I’ll Slack You

The messaging app works best when you use it for anything but work

Photo: Austin Distel/Unsplash

A dream job is not a real job. A dream job consists of certain parameters: There’s the income, the environment, the expectations, the potential for growth and satisfaction. Those parameters are promises, but they don’t play out in reliable ways. A dream job exists only in its promises.

A real job exists in reality, and reality is filled with many undesirable things. For example, you can land your dream job, only to find out that in order to keep this dream job, you must participate in something as silly as a work retreat. Which genius convinced enough people to go on the first work retreat? And then how did they come away from that experience proselytizing?

I went to a work retreat in 2017 that I’m still not over. I have flashbacks from that week — not sleeping enough, drinking too much, awkward conversations, all the wasted food, all made extra uncomfortable by the wet, cold climate of upstate New York. The worst part about the whole experience, for me, was that I had joined the company only a few days prior. My manager said it was “perfect timing” because I could meet colleagues who were flying in from all over the country. Little did he know, for an introvert like me, this “perfect” scenario was a nightmare.

And no one told me a very important thing: Everyone was Slacking each other, constantly, on their phones. I was new to Slack; I had never worked for a company that used the messaging app. Someone had created a Slack channel for the retreat, and all the up-to-date information was being funneled there.

Now, it wasn’t the people Slacking who were the problem. The people at my company were great. Empathy was baked into the mission statement, because it was a co-working company. (No, not that one.) The problem is that work culture can never be separated from actual work. And if you want to grow quickly — and for some reason, every freaking company in America wants to grow fast — no amount of empathy will cure the surmounting stress that comes from nonstop Slacks.

I discovered that Slack did serve a useful purpose for my accounting team: We could sit next to each other and bitch about work without anyone the wiser.

I don’t inherently dislike Slack, but its name is misleading. A better name would be Anti-Slack. Or Slackless. Or how about No Slack. I don’t know — I never worked in marketing. Instead, I was on the finance team. We were a weird group because half of us were actually accountants. Finance people and accounting people are different breeds. Finance people want to work until midnight and dream about owning yachts. Accountants want to work until 5 p.m. and dream about whatever passion they traded away in exchange for a career in accounting.

I wanted to be done at 5:00 p.m., but I was never done, at any time. I dreamed about work. I woke up thinking about work. On weekends, I worked out work problems in my head. Many of these problems were technology problems. I was an accountant, but I spent many hours troubleshooting and finding workarounds for systems that wouldn’t talk to each other properly. It turns out that when you’re working in a new industry like co-working, one of the biggest hurdles is explaining your business model to vendors. And even if you explain it well, you find out there’s no app for that.

I discovered that Slack did serve a useful purpose for my accounting team: We could sit next to each other and bitch about work, without anyone the wiser. (I’m sure we weren’t the only work team to capitalize on this particular feature.) Slack was also nice when colleagues would randomly message me some encouragement. (Like I said, I worked with great people.) But Slack became a stressor once again when I finally downloaded the app on my phone, because then I found myself participating in some very bad habits. Like responding to messages from the West Coast at 9:00 p.m., when the three-hour time difference meant we were operating in different mindsets.

But the absolute worst thing about Slack was the expectation to answer immediately. Unlike the somewhat dignified exchange via email, where a shred of professionalism remained, the etiquette on Slack could quickly turn confrontational. And this wouldn’t be a big deal if it was just one person messaging another person. I still remember this one day, when we had recently implemented a new banking tool for receiving payments from our clients, and instead of my manager discussing the issue with me, I got pulled into a Slack channel where 20 higher-ups were grilling me about the new software. They needed updates — now. Like, whoa, why does this have to be a crucible instead of a one-on-one conversation?

Despite all this, I still found myself ending an in-person conversation by saying, “I’ll Slack you.” For all its flaws, Slack was a good way to get out quick bits of information or tie up a loose end on a certain issue. But when people tried to use it as a kind of digital town hall, it just turned into an overwhelming stream of data, like any other stress-inducing feed I try to avoid in my professional and personal life.

My partner uses a messaging app similar to Slack, and I see the app pulled up on his computer constantly. Sometimes I feel a bit nostalgic watching him use it. It reminds me of the early days on AOL, when instant messaging was just for fun, not for work, because the channel my partner now participates in is filled with ex-colleagues from his last job. His new job uses Google’s messaging app, so this Slack-like channel is reserved solely for fun, or for bitching about work — with people he no longer works with.

Writer living in Brooklyn, NY.

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