Slack’s wild ride from startup unicorn to public company is about more than billionaire bingo. It’s about trends that are changing the nature of work, a la “how did we do this before Slack?” Most of all, the rise of work platforms like Slack and Microsoft Teams will change how you make decisions, whether you use them or not.
On the surface, Slack and its ilk are just group chat for business, complete with emojis. For the bulk of the workforce today, it has an over-hyped, vaguely Millennial or even teenager feel that prompts defensive reactions in non-believers like “Email is never going away,” or “Why don’t they just pick up the phone?” On the other hand, the idea is old hat for the tech savvy, going back to the famous-in-Silicon-Valley “mother of all demos.”
But beneath the surface, Slack is subtly driving three major changes to the way we work:
Simple and Consistent Interface: Slack’s interface is simple but powerful, even as you add more and more apps to it -- no more figuring out how to use yet another new software tool. People using group chat don’t just get used to a simple and consistent interface. They expect it.
Disciplined Work Practices: Your email inbox is a dumping ground -- other people send and you pay the price. Slack is like a shared inbox -- we all have the power and pay the price together, which demands more discipline. That’s partly why Slack took off faster with remote technical teams whose naturally disciplined work practices fit Slack’s need for mutual responsibility and respect. People using group chat don’t just get used to disciplined work practices. They expect them.
Transparency: In Slack, everyone works in a shared space, the workspace records everyone’s conversations, and a lot of those conversations are open for almost anyone to join. People using group chat don’t just get used to transparency. They expect it.
For sure, using apps like Slack in the real world can be messy, especially when companies adopt the technology without disciplined practices in place. Hundreds of proliferating chat channels littered with poop emojis is hardly a thrilling vision of the future of work. But even before the necessary team discipline kicks in, group chat starts setting expectations of simplicity, discipline and transparency in our minds.
Creating new expectations for how work gets done is a big deal.
A Consistent, Disciplined, Transparent Community
However, Slack doesn’t stop there. Because Slack allows other companies to add apps to the platform, it is creating an ecosystem of companies who have bought into consistent, disciplined and transparent teamwork.
This philosophy of work comes through even in the technical architecture of the Slack platform. Cloverpop recently began work on a Slack app for communicating and tracking decisions. While designing and developing the app, we started using the phrase “let Slack be Slack” to mean “keep it simple, disciplined and transparent.” That’s how Slack works, all the way down to the code.
Slack is creating a community of people and companies that expect teamwork to be a transparent and disciplined experience using simple and consistent tools. That’s a far cry from the stereotypical view of office workers beset by shadowy in-the-know politics, capricious bosses and arcane systems.
After the IPO, Slack will have a lot more capital-driven motivation to make that agenda succeed, in turn drawing more investment in this philosophy of work from well-heeled competitors like Microsoft.
Decisions drive our success at work, and Slack is rewiring our brains and work infrastructure so we will make better ones.
Consistent communications will get decisions out of the hallways and speed up execution. Disciplined checklists will get decisions on record and improve their quality. Decision-making transparency will unlock the power of diverse perspectives. Finally, an ecosystem of companies will put information where it’s needed, at the fingertips of decision makers.
Emails and meetings are the worst ways to make decisions because they tend to reinforce so many bad behaviors. Slack’s philosophy of simplicity, discipline and transparency naturally nudges people towards better decision practices. And Slack’s IPO makes it even more likely that these new expectations will become reality.