Why teams are moving away from Slack channels

December 26, 2019


Charles Boutens, CEO

Slack is an awesome tool for messaging. But it fails miserably when it comes to sharing knowledge at scale and creating transparency in expertise inside teams.

Everyone loves Slack…

Our team uses Slack all the time. It’s a great way to follow up on projects, ask when it’s time for lunch or keep the team morale high with some of the latests gifts the GIF world has to offer.

In short, it’s an amazing direct messaging tool with a beautiful brand, great UX, tons of integrations, … I could continue for a while, but you’ve all heard this before and that’s not why we’re here.

What does Slack promise us?

Slack replaces email in your organisation so your teams become more productive.

“Slack offers a reduction in information overload, a relief from stress & less scattered focus.” - Stewart Butterfield, CEO of Slack

But, is that really what your team experiences when using Slack?

I love this vivid description of Jason Kolb; ex-CTO of Uptake, on how they experienced Slack as their team grew from 4 to over 400 people:

"We started using Slack at Uptake when there were only 4 people in the company, but as we grew I went through several phases in my relationship with Slack:

4–10 people: This is great. I can set up channels for all the different activities we’re involved in and dip in and out as needed.”

10–20 people: “Hm, this channel setup isn’t working that great, let’s reorganize and set up some private rooms.

20–50 people: “Wow, this is getting noisy. Better pare down the channels I’m subscribed to.”

50–100 people: “This is turning into a monster, completely unmanageable. I wish people would email me things they actually expect me to read.”

100–150 people: “I have Slack installed but I never check it. It seems to be working great for other people, but if you need me you’d better email me.”

150–400 people: “My god what have we done. This is seriously draining overall productivity. How do we get rid of it now?”

Slack as knowledge sharing tool 😐

In their blind love for Slack, a lot of teams have tried to use it as their go-to-tool for sharing knowledge and information. Most teams start by setting up a dedicated “#interesting” channel to share links with relevant content on different topics. Some teams go even further, for example one marketing team was setting up dedicated Slack channels per topic like #SEO, #digital-campaigning, #video-marketing…

This works for a little while, but quickly people have to go through each channel to keep up to date while most of the content is not relevant to them. Often content is missed when it’s shot too far up the page. When people are eventually working on something related to an article that was shared in one of those dozen channels, they have to go and look for it or ask others where this file was shared. This leads to more notifications and more shared links all over the place and our focus scattered across multiple messages and channels.

On top of that there exists a social barrier of sharing relevant knowledge, especially for new team members. Often people are scared to waste other’s time, “what if the content I recommend is not relevant to this person or to everyone in the group?” Through direct messages and channels, Slack enhances this barrier for sharing knowledge being between departments and projects.

Real-time messaging doesn't promote transparency.

The lack of organization inside Slack has real consequences for your team’s access to information. Yes, Slack has awesome search if you are looking for something very specific like a file, but it’s not possible to get insights into what is happening in any given channel without manually skimming through it. This leads to a frustrating contradiction: In theory, everyone has access to all the information but in reality, no one can create real transparency.

For example, when someone asks a team member for task specific information, links to internal documentation and relevant articles are often shared and discussed via chat or email. This way a lot of content related insights live isolated in one-on-one conversations, not benefiting the rest of the team.

Are these problems only related to Slack, or is there something deeper going on?

Thanks to the internet and cloud based tooling, anyone can access their files from within the browser at any place and at any given time. However the way we are sharing this information happens as scattered as ever. Basically people are copy pasting links in chat channels, emails, direct messages.

MS Teams, email and other communication platforms have similar problems. They are designed around communication between people, but are not suited for sharing information and collaboration on content.

These inbox and channel based communication tools were not built for sharing knowledge at scale and can’t create the necessary transparency needed in this fast evolving world we live in.

Teams depend on the right information to get the job done.

In most teams, information is quickly scattered and siloed, and it’s not transparent who possesses what know-how. This leads to an increasing amount of notifications requiring our attention and people spending over 5 hours per week searching for information and repeating mistakes colleagues already made.

How teams are moving away from channels and email threads towards “browser based collaboration”

In their search for a scalable solution, many digital teams are moving away from Slack and email as primary ways to share knowledge. They are choosing a Slack alternative like as a plug -and play solution to:

  • Share, collaborate and distribute knowledge and
  • Create transparency in know-how.

Collaborative bookmarking

By using the browser plugin, team members can securely save any type of content to their workspace with the push of a button, directly from the browser. The intelligence behind analyzes the content and distributes it to the people for whom it is relevant, based on their interest profiles. This greatly reduces the social barrier of sharing, as people only have to mark content as relevant for themselves.

Content based collaboration

Content related discussions are no longer held in different chat and email threads, but directly in the browser on the content itself; which enables full contextual collaboration and transparency in information ownership. Now anyone revisiting this content later, benefits from all the insights shared by the team.

On the job learning

Whenever someone in the team searches Google for specific knowledge, enriches their Google search results with information from various sources like internal best practices and other relevant content shared by colleagues in the team workspace.

“The times of digging through endless chat threads and folder structures to find relevant stuff are over. Now information just finds you when you need it!” - Sven Degrootte, ML6

Full transparency in information and know-how adds relevant tags to all content automatically, and brings together all related information in dedicated topic channels. This creates a complete overview of all the information and expertise a team has per skill.

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