Slack came into our work lives full of promises, opportunities, and hope: killing email and making us productive. Yet, four years later, collaboration is still a hot topic that remains to be solved, with new actors emerging every month promising to make teamwork a breeze. What are we still missing? Why aren't teams as productive as they could be and why do they still feel friction in their collaboration?
Why Slack matters
Your team's first software purchase was a collaboration tool. And, one of the first to come to mind is Slack. The internal chat tool has become invaluable, allowing teams to communicate easily and ridding them of messy internal email threads.
Most importantly, Slack proved that a collaboration software shouldn't just be functional, it should be a great product that's user-friendly and a pleasure to use daily. It also brought collaboration back into the spotlight by enabling and encouraging new ways of working together: remote, transparency, fewer meetings etc, it brought team collaboration back into the spotlight.
And they're on point because what people love about Slack is the sense of being part of the important conversations and never missing a beat. A lot goes on in Slack threads, the company actually calls it fast information ("Let's set up a meeting Monday morning") and slow information ("Hey guys, here's my marketing strategy roadmap, give me your feedback").
Distinguishing slow information from fast information
I'll be referring to fast and slow information a lot so here's a quick jargon table:
As I was saying: when Slack first launched, excited testimonials of early adopters flooded the web. Yet, the more they adopted the tool, the more their threads contained both fast and slow information.
Inevitably, teams noticed that without the underlying context of a conversation, information amounts to little more than scrolling threads of messages. And, as much as a smarter way to treat fast information was necessary when Slack came along in 2014, slow information has become the new concern—ironically, in part due to Slack's buzz.
Thinking bigger than communication
If you use Slack as one of the pieces of your team's memory: the very beginning of an idea, of an exchange, that then leaves its budding Slack-days into another tool as a full-blown process and project, then it's wonderful.
Slack saw the limits of emails and too many meetings for a team's productivity. At Slite, we see the limits of valuable work lost in messaging threads. We see the troubles of too many real-time interruptions. Above all, we're convinced of the importance of sharing and organizing written knowledge.
More than communication, the benefits of nailing slow information trickle down to all aspects of teamwork. Take this a scenario to illustrate my point: you're in Customer Support and searching for how to handle a specific user request, you find it instantly because your team made sure to document it in a dedicated space. Just like that, you've avoided a) interrupting team members b) working at a slower pace.
The overlooked power of writing
Earlier this year, a (very) opinionated article by Abe Winter calling out Slack's limits to treating slow information got a lot of attention on Hacker News. The resulting thread went well beyond discussing collaboration software, it went to the roots of what it really takes to work efficiently as a team.
This is a recurring topic: as much as we all love Slack, have we rushed into it blindly as the savior of all teamwork struggles, resulting in lots of interruptions and loss of important information? Did we wrongfully think that solving communication meant solving collaboration?
One of my favorite quotes in the thread was from bambax, who put it best:
We always had real time. Cavemen had real time. Writing was invented to free us from real time, to transfer information in non-real time and to future generations.
Real-time should have always been simple for teams and, thanks to Slack, now it is. But, take a minute to think about the last time you felt friction in your teamwork. It probably had to do with not finding access to some relevant information and having to solicit a colleague (in real time) to retrieve it.
Collaboration is an endless topic that many people claim to solve but one thing is for sure: encouraging your team to write the slow, important stuff, organize it and share it is the best place to start.