Slack: Another Phone Call

Managers love Slack.

They get instant answers.

CEOs and other top level people, and the impatient love it. “Driver” sales types who are happy to interrupt if it means a faster answer love it.

Engineers hate it, unless it’s part of a scheduled meeting that absolutely cannot be avoided. Thinking deeply requires focus, and focus is fragile. In order to solve certain problems, I need to hold the business-logic equivalent of 10,000 lines of code in my head. It’s hard enough to keep out my own internal distractions without someone asking me something trivial that could easily have waited 3 hours.

As a CEO, I can’t help but be jealous of Slack’s meteoric rise to glitter-covered unicorn status in just months. I wish them well, for what it is, it’s a truly great tool.

That said, in the end, people loved email in the beginning too. Now, not so much.

Slack and others (Hipchat, etc.) are quick to tout “network effects” to their investors. Personally, I’ll never allow open distraction to our staff. Most companies do not: it’s why they have a receptionist, to weed out those sales calls. Phone companies touted network effects too.

Obviously the phone is a useful tool, and so is #IRC or any other reincarnated business chat platform.

But tools cut both ways.

What’s the solution? Personally, I’d like to see “scheduled escalation”…¬†guarantee an answer within X hours or N days: if no response, escalate method, first with successive emails, then chat, then phone calls. Usually it’s not needed – emails I truly need often get returned.

Except cold sales pitches.

See the pattern?

If you’re a surgeon and a patient might die on the table, or in a real estate closing and you need an immediate answer, then phone calls – and slack – are warranted.

If you want to use Slack, Hipchat, or any other chat solution that turns all conversation into a limitless never-done quasi-meeting that creates one more subconscious loop of undone-ness in my head, fine. But don’t expect there’s no price to pay – and the price is far beyond whatever they charge.

To me, it’s another phone call, which I’ll ignore if I can.*

* to clients: Just as I “go dark” on others when I’m with you, it’s not personal when I go dark on you. We’ll have staff escalation policies if a server truly is on fire to get you immediate help, but these firewalls are designed to keep us effective, so if you want to break through them, expect to pay. That’s intentionally designed – we want to be as effective as possible for us and you.