Wait, So Technology Isn’t Always The Answer?

Technology, Too many apps, laptop and smartphone

I am not an early adopter when it comes to technology; rather, I’m a proud technology skeptic. For every story I hear of someone finding a magic productivity app that seemed to add hours to his or her day, I hear at least three of someone buying software or downloading an app that was never used. Even worse, I hear many stories in which technology actually made the initial task even more complicated and confusing, often by introducing unintended consequences. Often this is because the technology only addresses the most overt symptoms of workplace inefficiency, but leaves the underlying problem unaddressed.

Last spring, New York Magazine had an article about just this topic – specifically, the additional complications and unintended consequences in workplaces that use Slack. Slack is a team communication and collaboration application that claims to be “Where Work Happens.” You can have large group, small group, and one-on-one conversations in real time, and the threads are searchable and archived all in one place.

In theory, Slack sounds great: if the members of your project team have different communication styles and different preferred modes of communication – for example, email versus phone versus gchat versus walking down the hall and talking in person – then it seems to make sense to introduce one virtual space where all team communication can take place. 

In practice though, Slack just adds another method of communication for everyone to use – or not use – differently. Not only that, you just gave your team yet another means of being inconspicuously unproductive at work, since Slack chats look like productivity even if they’re about nothing work related.  Unless you establish clear expectations for use and can enforce compliance, you will probably just end up with an even less coherent and more distracted team.

A more effective solution would be put a system in place to make sure that at least the most important communications happen in a deliberate, defined, and consistent way, and that the decisions are documented. For example, you can set a recurring meeting for the whole team (in person or via phone or web) at the same time every day, or week, or month to make sure everyone is on the same page and has the same information about the project. That way, even if everyone continues to have their own side discussions about the project using their own preferred modes, you’ll at least have the one regularly occurring opportunity to all get in sync.