I used to love Slack. Here’s why I quit.
I am a freelancer and a small business owner. In many instances, I’ve never met my clients face-to-face. Most of my work has come from bids and applications submitted electronically. I’ve had video interviews and schedule countless calls, web chats, and trainings each week. But my projects can get done anywhere, and they theoretically can be accomplished at any time of day, any day of the week, as long as I meet my clients’ deadlines.
Enter Slack, the cloud-based collaboration software that touts itself as the place “where work happens.” Several of my largest clients use Slack to manage projects, most of which are completed by moderately-sized teams whose members have never met. It seems like the perfect place to bounce ideas off one another, check in with important updates, and share files with the group.
After using Slack for a little over a year, here’s my beef with it. The program has completely taken over my life. In addition to being a writer, marketer, and entrepreneur, I’m a mother. I’m a wife. I’m a daughter. Don’t get me wrong, as a small business owner, I fully expect to be available and responsive most days and at most times.
That said, I don’t feel the need to deal with minor issues at 10:00 pm on a Thursday night. I shouldn’t have to see a team member’s question about file naming conventions on a Saturday afternoon when I’m playing with my child. And if I’ve taken a break to go for a walk with my family, I don’t need my phone buzzing in my pocket to alert me that a client wants to schedule a phone call.
I reserve the right to keep my cell phone nearby when I’m reading to my daughter. If my husband or another relative wants to call and ask if we need milk or invite me for dinner, I am allowed to answer that call.
I don’t sit around on Facebook or checking my email while I’m spending one-on-one time with my child, however. My phone is not that important to me. And I built my business to work for my life, not the other way around. That’s the beauty of taking on freelance work, rather than being an employee. Both officially and legally, I am not required to work at a particular time of day.
That’s why I have a major problem with Slack. Over time, I’ve found myself growing increasingly frustrated with the constant pings of messages from team members. I’m a member of over 15 different Slack channels for a number of clients, and it’s gotten to be too much. I don’t get paid for my time to read messages while I should be paying attention to the life happening around me. I always get my work done on time, and I’ve never missed a deadline. So why should I be on call 24/7 according to the whims of an app?
I hate that Slack alerts other members when you’ve read a message. If a client asks me if I can give them a quick call and I happen to be putting my baby down for a nap, I shouldn’t have to look bad for not responding to them right away. It’s not that client’s business if I have my phone in my hand or not. If it’s not a good time for me to make that phone call, I don’t want them to know that I’ve seen their message.
I don’t mean to suggest that I don’t want to be responsive to my clients. I do. I work every day of the week, at all hours of the day, and I will continue to do so. I work every time I have a spare minute, which is certainly not healthy and is a habit I need to break. While I build my business, though, I recognize that doing so is likely a necessary evil.
If I want to take a break, though, I have that right. I’m not being compensated to read or reply to Slack messages. I’ve had clients require I message them via the app every time I am working on a project so they can time me, and others that send urgent messages via the channel and expect everyone to respond within a short period of time. Here’s the thing. That’s not what remote workers are for. If you want that level of accountability in your organization, you need to pay for it or hire full-time employees.
I took no maternity leave with my daughter, and I didn’t even tell most of my clients that she’d come along. I was terrified to lose what I’d worked so hard to build. I relied on my family for support and scheduled calls around nap times. By the time my daughter was three months old, I had reached the breaking point with stress. Being a full-time mom and full-time worker is nearly impossible, as many others can attest. But I did it, because I wanted to and because it’s what my family needs.
That said, I’m done with the days where I unleash a torrent of rage at my husband the minute he walks through the door because I’m sick of being interrupted all day by Slack messages. I’ve deleted the app from my phone. Sad as it is, I feel compelled to check it, even with notifications turned off.
I’ll continue to use Slack on my computer, which will only be booted up when I’m in my home office. I’m done with feeling obligated to reply immediately to messages that can wait, and I’m done with missing valuable time with my daughter because someone wants to schedule a call. You have my phone number and my email address. Call me or write to me, and I will respond as soon as I possibly can. Frankly, you’ll receive better service because you’ll have my full attention in the moments when I choose to devote myself to work.
It’s not good for projects or teams to be on-call 24/7. The frustration and anger that simmer beneath the surface with the expectation of constant availability, even when it is unspoken, is detrimental to progress and efficiency. Teams that respect boundaries and work-life balance are more productive, and member retention is far greater.
While Slack may be a valuable tool for remote teams that work set hours, within the same time zone, it’s an unhealthy breach of the lines between success and mental health. I encourage you all to delete the app from your phones, if you can, and be responsive to Slack and other collaborative software only when you are at your desk with your work mindset on. I promise it will do wonders for your productivity and job satisfaction.