In recent weeks, we have seen numerous issues with internal conversations being shared and leaked to the press from internal slack and Teams chats.
Elon Musk Issues: One of the biggest examples was from Elon Musk’s company SpaceX, 2600 staff were concerned over their CEO’s tweets. An internal memo raised a number of concerns and a number were fired, with the SpaceX COO commenting:
“We have too much critical work to accomplish and no need for this kind of overreaching activism”— Gwynne Shotwell. SpaceX COO
This is a pretty extreme take on genuine concerns raised.
Elon Musk’s recent town hall at Twitter was basically televised via slack and commented in real-time externally via journalists’ accounts. With Bloomberg sharing insights.
Brian Armstrong Issues: Coinbase is another large company example, with the staff concerned over the performance and misguidance from the Chief Operating Officer, Chief People Officer and Chief Product Officer, addressing concerns in their open letter. Coinbase also had issues with political issues throughout 2020 and 2021.
Many other companies have seen issues with tools like Slack and Teams where departments convene and raise concerns or create tribal movements to challenge the leadership’s direction or raise issues externally to force a conversation when ignored internally.
Social Networks Vs Work Communication Apps
These tools act like social networks with reactions, video and photo sharing and often groups forming around non-work-related topics, leading to internal debate and disconnect. When these actions occur, this often causes internal movements to apply pressure for the company to respond to external political topics that the company often never would have.
As we saw from the SpaceX example, we are seeing a lot of hard kick back (including firing) from large firms.
Much of the debate centres around a ‘them vs us‘ scenario, however, are the chat-based apps becoming less work-related and too centred around the private chatter.
A question to answer at a partical level and importantly an operational level? Can you focus work apps around work? Ask 25% of your workforce in an anonymous survey and it will surprise most c-suites.
Hybrid Work Not Hybird Chat?
Hybrid work relies on asynchronous and real-time conversation, many opting for real-time and long threads in slack or Teams, making this the centre point of work rather than software tools like Asana, Monday.com, Notion, Google Docs or Office products.
Remote companies have worked through specific guides and do’s and don’ts for chat-based tools. Without chat apps, these firms would greatly struggle.
Many departments and colleagues fail to remember the apps are there for work and developing out projects.
Teams sole focus is to connect the Microsoft suite in a team-centric environment. Enabling everyone theoretically to stay on the same page and get work done.
Slack is focused on bringing your digital presence to the workplace through API integration and quick decisions and cross-functional project hubs.
For many, chat apps were the saviour of forced work from home in the height of Covid, many relying on chat apps to stay connected, keep company culture flowing as best they could and be introduced to new colleagues via apps like donut.
Would there be a huge backlash if you decided to phase out your chat app?
Would Removing Non-Work-Related Chat Work?
An issue that has spanned over a decade, could you remove non work related chat from apps like Teams and Slack? Do colleagues simply move their conversations to group chats on their personal devices and over to apps like iMessage and WhatsApp?
Rightly or wrongly, we know a number of managers move to text messages when they need a quick answer and remove boundaries, is this where leaders need to really consider the work life blur and respect that email is for x, chat apps are for y and workspaces is for z (async and deep work)?
Could you remove Slack Or Teams tomorrow?
The likely answer in most execs head is a simple yes.
To most underneath the C suite or founder team it is a hard no.
A few years ago I had to put together a business case for Slack over Teams, the business was reliant on Slack for the integrations into automated reports, for alerts into news items and we were deeply invested in channel management for effective real time work.
Removing Slack would have meant a number of issues for the business and a wealth of knowledge (in conversations and workspaced) removed – this would have removed many different working styles and history of sales conversations, pitch decks and a huge number of celebrations of how we worked under pressure and numerous micromoments and micro events where we beat out competitors and achieved hyper growth through real time collaboration in our newsroom approach.
We were lucky to have a rigirous workspace async working principle that helped us to centralise the most important information.
Many do not have these style of work and struggle to keep up with email, chat apps, team hubs and workspaces. Removing the chat app over night would mean a huge change to the business and a loss of huge amounts of invaluable information that would not live anywhere else.
Removing chat apps sound good in theory but in principle, it will require a huge amount of planning, a huge shift for most working styles and force a step change in communication.
Is there better and more effective operational ways of working away from chat apps? Yes.
Is it worth removing chat apps and centralising conversation around more async documentation – likely but this won’t work for those untrained from this working style and in hybrid and remote work it could actually do more harm to performance and culture.
The Move To The Work Metaverse
When Microsoft, Slack and many other companies see themselves as the work metaverse, it is going to be a challenge to remove your companies and department’s reliance on Teams or Slack. Particualrly when the work metaverse promised more immersive settings and presence in remote and hybrid meetings.
The question for many to answer moving forward is – can we concentrate work on projects and campaigns and remove the tribal working nature enabling all colleagues forming together? Or is chat apps a vital part of modern day work and there will have to be more policing on usage and policy making around chat apps. Most likely.
All in all, removing chat apps will be a huge undertaking and will need such intentionality you may just push colleagues to email, private documents (like open Google Docs) and workspaces.