Featured image: Founders' Desk, Dave

Curing Our Slack Addiction

I love Slack. I really really do. So much so I would call it an addiction at this point.

Slowly but surely this addiction has been killing my sanity and sapping our productivity as we simply used Slack for too many things. We decided it was time to try a new approach for communication at AgileBits.

Below is the story of how we started using Slack, the problems that started to crop up, and our plan for moving forward.

How We Got Here

We started as a 2 person company 10 years ago and slowly but surely grew to over 60 people.

As a remote company, group chat felt essential, especially given the flat company we had with no management. It worked quite well at the beginning.

Over the years we’ve tried many chat clients and would switch to a new one every few months. We used IRC, HipChat, FlowDock, Campfire, and test drove many others. And then we found Slack and fell head over heels in love.

Almost everyone loves Slack, and it’s no surprise. It’s incredibly fast, always remembers where you were in every channel, has wonderful integrations, and provides fantastic clients for every platform.

And the notifications are to die for. They are simply amazing and fun to receive. At any moment I can get anyone’s attention and have a quick conversation with them, and everyone can do the same with me.

As a company we’ve never felt more connected.

Channel Inflation

It didn’t take long to realize that having 60 people discussing everything in one channel wasn’t going to work, so we quickly expanded the number of channels.

It started innocently enough: having different channels for Development, Documentation, and Customer Support was an obvious choice and indeed a good start.

In time, each of those channels needed to split into multiple, more focused channels. Development begot iOS, Mac, Windows, and Android channels, and Customer Support spawned new areas for Forums, Twitter, Social, Outreach, and Email.

Then there were all the amazing app and service integrations. We could receive Slack messages whenever an issue was opened, new code committed, or someone said something on Twitter. It was fun and reduced our dependence on email. It felt like we were in heaven.

These integrations added a lot of noise for some of the team, while others felt the notifications were important to their workflows. So we created more channels, allowing people to choose what worked best for them.

In each case we would add more channels in a desperate attempt to allow people to find the important information they needed while avoiding the noise.

Often we would hear jokes about having too many channels, so we created #too-many-channels to help people find the channel that they needed.

You would think adding all these channels would be an administrative burden, but that wasn’t the case. Slack allows anyone in the company to create a new channel so if you need one there’s no need to wait for anyone—simply create it and invite everyone you want. The sky’s the limit!

Our limit ended up being 81 channels. And this did not include private channels nor archived ones.

Using Slack for All The Things!

Slack was simply too good for us to resist and as a result we preferred using it over all the other tools at our disposal.

When you had a question about how 1Password implemented something on Mac, you simply asked. You knew Rick and Kevin did some work related to your question, so you would @ mention them both to make sure they saw it.

If you were on a phone call with a customer and were stymied by a technical issue you weren’t prepared for, you would use use the global @ channel notification to make sure you got an answer in real time.

In the event that you found a bug you would simply mention it in one of the channels and expect that it would be taken care of. After all, there’s tons of people in the channel so surely someone would do something about it.

When you couldn’t remember why 1Password behaves the way it does in a particular situation, your first instinct would be to switch to Slack and ask. And since everyone’s addiction was as strong as yours, you were sure to get someone’s attention.

All of these interactions would happen in Slack, despite there being many other tools that are better suited. Tools like bug trackers and wikis would allow answers to be preserved so future questions wouldn’t even have to be asked but they weren’t as fun.

We all knew how great it would be to have a repository of knowledge for people to find their answers, but Slack was simply too good at providing the quick fix we all needed. Copying these answers from Slack to a permanent location didn’t release the same endorphins provided by Slack, so it seldom happened.

Connectedness vs. Communication

With Slack we were more connected than we ever were before. We had 81 channels where anyone could talk to anybody in the company, and if the person you needed wasn’t in that channel, no worries, you could simply @ mention them and they would be added instantly.

If it sounds like it would be hard to focus, it was. But we were willing to accept this in exchange for better communication.

The thing is, being connected doesn’t magically enable effective communication. If you’ve ever listened to an old married couple fight about how the other one never listens to them, you’ll instinctually know this already. If living together doesn’t help the old couple communicate, how can we expect a group chat tool to do it for us?

But for some reason most of us think that communication is simply a tooling problem and completely ignore the human aspect. In reality people are the most important piece of the puzzle, so we should simply teach them how to communicate better, right? If only it was that easy.

For many months myself and a few others have been trying to make Slack work for us. We would be the bad cops and point out people’s bad behaviour and suggest alternatives.

When someone would report an issue in Slack, we’d point out the appropriate JIRA or GitHub project where that should be reported. When someone would get an answer to their question, we’d remind them that they should copy it into our internal knowledgebase so others could find it in the future.

It got to the point where several of us would answer questions with a Let Me Google That For You link. It was insulting and we didn’t feel good doing it, but we were at the end of our rope and desperately trying to point out how ridiculous things had become.

Unfortunately it didn’t work. The allure of the always on nature of Slack and instant gratification was just too strong to resist.

And even if we had been successful in changing people’s behaviour, the lack of threading made it very difficult to have meaningful, deep conversations about complex subjects anyway. Before you could even fully understand the problem being discussed (let alone find a solution), someone would invariably start a new conversation or reply to a previous discussion that happened earlier in the channel.

Effective communication requires a lot more than amazing connectivity. The fact many ‘Bits complained they had no idea what was happening in the company or why certain decisions were made proves this point.

Sanity Check

It took me a while to realize just how bad our patterns of using Slack had become for my sanity and the health of AgileBits.

Slack forced me to evaluate things very fast and respond quickly, otherwise I would miss my opportunity to join a conversation before it moved onto something else.

Then there was the fact that we had so many channels and direct messages and group chats. It multiplexed my brain and left me in a constant state of anxiety, feeling that I needed to always be on guard.

And I had to read everything. I felt that I had no choice as often decisions would be made in Slack that I needed to know. And in other ways it was simply an addiction that needed to be fed.

For me, things came to a head when one of my awesome team mates asked me something I didn’t expect:

Dave, I feel like you’ve been much more angry as of late. Is there something else going on? Some stress that none of us are seeing?

I was surprised by this question because the reality is I’m happier now than I have been in years. And I had just finished sending out (what I thought was) a very positive and uplifting internal newsletter to the entire team. So where was this question coming from?

Then I realized that this individual was raising this question in Slack, after I had a Slack conversation with them complaining about how they were using Slack incorrectly.

This made me realize that our use of Slack was even more destructive than I had realized. The time pressures forced me to be curt and I avoided taking the time to be playful. Worse, since I was in a constant state of heighten anxiety, I often wouldn’t feel like being playful to begin with.

I had always evaluated Slack from the point of view of “Does it make me more productive?” and “Does it help my team ship a better product?”. I had never considered the more important question “Does Slack make me look and feel like a dick?”.

I think the answer to the last question was yes. In fact, some of the most positive and uplifting individuals I know come off as curt and stressed and pissed off in Slack conversations. And given that I believe the answers to the first two questions are NOT a resounding yes, I don’t think the sacrifice is worth it.

Breaking the Addiction

Breaking up with the tool you love the most is not easy to do.

Indeed, it’s so hard that we talked about changing tools and behaviours for over 6 months. The rallying cry of “it’s just a tool, let’s use it properly” was heard so many times that I lost count.

The reality is we could make Slack work for us but it would require constant policing. I simply don’t want to be that bad cop, and I don’t want to hire a police force either. Furthermore, Slack was not designed for the deep, meaningful conversations that are needed to move 1Password forward.

So we made the incredibly hard decision to break up with Slack. We’ll always be grateful to Slack for all the fond memories and I suspect our paths will cross again someday, but for now we need to be apart so we can remember why we fell in love to begin with.

The next stop on our communication journey is Basecamp. In a future post I’ll share more on how we hope Basecamp will help and how we plan on using it alongside our other tools.

66 replies
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  1. Polly
    Polly says:

    Slack sounds like a fantastic product, and kudos to you for recognizing it might not be the best product for you & the 1Password team. Really interesting post, thanks for sharing and I’ll look forward to a future Basecamp update. (I’ll now have to google it to find out how it’s different from Slack!)

    • Dave Teare
      Dave Teare says:

      Thank you, Polly! Slack really is amazing, and I miss it already :)

      I have no doubt that we will use Slack again in the future. We just first need to learn to use it properly and avoid using it for every imaginable task :)


    • Ranjit Notani
      Ranjit Notani says:

      The basic problem I see is that people are using what is fundamentally a tool for synchronous discussions (everyone present at the same time) for asynchronous discussions (people are not expected to follow up immediately).

      Asynchronous discussions require threads, unified inboxes etc. Unfortunately, the go-to tool for asynchronous discussions have too many flaws to count. You might want to check out https://tmail21.com which is a communications platform tailor made for asynchronous discussions and also integrates deeply with Slack via a Slack app.

      This blog article I wrote might also be helpful. https://tmail21.com/blog/the-biggest-pitfall-of-slack-and-how-to-overcome-it/

      Disclaimer: I am the CEO of TMail21.

  2. Guillaume Serton
    Guillaume Serton says:

    Very interesting post Dave. It’s awesome to see how a product can lead even it’s a very good software.

  3. Max Siegel
    Max Siegel says:

    Definitely interesting to read how Slack unintentionally created a class of higher-responsibility employees, i.e., ones who tended to know and felt compelled to answer questions because of the way Slack is designed. I can see how that would be unsustainable and emotionally draining. Good on you for recognizing the issues and acting to correct them! 👍🏼

    • Dave Teare
      Dave Teare says:

      Thanks Max, but we’re not out of the woods yet! I’m hoping we learn to rely on the other tools at our disposal before we snap and revert to our precious :)


  4. Chris Lykins
    Chris Lykins says:

    While I haven’t noticed these kinds of trends cropping up in my office — yet — it gives me a good roadmap for potential problems to head off at the pass. The biggest disconnect for us ends up being generational. Most of the younger staff members are comfortable in the environment, while some of the older staff would prefer a little less always-on connection. Great read!

    • Dave Teare
      Dave Teare says:

      Thanks Chris! I’m glad you enjoyed reading this. And I’m super happy to think that I was able to highlight potential issues for you before they happened. With any luck your sanity will be preserved :)

      Your generational gap could actually be your strong suit. If we had a portion of the company completely uncomfortable with instant chat then we would have been forced to communicate in other ways.


  5. Dan
    Dan says:

    The noise of Basecamp was the reason we moved to JIRA and Hipchat (similar to Slack), we manage our Hipchat overkill by taking things offline when lengthy discussions need to be made to make a decision – either via group video chat or in person if its possible – the decision that is made is then notified to all (via @all) in the main channel, it helps that we have specific unit heads to ratify these decisions, I can imagine it would be harder in a flat company!

    • Dave Teare
      Dave Teare says:

      Thanks for sharing, Dan.

      Jira is great and we use it ourselves as well (GitHub too; long story…). We also used Hipchat for a while and it was pretty good as well.

      It sounds like you managed to create a work flow that makes chat work well for you. I’m envious and hope we get back to that point someday :)

      It’s a fun journey and we’ll continue onwards. We’re bound to get it right some day :P


  6. Josh "SnoFox" Johnson
    Josh "SnoFox" Johnson says:

    Very interesting. Slack made communication too good. Note to self — when we switch to Slack, make all my answers links to wiki pages :P

    • Dave Teare
      Dave Teare says:

      You hit the nail on the head. The drug is too strong. It needs to suck more :)

      But seriously, yes, if every answer went to a wiki page, you’d have a lot more success with Slack that we did.


  7. chrishoward
    chrishoward says:

    Working for myself, I don’t belong to any teams in Slack. But I am already in 8 communities and experience many of the problems Dave mentions.

    Worst is the lack of threading. Numerous times my questions haven’t been answered because they get lost in the flurry. Or I’ve had to trawl and manually thread conversations in my head.

    Another problem I see, and Dave mentions, is the loss of public knowledge. All these conversations that used to happen in public and google indexed forums, are now locked away.

    You have to be disciplined to use Slack. The way I’ve come to use Slack is turn it on, ask a question, turn it off, come back a few hours later and hopefully have some replies (among the flurry).

    I think Slack’s problem is much more is being demanded of it than it was built for.

    It seems to have been built for small teams. For a team of half a dozen on a single project… ideal. But it is being used for teams, organisations, communities and so on, and in many different ways.

    I get the impression Slack thought if you polished a problem you’d make it go away. Make it fun! Then folks won’t mind that efficient and productive communication is still a problem unsolved by technology.

    Slack is like putting the watercooler and meeting desk in the middle of an open office layout.

    Someone is going to solve the problems Dave had before, during and after Slack. Maybe the Slack guys will be the ones to finally crack it. But I’m sure they now realise that making software fun to use isn’t a solution.

    And although I criticise Slack, I shouldn’t. It’s us who are demanding too much of it.

    • Dave Teare
      Dave Teare says:

      Thank you for the additional perspective, Chris.

      You’re right that you need to be very disciplined in Slack as your team size grows. The channels in Slack that were my most productive channels were the only with 7 or less people within them. Unfortunately the ease at which anyone could invite anyone else to join, these channels were few and far between.

      And I’m totally with you: this is not a Slack problem. I did my best to make it clear that I’m not blaming Slack. Our usage of it was the main problem, and the fact it doesn’t reenforce the good traits was secondary.

    • Peter
      Peter says:

      Nice idea, but a few things about SlimWiki (which looks great): The Free forever plan doesn’t have slack integration according to the pricing page; and for 61 team members like Agilebits has, it’d be an extra $300/month to pay, on top of their Slack fees.

    • Dave Teare
      Dave Teare says:

      It’s a great idea Jan, having some wikis would help a lot. I tried to address this in the post by talking about the fact that we do have issue trackers and internal knowledgebases already, but we simply weren’t using them as much as we should be.

      It would be easy to blame Slack for this and move on, but the reality is this is a behaviour issue that needs to be addressed. While it’s not a “tooling problem” per se, I ultimately decided we needed to completely deemphasize chat as our primary method of communication because it didn’t reenforce any of the good behaviours that we needed.


    • Dave Teare
      Dave Teare says:

      That’s a juicy feature, isn’t it?! I was so tempted to wait for threading but decided that by itself it wouldn’t be enough. We needed to go cold turkey for a while so we could reset our work behaviour. Hopefully the withdrawal symptoms die down soon :)


  8. ShaneNo3
    ShaneNo3 says:

    I think Bitrix24 got collaboration much better than Slack. You really need to combine contextual chat with tasks and documents in order to be effective. I won’t be one bit surprised if Bitrix will kill Slack in a few years.

    • Dave Teare
      Dave Teare says:

      So many apps to try. Thankfully our journey is a long one so we should have plenty of time to try them all :)


  9. fluentmatt
    fluentmatt says:

    A great article. I certainly share some of the problems you list. It can be so easy for conversations to be interrupted and important information lost.

    The Slack anxiety is certainly real too – feeling you have to be constantly replying to messages, and constantly being replied to as well.

    It will be interesting to see when threaded messages lands how it affects this.

    I look forward to hearing how you get on with Basecamp. It’s something I have looked at many times before, but never tried.

    • Dave Teare
      Dave Teare says:

      Thank you! I really enjoyed writing this article as it ended up being rather cathartic. It helped me feel good about the decision to try something new.

      I have high hopes for Basecamp, but I think it’s important to repeat that in most ways this is a behavioural issue so it is bound to also fail if we don’t learn and move forward. I can’t wait to share more on how things turn out in future posts :)


  10. C.Su
    C.Su says:

    Mattermost.org has had threaded conversations for at least the past several dot releases. (It is very nice to live in the future with Mattermost : ), although hosted Slack is convenient.)

    To help alleviate some of the problems described by the author, bots and slash commands may help facilitate (potentially automated) queries to, and pushing of content to, more appropriate repositories. The ability for bots to reply in a thread is helpful. However, not every team has the ability or time to customize bots to the extent required, and until bots achieve automation nirvana, some policing and discipline is still required.

    Key: other than team “ops” or “support” channels, the team’s culture and values need to formally recognize that always-on expectations are not healthy.

    Notes from the future… these persistant group chatops tools will evolve to support multiple levels of participation specified by channel (e.g., I agree to read only, I agree to receive at mentions, I agree to fully participate all-in; perhaps these are dynamic settings based on availability, calendar integration, or a defined schedule). Individually customizable “SLAs” for joining a channel at the at mention or all-in levels, could help manage expectations for responses, and micro-KPIs for responsiveness could easily be measured individually against the SLAs, either for fun personal metrics, or where participation is a formal requirement.

    • Dave Teare
      Dave Teare says:

      Thanks for sharing!

      I love the idea of individually customizable “SLAs”. The fact that anyone can @ mention anyone at any time makes it very hard to keep your number of channels low. Without constant maintenance, everyone becomes part of every channel whether they want to be or not.

      But I think our people and behavioural issues are more prominent than our tooling issues at this moment. Chat simply doesn’t reenforce the traits that we need reenforced at this moment, so we’re trying something different for a while.

      It’s a fun journey and we’ll continue looking for the best solution.


  11. Stephen Starkey
    Stephen Starkey says:

    Quite interesting! I wonder if also there needs to be an intentional effort to create real community in the organization. The fact that it was so hard to change behaviors leads me to believe that not just is the tool at fault. It appears the business also doesn’t create space for people to come together, reflect on how they use their tools, and commit to better use together. This would remove the need for “policing,” because people are included in decisions about how to use them.

    I may be biased as an agile coach, but I believe tools should be subordinated to community. When I see tool abuse, I immediately ask what it is about the community that they are so easily swayed by its idiosyncrasies. Why can’t there be a real, solid team agreement to use it differently? Why don’t people respect those agreements?

    • Dave Teare
      Dave Teare says:

      That’s some wonderful food for thought, Stephen. Thank you for sharing that perspective.

      Ultimately I think it boils down to what I’m sure you’ve heard a million times: “we’re too busy to talk about that now”. Of course we could make the time if we truly made the effort, and of course in time it would pay for itself many times over. The thing is, logic doesn’t always reign. Gambling is completely illogical, but many people still do it. :)

      I’m no phycologist, but I have always found The Placebo Effect absolutely fascinating. It reminds me that as humans we can’t rely simply on logic. Sometimes you need to purposely avoid an amazing tool because of addictive tendencies.

      I feel bad admitting this, but I was a smoker for many years. I logically know this is a bad thing, but that didn’t stop me from smoking an entire pack a day; sometimes two. I’m very happy that this is a distant memory, but every once in a while I get a craving to go back to that lifestyle. It scares me so I do my best to avoid those social gatherings where I know my will power will be tested.

      I think a similar parallel can be drawn here. We absolutely will take the time to learn how to work better together (we have to if we ever expect to grow further) but I am going to take things very slow when it comes time to reintroduce Slack. It simply doesn’t reenforce the traits that we need right now.


    • Infostack
      Infostack says:

      Stephen, you took the words out of my mouth. Yes there are missing features; threading being but one. As well, a message might apply to or have impact in more than one channel; so some type of “apply to” feature and then “link-back” to original message for context. That’s how you get information shared between different product and market and functional groups efficiently. The list could go on and none of these would destroy the appeal and performance of the platform.

      But none address the critical issue, which is how is it set up and integrated with all the other KM and communication platforms (internal and external) in a consistent and rules oriented way. In particular the latter must take into account sender/receiver contexts. Furthermore to start with 3 channels and explode to 81 says, “we have no clue how we are really running our business and how we expect various parts of the organization to react to and process and output specific or re-purposed information.”

      The reality is that most organizations are 3 dimensional. From the top Z, X axis we see the product/market matrix. We then slice this down the functional Y axis into the organizational layers categorized by outward facing and strategy influencing at the top to internal and tactical execution at the bottom. Then information and resource consumption (including time) can be better managed. Use this structure to map or define the various KM and communication solutions in a powerful, efficient and flexible way.

  12. Manish
    Manish says:

    At our company, we’ve moved largely away from synchronous communication to async communication — we use https://www.discourse.org/, and it’s been working out really great. Meaningful, thoughtful conversations, leading to decisions, instead of confusion. I particularly, love the quoted reply, and edit reply part — makes you fix and enrich your response over time; which is just incredible.

    • Dave Teare
      Dave Teare says:

      Thanks for sharing that, Manish!

      We’ve looked at Discourse a few times now as an internal knowledgebase and you’re right, there is a lot to like there.

      We’re actually test driving Discourse again for the third time as we definitely see the value there. Our current thought is to use it for documenting customer support issues as well as policies and procedures. In time I hope it becomes an invaluable part of our tool bag.


  13. Ted
    Ted says:

    “Almost everyone loves Slack, and it’s no surprise. It’s incredibly fast”

    What’s your trick? Slack is the slowest chat system I’ve ever used, by at least a couple orders of magnitude. The only interface is a glacial web app — or a “native application” that’s just the same web app running in its own window.

    Amazingly, even though all it does is send a line of text every few minutes, Slack takes about 10 seconds to load, over gigabit ethernet, on a new quad-core CPU with 16GB of RAM. As a programmer, I literally cannot conceive of what it might be doing that could make it so slow.

    What chat system is there that’s slower than Slack? I’ve used IRC for over 20 years, and every client for that loads in the blink of an eye — even on a 386 with 16MB of RAM.

    • Dave Teare
      Dave Teare says:

      Are you serious, Ted? I’ve very rarely had any performance issues with Slack whatsoever. The only time I will sometimes have an issue is on the first launch, but it happens so infrequently that it’s no big deal.

      Anyway, I feel we’ve gotten off-topic here. This isn’t a Slack-bashing post. In fact I tried to make it the opposite and come at it from a “absence makes the heart grow fonder” point of view. I truly loved Slack and miss it already. I hope to bring it back someday, but not until we properly solve the underlying issues that caused us to abuse it so heavily.


    • Ted
      Ted says:

      Dave: yes, I’m absolutely serious. Slack is over 7 megabytes on the wire, spread across 100+ resources. If you don’t believe me that it’s orders of magnitude slower, I dare you to try loading it on a 386 with 8 MB of RAM, with a 28.8K modem — a machine that could start and communicate across IRC almost instantaneously.

      Slack is easily the biggest and slowest web app I use. I don’t love it at all, and I’m rather annoyed that everybody’s adopting it, which essentially forces me to adopt it if I want to communicate with my coworkers. I don’t think we’re getting off topic here. In my experience, once even 2 people at a company decide they love it, then it takes over and essentially requires everybody to buy-in to its distraction level.

      BTW, I find the term “first launch” somewhat misleading for a web app. It happens several times a day for me (and not just in Slack). I reload a webpage but forget which window is in front. Boom, 10 seconds lost because Slack is displaying a MOTD while it reloads the entire client.

  14. Jesse Trucks
    Jesse Trucks says:

    I’ve used so many different chat systems in the last three decades I’m sure there are several I’ve forgotten. The problem with all of them is the very issue described in Dave’s post: instant ability to exchange messages does not mean better communication. The lack of threading, too many channels, automated integration noise, off-topic noise, poor documentation of problem resolutions and decision making, and a host of other issues exist with leaning too much on a chat system for primary communication. I’ve seen these things in the chat BBS from the 90s; IRC (of which I am still a fan, but not for group productivity – even on freenode staff we used non-IRC tools to collaborate and took serious issues to email); the modern slew of things like HipChat and Slack (which don’t really differ in their paradigms – they differ only in the client and server implementations); and older tools like Skype, AIM, and Google’s chat (whatever they call it this week).

    This is not a tooling problem. This is a fundamental problem about how people function in their brains and how people communicate. Dave alluded to some of this with his comments about anxiety and endorphin hits. Research shows that anything left undone and incomplete has a cost in our minds in terms of increased distraction and anxiety. Other research shows getting that little vibration or ding for a new message goes straight to our primal brains and releases pleasure inducing chemicals in our brains. Using chat to drive your team or organization means everyone leaning on that system instead of using it as an occasional collaborate tool or social outlet (great for remote teams to talk about their kids, cats, and coffees) will grow more anxious and less productive.

    As Dave said, it becomes an addiction. When not caught up on the various channels and mentions, there is a feeling of agitation and anxiety. When you get caught up that goes away. When you get a notice of a new message, you get a literal high feeling for a brief few moments, so you want more and more notices of new messages. These are just like popping a pill to feel less anxious and feel good all at the same time.

    These things are not good for productivity, employee retention, or better products and services. They can wreck an organization and destroy a great product or service offering over time.

    Use instant communication tools, like SMS, Slack, IRC, or paper airplanes over the cube walls, for brief, interactive collaboration to clarify an issue or make arrangements for something like meetings or dividing up tasks and sharing family, pet, and hobby anecdotes and media. Don’t use it to drive your company. Despite the ads, Slack will not, can not, and should not replace email. If an organization abuses email heavily, they will abuse a chat system more heavily. Changing tools isn’t the solution. It’s effectively using tools for what they are good at doing for you. Treat chat systems like stopping by someone’s cubicle or office for a quick discussion, then follow up real decisions with an email, ticket update, bug report, meeting notice, or whatever else is needed to properly document the results of the business discussion and decisions made therein. Don’t try to shove it all into the chat system, or your organization becomes the digital equivalent of an Opana shooter den.

    • Dave Teare
      Dave Teare says:

      Hi Jesse,

      Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts!

      I really like how you stated this: “leaning too much on a chat system for primary communication”. I think I’m going to steal that for my followup post :)

      I was looking for the exact research that you described. That’s exactly how I feel when things are left undone; I call it OCD but I’m sure that’s clinically incorrect. Do you have any links to the research on anxiety and leaving things undone? I’d love to read more about it.

      Take care, and thanks for the BBS reference. That made me smile :)


  15. Brad Touesnard
    Brad Touesnard says:

    Hey Dave,

    I’ve been using 1P for years and love what you guys do. We‘re using 1P for Teams and it’s been great for our team. Congrats to you and your team on the great work going from downloadable software to SaaS. Big step!

    Because I love you guys, I feel compelled to offer some honest feedback on this. I appreciate the transparency in your post, sharing your struggles (we try do the same on our blog), but at every step in your article I found myself thinking, that’s a people problem, not a tool problem, that’s a systems problem, not a tool problem, that’s a Dave problem, not a tool problem. I hope that switching to Basecamp solves some of the problems you outlined, but I would be surprised if it solved them all.

    As a solo-founder managing a team of 6 I can’t imagine reading every Slack message if we ever get to 60 people. I’ve been slowly learning to stop drinking from the firehose even at our current scale. I currently read all our Slack messages, but I plan to let go of that and rely on summary reports from mangers and team leads. We’ve already made some baby steps in that direction, but admittedly it has been very hard.

    I identified notification alerts as a source of stress for me a few years ago, so I just turn them all off. I encourage my team to do the same. Pull is so much better than push. I check my notifications maybe once an hour or so. With Slack, I only get notifications for mentions and direct messages.

    Also, every team member shouldn’t have to follow every channel. We have a channel for each of our products and I don’t expect a member of one product team to be following the channels of other products. They’ll get a notice if they’re @mentioned and that’s good enough.

    We regularly remind each other to create a GitHub issue, write documentation, or whatever a Slack discussion calls for. I think the police has to be a force, not just one person. Important Slack discussions get lost in the scroll, so if they aren’t put elsewhere, that’s dropping the ball, like pushing untested code to production or forgetting to email a customer back. Everyone has to be convinced of that, but we also have to accept that things do get overlooked no matter where discussions happen. We just had a major bug almost make it into a release this week because some concerns were posted on a GitHub issue but never addressed. A new GitHub issue should have been created but it wasn’t.

    I realize my team is tiny compared to yours and I’ll probably be eating my words in the future, but hopefully some of this helps. Instead of abandoning Slack altogether, I think I would archive all the channels and go back to just having a #general channel to see how that goes. Back to the beginning.

    • Dave Teare
      Dave Teare says:

      Hi Brad,

      I am so happy you brought this up! You’re absolutely right, it is a set of people/system/Dave problems and not a tooling issue. I tried to make it clear throughout the post that Slack is an amazing tool and we love using it but it was time for a change because we simply weren’t using it correctly.

      I ended with some foreshadowing about switching to Basecamp. We are doing a lot more behind the scenes than just switching to Basecamp. We have some process changes and clearer roles and responsibilities that I hope will help a lot. In my next post I’ll be explaining the results of this in detail. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on it as well.

      As for your team, I have fond memories of being a team of 6. You’re right, drinking from the firehose when at that size is possible and very tempting to continue. I found the temptation too great to resist. I wish you the best of luck learning to rely on summary reports from your managers and team leads. It sounds wonderful in theory and I’m looking forward to reading your post about it in a few years to learn how well it worked for you :)

      I think the biggest issue to the “just subscribe to the channels you need” suggestion is the @ mention feature that you brought up. You’re absolutely right that not everyone should be in every channel, but everyone is just an @ mention away. Unless you police this daily, you’ll eventually find that every person naturally gets invited into every channel. It sneaks up on you one channel at a time.

      I love Slack but I feel we need something more rigid at this stage in our lives.

      Anyway, it’s a fun journey and we’ll all keep on learning. Let’s both continue our journeys and make something awesome ;)


    • Brad Touesnard
      Brad Touesnard says:

      It sounds wonderful in theory and I’m looking forward to reading your post about it in a few years to learn how well it worked for you :)

      Hah, a sound prediction! I’ll be sure to title it “Curing Our <New Communication Tool We’ve Adopted> Addiction” in honour of your post. :)

      W.r.t. to the @mention thing, that sounds similar to the ‘ol email cc: abuse problem to me. Similar problem, different era, different tool.

      The whole policing thing is terrifying to me. Thanks for bringing that to the fore for me. I’ll be making an effort to bake it into our company culture at every stage of growth.

    • Dave Teare
      Dave Teare says:

      I would be honoured to read a post with such a title! :)

      Regarding “policing”, it terrifies me as well. The greatest insult to me is to be called a micromanager. Sadly my followup post includes a story about me being called exactly that. Oh well, live and learn I suppose! All we can hope for is to do our best and course correct along the way.

      Best of luck to you, Brad!


  16. Dave Criswell (@davecriswell)
    Dave Criswell (@davecriswell) says:

    Thanks for the post Dave! Maybe this will come in follow up posts about the move to Basecamp, but I’d love to hear the criteria you used to select Basecamp.

    We use Slack heavily, plus Asana for task and project management. It’s been a while since I looked at Basecamp and would love to know their advantages from a recent new user.

    • Dave Teare
      Dave Teare says:

      Hi Dave! Awesome name, btw ;)

      Yes, absolutely, I’ll be sharing more about why we selected Basecamp in my followup. But to be honest, I have no plans of a “why tool X is better than tool Y” type of post as I truly think Slack could have worked for us if we were more disciplined.

      So my plan for my followup post is to talk about the new changes we’ve had internally to help define roles and responsibilities, and how we’re using Basecamp to try and help increase communication while reducing the amount of noise.

      It’s a great post in my mind anyway. Hopefully it’s still a good one once I get it written down :)


  17. Dan Schoenbaum (@djschoen)
    Dan Schoenbaum (@djschoen) says:

    Hi Dave,

    What a great article. I have read a few other articles expressing similar sentiment in Medium over the past few weeks, so you are not alone.

    In my opinion, the primary issue with Slack is that people start communicating about their work, but end up broadening use and the product quickly becomes a time suck with too much irrelevant discussion and work quickly takes a backseat. What Slack is missing is the focus on work (ie: task management).

    I am the also a CEO – at a company called Redbooth. Our unique approach is to provide a single workspace where you can manage tasks, share files and have chat – and, in the process – and stay focused. Basecamp has 6 different work areas for each project, and we hear that creates a lot of sprawl.

    To keep things focused, we added chat, but the chat is inside of each task – so discussions are about the work, and stay about the work. Lots of our customers tell us they cut email by 40% and often get things done in half of the time. That’s what gets me and our team out of bed every morning! Best of luck to you and the team, enjoyed the article and want to give 1PW a try!

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