Collaboration and Work

Here’s an interesting read on the past, current, and future state of collaboration.

Slack was supposed to be the app that became the OS, the end of the cycle on productivity. But that hasn’t happened. How should we understand what’s happening.

Slack isn’t air traffic control for every app, it’s 911 for when they fail. Slack is the 911 for whatever isn’t possible natively in a company’s productivity apps.

When things are running smoothly, work happens in the apps built to produce them. And collaboration happens within them. Going to slack is increasingly a channel of last resort, for when there’s no established workflow of what to do. And as these functional apps evolve, there are fewer and fewer exceptions that need Slack. In fact, a sign of a maturing company is one that progressively removes the need to use Slack for more and more situations.

This rings true to a lot of what the folks from Basecamp espouse about how messaging apps such as Slack and Teams kill productivity and more of our communication should be handled asynchronously.

It’s not that Slack is too distracting and killing individual productivity. It’s that your company’s processes are so dysfunctional you need Slack to be distracting and killing individual productivity.

Slack’s importance is inversely tethered to the rate at which functional workflows within companies become legible and systematized.

This makes sense. As workflows and tools we use to collaborate in the workspace get better, there is less and less of a need for Slack. My teammates and myself chat in Microsoft Teams all day, but when things are going smoothly it’s much easier (and preferable) to use an asynchronous method such as Basecamp to do our work.

But I like it how he takes this approach one step further and argues that real communication, collaboration, and productivity happen within the apps themselves such as Figma. When multiple designers are working within Figma, there isn’t a need to jump to Slack (or even Basecamp) to hash out solutions to a problem. Communicate directly in the app.

More and more apps in all categories understand that collaboration should and must be built in as a first party if they want to best serve their customers. Notion, Airtable, etc all understand this. The feedback loops of collaboration get so short that they become part of the productivity loop.

The author’s point about the gaming app Discord being a good example of where the industry (should) be headed is well put.

Active users of Discord have it on all the time, even when they are not playing games. It’s a passive way to have presence with your friends. And when your friends start playing games it makes it easy to with one click go join them in the game. Bringing your actual social graph across all games. Finally, voice chat makes it possible to talk with your friends across all games, even when you are playing the game.

One can easily imagine how this might translate to the workplace. A central application could open communication between all employees and plugin to all the applications they are working on allowing them to collaborate much more closely than what we’re forced to do now.