want to check Slack. I like how people appear with their little balloon or sunflower status. I like the fact that people over-react to a post about what’s for team lunch. I like seeing co-workers who are remote working show pictures of where they’re at, whether it’s in a French suburb or a friend’s place in Tel Aviv. I like knowing if someone’s responded in real time to a technical issue or a problem I’m trying to solve. There’s always someone there so it seems.

So why? Why do I feel so much more connected to people and happy to interact when really what’s the difference between this and email? If I had send an email to anyone about any of the above topics, if they were also checking their email too, they would have equally the same capacity to respond as they do in Slack, right?

For me, these are the things that have made Slack the heart of collaboration within teams:

Characterisation

I feel like this is how Slack has made the biggest splash. Its quirky, and helps you to be easily quirky. Becoming your virtual self on Slack is so simple. Wth a brief bio, contact info and even timezone, which I also think is important for characterisation in addition to practical communication reasons, you’re more you than you’ll ever be in any email user interface.

The neat addition of the emoji against our status recently has added to this even more. We’re attracted by Slack’s anthropomorphic approach to chatting, but it makes it easy for us to have character and to be approachable when we’re collaborating with team members in the next chair or 10,000km away.

Color, color, color

Andrew Wilkinson, the founder of MetaLab, who was behind the interface and marketing design for Slack explained that they deliberately went beyond the generic social media blue for a reason:

“Most enterprise software looks like a cheap 70’s prom suit — muted blues and greys everywhere — so, starting with the logo, we made Slack look like a confetti cannon had gone off. Electric blue, yellows, purples, and greens all over. We gave it the color scheme of a video game, not an enterprise collaboration product.”

Andrew Wilkinson, MetaLab

Many Social media sites have been created blue for a reason. Blue is the king of logo colors, and is utilised readily for its links to credibility and calming associations, which is why its used across medical, financial, healthcare, recruitment, tech and many many other sectors. Its also accessible – Mark Zuckerberg is red-green color blind and it is also heralded as one of the reasons as to why Facebook was created in this way.

According to several studies on color, blue is pretty gender neutral; women love it, men love it.

So I think Slack’s confetti-like palette wins on both of these points. It manages to make a nod to the ever-popular blue, but it uses playful touches of orange, eye-catching red, and the maturity of black to become appealing to all.  Yet it stands out because it’s not what any of the other players in this category are doing.

By the way, if you haven’t already, there’s a really neat way to customise your entire Slack interface with different colors.

Its a place where reactions happen

Closely tied to Slack’s masterful ability to allow characterisation, the swathe of GIFs, emojis and reactions to things that happen within Slack channels is quite magical. Its reaction heaven; hilarious, and sometimes completely overboard, but brilliant fun.

Its this kind of usage of Slack that encourages us to be us. Its allows us to share friendly, celebratory and community-related topics, which inspire more instant reactions. We can congratulate someone for a work or personal success perfectly with a heart or a dancing pickle. Or if someone has some leftover food to share, or snacks have come to our rescue, await the multiple Chompy reaction emojis.

The famous Reply All function in email can make the string of team reactions to things can become entirely annoying, i.e. “you’re clogging up my inbox with pointless things”. This is not the case with Slack channels. Its the perfect forum for it, and allows you to keep your inbox free and manageable for the more “serious” stuff.

Offline / Online / Snooze

As with all previous messenger apps, you’re able to see your collaborator’s status really easily. This real time element is where we’ve been able to make the most of each other’s time and also respect one another’s boundaries. I know there’s little point in direct messaging a friend or co-worker who isn’t online. It means they’re away for a reason.

You can’t do that with mail, and sometimes an out of  hours email can be so intrusive but the sender has no idea if the other person, sometimes in another timezone, is online or not. I feel like its a double-edged sword whichever tool you’re using but I think the fact that your status is clearly visible to others allows you to set boundaries and catch each other at times that are most suitable for you both. When you only have small windows of overlap with friends or co-workers in other timezones this is really the most effective and friendly way of getting yourself connected fast.

Privacy is not the default, its the exception

Most Slack channels are fair game – you can pick which ones you would like to be a part of and join. Or be invited of course. I think this allows such a wonderful sense of transparency that we never had with the more traditional working rules of emails and email groups. They were locked down to only the users, unless you made a request to IT or the Office Manager to have yourself added.

Slack channels still require an element of guidance and rules of engagement, but as an individual you’re more in control; you can easily search and browse what’s happening in the team slack and be a part of all if it if you so wish. Now that’s impractical from a notification point of view and you soon learn to only get involved in channels that benefit you most. However, locking down channels as private is the option, its not the default and I think that openness between groups is also what makes Slack such a friendly and unthreatening place to be. Its the online equivalent of an open-plan office.

Say it with less words

Slack never imposed a character limit like our Twitter friends, but by nature of its design we must be swift. Its real time and not for essays. The rules of email structure are out the window. This forces us to be smarter and more to the point, thus driving efficiency. Slack’s environment makes us more economic with our words, even allowing us to boil it down to one simple emoji in some cases. We say less and mean more.

Slack FTW

All of this said, there are still rules of engagement with Slack like there are with any ways of communicating with others. However, I think Slack has really changed the game of collaboration, communication and team building within teams. Its a productivity enabler.

All whilst making you feel like you’re slacking.

 

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