Is group chat making you sweat?
March 8, 2016 1:48 PM   Subscribe

 
On a very related note: Slack, I’m Breaking Up with You:
Just because it’s fun to hang out at the water cooler at work, it doesn’t mean I want to work there.
posted by zachlipton at 1:55 PM on March 8, 2016 [3 favorites]


My note from bookmarking this yesterday:

tl;dr: we transmuted everything good about IRC into a shitty office panopticon and now some of us are having second thoughts.
posted by brennen at 1:56 PM on March 8, 2016 [17 favorites]


> Following group chat all day feels like being in an all-day meeting with random participants and no agenda. And in many cases, a dozen all-day meetings!

So...like hell on earth?
posted by The Card Cheat at 1:56 PM on March 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


Great article :thumbsup:
Anyway here's another article about something different

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/gif clockwork eyeballs
posted by Potomac Avenue at 1:56 PM on March 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


all-day meeting with random awesome participants and no agenda
posted by leotrotsky at 1:57 PM on March 8, 2016 [4 favorites]


Every tool is only as good as the people who manage it. Too many times I hear higher ups saying "let's get *insert tool de jour, these days usually Slack*" without talking about how it will be implemented. I've seen Basecamp turn into a disaster because no one was in charge of implementing it properly. And I like to think my own team's Slack rooms are really quite useful– I keep them small and on topic to the project– mainly for notifying each other on what we are working on and if we are fiddling with some shared resource, we have a #random channel for things like lunch or random links.
posted by melissam at 2:00 PM on March 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


TFW you can't post this article in your work Slack
posted by Potomac Avenue at 2:01 PM on March 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


We don't have a unilateral 'you must use hipchat' or whatever going on at work but were are very much entrenched in ASAP Culture and I'm personally having a hell of a time figuring out how to pivot around that to create better and more sustainable teams and collaboration.

I sometimes feel like I'm in the eye of this perfect storm of 1)growing company, 2)extremely-greenhorn employee base, and 3)top-level resistance to process and documentation.

This article is helpful as I continue to work through these challenges at my own work.
posted by Doleful Creature at 2:02 PM on March 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


. Mental fatigue and exhaustion. Following group chat all day feels like being in an all-day meeting with random participants and no agenda. And in many cases, a dozen all-day meetings! You hear it from people all the time — it’s exhausting. Constant conversation, constant chatter, no start, no end. You can decide not to pay attention, but that leads to a fear of missing out.

I think this is a generational thing. I've had one or more IM clients running all day every day since I was 15. It's really not that hard or stressful to keep an eye on group chat - and by that I mean consumes 0 resources for me. Maybe I'm just spoiled in that my job has a sane culture where people don't abuse the chat and know when to use the right tool for the job. Everyone (at my job at least) knows that chat rooms are literally just for chat. Is that so rare?

What matters is that I wouldn't be able to do my job at all if the various co-located teams couldn't communicate this way. Conversations need to happen and most of the time everybody needs to be in on them.
posted by bleep at 2:03 PM on March 8, 2016 [5 favorites]


Announcements aren't chat.

An inability to review and reference later.


This is what I hate about Slack/group chat. My last company had the terrible habit of posting major things (change of process, release dates) into a Slack channel that was used for other random things. When I complained that I couldn't find the things I needed to know, it was helpfully pointed out that "Slack has a search function." Yes, but then I would have to know of the existence of info I'm unaware of currently to search on that!!!
posted by sfkiddo at 2:06 PM on March 8, 2016 [15 favorites]


I also think the article's point that design matters is huge. I don't like Slack's interface compared to Hipchat. Slack's interface IS way too busy and demanding.
posted by bleep at 2:07 PM on March 8, 2016


Slack has the advantage of its clients actually functioning, though, for which I'll forgive it almost anything. The quality of Hipchat's clients should be grounds for criminal prosecution of Atlassian. Too bad Slack can't scale to 1k+ users.
posted by invitapriore at 2:10 PM on March 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


I'll just say that Hipchat vs Slack is a case-study in the difference between checking off all of the feature boxes, and really sweating the small details.

Hipchat theoretically does everything that Slack does and then some. After reading the respective marketing materials, no sensible business person would buy Slack over Hipchat.

But, in spite of all of the similarities, Hipchat is also borderline unusable. There's absolutely no joy in using Hipchat, and the minor bugs snowball into an overwhelmingly frustrating user experience.

Slack might not be the one-size-fits-all solution for team communications (and we've never really tried using it for that). It's also probably vastly over-hyped. But it's also one of the most polished products that I've ever worked with.

Getting "the small things" right in software is unbelievably difficult.

Slack reminds me of a lot of the things that I used to like about Apple. It's a fun tool for doing serious work. It enables powerful workflows, but retains a deceptively simple UI that stays out of the way. Everything is right where you'd expect it to be, and the attention to detail is really quite spectacular.

Sadly, Apple no longer embodies any of these qualities, and the entire industry (including Apple) have jumped down a rabbit hole of removing features in the name of "simplicity," learning exactly the wrong lessons about Apple's successes in the mid-2000s. MacOS (and webapps like Flickr) only looked minimalistic. There were plenty of powerful features available, but those tools were carefully tucked just out of sight, but still existed right about where you'd expect to find them.
posted by schmod at 2:14 PM on March 8, 2016 [28 favorites]


Wow I could not disagree more about Hipchat. The bugs I encounter once in awhile and they're not great but I like that it gets the job done with no effort from me. Slack's ability to react to each line basically demands that you react to each line and consuming all of that really does feel overwhelming and also pointless in a work setting.
posted by bleep at 2:26 PM on March 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


I use slack for 90% of my work communications, and it's great - modulo the fact that modern workplaces want to overwhelm you with information by any means necessary.

I simply have two separate machines. One only has work on it; one only has slack, Skype, gmail, Google Voice, Facebook, etc.

And I have a KVM switch. When I switch to the work machine, I have no idea what's going on on the interruption machine.

I have trained people to know that I'm very responsive - on the medium-term. Every hour or two I dip back into the interruption machine, respond to questions, and that sort of thing. Other than that, I'm unreachable except by phone, but no one ever calls me because it's never that big an emergency.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 2:28 PM on March 8, 2016 [7 favorites]


I posted the Slack, I'm Breaking Up With You post on my personal Facebook page the other day. I work for a very collegial, "flat" organization that uses Slack, and many of my coworkers and collaborators (and the people who sign my cheques) are friends with me on Facebook.

Anyway the article generated some discussion, especially after I said I preferred Podio (which I do, but Podio is overkill for our group).

Then I suggested we switch to SharePoint... They thought I was serious.
posted by My Dad at 2:33 PM on March 8, 2016 [3 favorites]


I think this is a generational thing.

I really don't think that's what this is about. I mean, I've been on IRC most of the time since like 1996, and in umpteen generations of IM clients along the way, from ICQ or thereabouts on. I've used chat pretty heavily in team environments, and had it work (I think) pretty well. Chat is just part of the space I inhabit. I like it that way. I don't expect it to go away.

I still pretty much hate Slack, or at any rate the social phenomenon of Slack as I've encountered it.
posted by brennen at 2:41 PM on March 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


No I meant feeling burdened by keeping up with chat because you've never had to do it. If you've been on chat since forever then obviously this doesn't apply to you. I wasn't talking about Slack in particular, which I also hate.
posted by bleep at 2:57 PM on March 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


tl;dr: we transmuted everything good about IRC into a shitty office panopticon and now some of us are having second thoughts.

IMO, the value of IRC is to connect to your professional network that expands beyond the company you work for. I mean, when your internal network looks like a Jonestown Kool-Aid party, you better hope you can get past the corporate firewalls.

Slack and Hipchat do nothing to change this calculus, because they're designed to isolate to a single company. One of the university LUGs I follow is now investigating Slack, and one of my open source clients adopted HipChat for their operations team. They're shiny right now, but they'll go as far as the Ning and Jive communities previously attempted, because they produce a single point of failure accounts must be made / approved, and because they suffer from a lack of network effects: the LUG in the next city over adopting Slack doesn't make it much easier for your LUG.
posted by pwnguin at 2:58 PM on March 8, 2016


I wanted to second mellisam's comment. This reads like a very long-form restatement of two well-known ideas: no tool is appropriate for every problem and tools cannot solve social problems. It might be more accurate to say that tools amplify existing behaviours, good and bad.

Yes, chat can encourage people obsessing over response time but I find it exceedingly unlikely that the places where this is an issue didn't have the same culture about email with someone's phone buzzing every 3 seconds or your boss calling to ask why you hadn't responded to something they asked about 3 minutes ago.

Yes, chat can encourage hot takes and one-line comments — but again, did any of those places not have similar problems with email? In my experience, the same people (usually micromanagers) who would do that do the same thing where they try to gun through their inbox in the first 20 minutes of the day or send terse comments in the hall on the way to a meeting.

Yes, chat rooms can get noisy. Just like email, a meeting, or an open plan office. In every case, the solution is the same: talk to people who are derailing the group and try to structure things to encourage on-topic behaviour, whether that's having an agenda for a meeting or encouraging a subset of people to discuss things in a separate channel/meeting/room and pass along a summary for everyone else.

There are also a number of points which are simply inaccurate, and since we know Jason has actually used these products, the continued trend really makes me think that part of the problem is wanting a tool to avoid uncomfortable discussions about social norms:

“Thinking a line at a time rather than a thought at a time” — this is only true if you're using “group chat” to mean “Twitter”. Slack, HipChat, most Jabber servers, etc. allow you to write multi-paragraph formatted messages if you want. I use that regularly and it's a great way to send a fully formed idea.

“An inability to review and reference later. Ever try to go back and find an important conversation in a chat room or channel?” — as the pattern with this piece, this is a universal problem and the solution we've been working towards since the early 90s is to give things durable URLs. The other side of this is the distinction between conversation and a durable product like a document, for which we've always had to find social solutions for making sure people can find the current consensus without having had to have been personally present for every meeting, read every email chain, etc.

“Lack of context. When things are discussed in the same space, and the only separator is time, discussions lack context.” — This is a universally problem for every known form of communication and the solution has always been to use separate spaces. This is a built-in feature and in my experience one which works well for exactly this problem, so I suspect the real problem here is the fear of missing out which he mentioned in a few other places; the fact that it keeps manifesting would be a sign that their culture values that whether or not anyone sat down and explicitly requested it.
posted by adamsc at 3:03 PM on March 8, 2016 [8 favorites]


We use skype at my organization. It was definitely an adjustment at first, and I still don't love a lot of the things he talks about here, like the pressure that can come with it, or the weird way conversations can go. BUT. I work with several teams, all of which are geographically distributed, and it's an amazing way to build camaraderie and keep teams integrated and collaborating when you can't just do an in-person huddle or tap someone on the shoulder.

I definitely think it helps to have group chats be well-defined. I'm in several that are clearly project-bound and dedicated to getting specific work done, and I'm in a few others that are more for information-sharing or team-building. It's really useful to know which is which, so I know which ones I need to pay close attention to and which I can ignore for half a day and then just scan when I have the time.
posted by lunasol at 3:08 PM on March 8, 2016


Work chat terrifies me from a liability standpoint. Banter that used to happen verbally happens online now, and that chat room is archived. Your mild joke today becomes grand jury evidence tomorrow.
posted by backseatpilot at 3:09 PM on March 8, 2016 [3 favorites]


Work chat terrifies me from a liability standpoint. Banter that used to happen verbally happens online now, and that chat room is archived. Your mild joke today becomes grand jury evidence tomorrow.

I'm having trouble seeing the downside here.
posted by CrystalDave at 3:26 PM on March 8, 2016 [3 favorites]


Conversations need to happen and most of the time everybody needs to be in on them.

Oh man, I don't know if I could disagree with a statement more.

Everyone involved in every conversation is a recipe for an inability to scale a team's output beyond about 3-4 people. It's also a perfect way to foster a team dynamic in which every goddamn thing, no matter how trivial, has to be argued at length -- because one person wants it done slightly differently even though both ways are completely reasonable, and they're not even one of the people who will be doing the work, and jesus christ do we ever actually get any work done around here, or do we just argue and argue till someone caves in for the sake of "consensus"?

The inability of team members to trust each other (in single or in sub-groups) to make good decisions on their own is perhaps The Biggest Red Flag for me.
posted by tocts at 3:33 PM on March 8, 2016 [6 favorites]


I sometimes feel like I'm in the eye of this perfect storm of 1)growing company, 2)extremely-greenhorn employee base, and 3)top-level resistance to process and documentation.

I'm in the same situation, it can really suck. I've spent the past couple years trying to introduce the concept of feature freezes, so we aren't going through 90% of QA and then randomly throwing in new shit. Upper management finally seems to be getting it, but we'll see if it sticks this time. After changing a process to solve a problem, they have a really bad habit of forgetting said problem ever existed and reverting to the old way.

As for Slack, I don't mind it. Unlike our previous platform (Google Hangouts), it's well thought-out, versatile, and consistently works. However I assume anything I say in it will be visible to the higher-ups and archived forever, and I always shut down marathon chat sessions that could be resolved by speaking face-to-face for 2 minutes.
posted by segfaultxr7 at 3:37 PM on March 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


I think I just have been spoiled by an extremely sane work culture. I'm not talking about 20 people debating a button color. Individual and small team work still happens. But there is a lot of stuff that everyone benefits from being aware of it.
posted by bleep at 3:38 PM on March 8, 2016


Sadly, Apple no longer embodies any of these qualities, and the entire industry (including Apple) have jumped down a rabbit hole of removing features in the name of "simplicity," learning exactly the wrong lessons about Apple's successes in the mid-2000s.

Cargo cult usability: Jobs removed features from his products while making them great, so lets remove features from our products to make them great, too.
posted by cosmic.osmo at 3:39 PM on March 8, 2016 [4 favorites]


> I'm having trouble seeing the downside here.

I can understand a number of places that response could be coming from, like for example the stuff about harassment in the sciences a handful of posts back, but I still think I'm going to have to get off this train of thought somewhere well before it pulls into the totalized surveillance of all working life station.
posted by brennen at 3:59 PM on March 8, 2016 [3 favorites]


Wow I could not disagree more about Hipchat. The bugs I encounter once in awhile and they're not great but I like that it gets the job done with no effort from me. Slack's ability to react to each line basically demands that you react to each line and consuming all of that really does feel overwhelming and also pointless in a work setting.
I'm with bleep -- Slack has a number of little UX things that really annoy me, and HipChat, for the most part, has never caused me any issues. All my HipChat rooms have fewer than 10 members, though, and we don't do much integration with our code control and CI tools, so maybe that's part of it.
posted by DLWM at 4:05 PM on March 8, 2016


As someone who, in the last 15 years, has worked multiple tech jobs requiring communication with remote teams (and, at times, being a significantly remote worker myself), I find group chat to be an absolutely vital part of communication, to the point that the one thing that discourages me about my current employer is their lack of decent group chat options (one-to-one, we handle just fine).

I've been places that use IRC, Campfire, Hipchat, and Slack. They all have their ups and downs. But, for me, they're all a way that I can easily reach out to folks on either my team or some other team and quickly get what I need. They're a way to insure that you KNOW the folks on other teams, and that they know you - you've interacted with them in some way, you've seen the questions they can answer (and vice-versa), and they know to come to you with problems in your bailiwick.
posted by hanov3r at 4:09 PM on March 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


IRC was all right, but its disciples are thick and ordinary. It's them twisting it that ruins it for me.
posted by thelonius at 5:34 PM on March 8, 2016


Somewhere along the line I lost the knack of IRC and IRC-analogues. Something about things like Discord and Google Hangouts just feels off to me, almost crystallised in the wrong shape. I think partly it's the (usual) lack of hands on OPs, which might stem from a reduced sense of ownership of a channel, and partly it's the unread counter making the thing feel like a hyperspeed forum instead of a conversation that happens to have an echo.

A decade ago when my dad worked in disaster recovery, I remember him having a whole monitor dedicated to a half dozen IRC channels with stuff like tickets, updates, and I assume general chat going on. It seemed to work damn well for him, so I assume it's doable in a work situation, but even a group chat with my friends feels painful to keep up with these days.
posted by lucidium at 6:25 PM on March 8, 2016


MATHOWIE SERVES IMPERIALISM
posted by Joseph Gurl at 7:43 PM on March 8, 2016 [2 favorites]




My nine year relationship just ended and I blame Slack culture for a good chunk of its downfall. The shift to an "always on, always connected, gotta be talking to the team all the time" business relationship killed any attention to me.
posted by avocet at 7:02 AM on March 9, 2016


I like Slack a lot, TBh, especially as email has become less and less manageable. If there's a thing that's a plague in business communications i'd say it's poorly managed instances of Jira or attempts to use Jira to do EVERYTHING.
posted by Artw at 11:30 AM on March 10, 2016


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