re: [Ask Dev] Is Slack disruptive at work? VIEW POST

FULL DISCUSSION
 

I think it is disruptive and hostile to doing deep, focused work.

It is by design: it is meant to interrupt you from whatever you are doing so that you can provide an immediate answer to any question no matter how inane. Being in constant contact over chat will simply prevent you from doing deep work, and ruin your productivity as a software developer. This is a well-understood phenomenon, but there seems to be no industry-wide consensus on what to do about it. We want to be able to jerk the leash of an employee anytime we want, but we also what high quality work produced quickly. I don't believe you can achieve both in a field where productivity is constrained by cognitive efficiency.

My personal strategy has been highly effective, and nowhere near as controversial as you might think it would be in practice. In the morning I answer any questions for me over chat, then I send out a group message that says, "I'm going offline. If you need me send a text message to my phone number and I'll hop back online." I always kept this promise with no exceptions, so I was always easily reachable. I suspect people regarded a text message to my personal phone number more intimate than a chat message, so they did it far less often. This strategy ended up being so effective, that management ended up endorsing this practice, as its value was highly visible: I produced a far higher than average amount of work at near-perfect quality.

FWIW, on my Developer Class Quiz Results, I am 100% Ghost.

 

That's exactly the kind of thing I'm interested in, I feel like developers NEED asynchronous communication to be the default. Otherwise, it's so hard to make time to get deep into a problem.

 

Starting with more of an abstract comment, but I find the mantra of "developers require focused work more than other professions" to be incredibly unproductive and disrespectful to colleagues in other disciplines. To argue that development is the only profession that requires deep, focused work implies something incredibly negative about other professions. It doesn't matter whether your career is writing code, writing blog posts, completing financial audits, or any other number of things. If your profession requires mental effort then it requires deep focus and, in your eyes, asynchronous communication.

Having said that, I'd argue that - despite its default notification settings, which are designed to get the maximum engagement out of users, thanks to Slack's origins as a VC-backed company that needed to show growth - Slack is an asynchronous communication tool. You can entirely mute channels, DMs, or the whole darn app. You can actively prevent coworkers from interrupting your thought process. If you want you can disable @here and @channel notifications, disable push notifications on your device, as well as leave Do Not Disturb on 24 hours a day, and you'll be able to functionally use Slack the way you'd use email. In fact, it's how most people in my office have their accounts set up. In my mind, Slack is great in that it allows you to choose your level of engagement, and if you'd like that level to be "none" then that's your prerogative.

Searchability is a fair argument, though I personally feel that "starring" and "pinning" messages, combined with the new search interface rolled out earlier this year, I no longer struggle to find messages like I used to. Slack search used to be problematic, but I haven't felt that pain in a while.

...I find the mantra of "developers require focused work more than other professions"...

I don't believe this argument was made.

Thanks for you thoughts. I didn't mean to say other disciplines don't need focus, but I really feel that pain as a developer.

I think that's an interesting approach, but I feel like the people building the product are opposed to using it the way you've described.

I don't believe this argument was made.

I interpreted developers NEED asynchronous communication to be the default to be an exclusive statement, but I now see that I added some personal context, I apologize for putting words in your mouth.

I think that's an interesting approach, but I feel like the people building the product are opposed to using it the way you've described.

I think that's completely fair, but I don't much care if they disagree with my notification setup :) Twitter probably doesn't like that I have notifications entirely disabled, but I'm not letting that stop me either.

It's probably only exclusive in that this is a developer-centric site. In the small, remote fishing village where I do stuff, we use the term Maker (as in Maker vs. Manager) to describe those of us who need focus — artists, designers, developers, writers, etc.

 

That is super brave of you to offer your personal phone number up for work access!

 

GV (and similar services) are great for retaining control of your phone number. Set your default answer policy to "straight to voicemail" (optionally enabling call-screening), then dump known callers into different groups that you can make rules for (e.g., co-workers can call me any time M-F from 0700-1800 but go straight to voicemail outside that daily; friends can reach me daily from 0600-2300; family has no restrictions).

 

Not really. My manager already had my personal number for if they needed to reach me, and if my coworkers abused it I could block their number - but I never had to block anyone. Honestly, the whole thing worked out way better than I thought it would. People were respectful of my time, and when someone reached out to me it was usually because they were stuck and needed my help to become unstuck. My policy is to always stop what I'm doing when I'm asked for help, and people were grateful for that. Generally, if you conduct yourself consistently in a respectful manner, people will usually extend you the same courtesy.

 

My phone number's in my Slack profile. That said:

  • A lot of people don't ever look at other users' profiles
  • My phone number is through GV …And I've got my GV rules tweaked so that, outside business hours, I'm unreachable by co-workers.

I stay logged in to Slack, though, and simply make use of its more useful features to govern my interruptability (muting channels, wholly pausing notifications for set periods of time, etc.) There's a lot you can do with Slack to preserve/enhance its usefulness while reducing its annoyance-capability. It's a really good idea to read Slack's documentation.

 

I agree with this response. The problem here isn't the tool. There are two issues I see.

First and foremost, you need to set clear boundaries. Complaining to us helps you vent. Making a clear and structured argument to your manager could actually improve your life.
I told my manager "Hey, when my meetings are spread through the day, I can't focus long enough to do difficult projects."

He's a great manager, so he told me to block off my calendar for a large block and he moved all of my required meetings to the late afternoon. Solved.

Second, don't assume the way you develop is the only way. I need large block of time, but I also work best in collaboration. I'm capable of writing code in isolation, but the stuff I write in collaboration is better by far.

So we do tech design workshops with two to three devs. We discuss and design on the whiteboard. We use slack to communicate timely things that are higher priority than email (focus changes, new meetings, readiness of PRS, blocker bugs).

We also use it to share links. If you favorite the link, it's quite easy to search. Then you let it go when it's no longer important.

I find slack to be a key part of that ecosystem.

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