How Slack’s employees use Slack
Slack officially launched in 2014 as a side-project from Flickr cofounder Stewart Butterfield. When Fast Company spoke with Butterfield the next year, the service had 500,000 daily users. Now, it has more than 6 million daily users with at least 3 million more using it every week. Despite ongoing competition from Facebook Workplace, Google Hangouts, and Atlassian, 43 percent of Fortune 100 companies are still using Slack, and unlike many of its competitors, Slack is making money from its more than 2 million paid users.
Beyond user growth, the company itself has matured. Two-thirds of its more than 1,000 employees are based at its headquarters in San Francisco. There are other offices in London, Dublin, Melbourne, New York, Tokyo, Toronto, and Vancouver. Not everyone may meet in-person, but at Slack, everyone’s accessible via text, call, or video chat at a moment’s notice (unless, of course, they’re offline). That’s the power of Slack.
At the company offices, using Slack starts early. Two weeks prior to their first day, new recruits have access to a Slack workspace where they can meet colleagues starting around the same time. On their first day, employees are encouraged to search the archives and get a sense of conversation on different public channels.
That level of transparency and access to information is something several Slack employees we spoke to noted as one of their favorite parts of working at and using Slack.
“The level of transparency is insane from any company that I’ve worked at,” said Schwartz, who previously worked at Twitter.
“I came from Facebook, and Facebook very much valued transparency, but I think Slack takes it to another level. That’s something that was so clear from day one,” said Christina Janzer, Slack’s head of user research. “There’s a piece of that [access] that felt very overwhelming but in a very empowering way.”
Slack emphasizes using public channels whenever possible. Janzer said she does message privately with her individual teammates and her boss, of course. Slack’s addition of threads confused some users at first. At Slack, it’s helped make conversations more manageable within those public channels.
“Threads are good when you step out to the side and then want to come back to the group and let everyone know about the conversation. It’s a lot easier to go there and see how people are going back and forth on the ideas,” Schwartz said.
Slack engineers may be the ones building the product and creating new tools, but the organization still relies heavily on third-party apps. For example, Slack uses Reacji Channeler, a third-party app where users can assign a particular emoji to move a message to another channel.
Even at Slack, not every conversation happens on Slack.
“Some of us sit together, so there’s occasional face to face, but a large majority of our collaboration is within Slack,” Janzer said.
To help boost more IRL conversations, Slack uses the third-party app Donut. Employees sign-up to be randomly matched with a colleague and encouraged to have a coffee, or a donut.
While dreaming about Slack is real life in 2018, Slack employees shared that they do unplug.
“We try to promote that you need to create the balance in your life. Not everything is an emergency,” Schwartz said.
But for Slack employees, using Slack isn’t always about work. Schwartz said his group of friends use Slack as their personal group chat.
“I think the reason we like using it is because it has a lot of functionality that are some work based and some fun based,” Schwartz said. “It’s easy to be like, let’s be adults and organize our lives and then hey, here’s a pic of Beyoncé.”
Some parts of Slack, such as emoji reactions, emoji statuses, and emoji in general, can seem childish. But emoji and GIFs are considered important to put dialogue in context.
“When you’re just relying on text, it’s really hard to tell how someone’s feeling. If I tell my boss, ‘I’m going to miss a deadline,’ and she says, ‘Okay,’ I’m like, ‘What does she mean?’ Emoji happy face? Emoji sad face?” Janzer said.
Slack employees frequently uses the tool’s emoji statuses to share where they are physically and mentally, Janzer noted.
Slack executives have said, publicly and privately, the company is interested in seeing the end of email. By 2025, Slack is betting Slack “channels will replace email as the primary means of communication,” the company’s VP of product said last year.
Slack, similar to Facebook and Twitter, also wants to analyze and redefine what “healthy” communication means.
“More messages doesn’t mean more productive. Maybe they’re sending more messaging because they’re having a harder time. We’re trying to be more thoughtful with attitudinal data,” Janzer said.
For Schwartz, healthy conversation could be back and forth pictures of doodles. For others at Slack, there’s a channel called #trashpandas all about unhealthy but most likely delicious food. There’s work-related ones, too.