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She found a public Slack channel, says Laura (not her real name).
“It was eight account managers, and it was pretty much dedicated to just bashing everybody in sales, from the top, top people, all the way down.” Within two hours, word had spread to the entire sales team, which spent a Friday afternoon reading the channel’s history start to finish.
But the medium made that gossip searchable and public to anyone who knew where to look. And yet, at the same time, Slack was also the obvious place to do it.
Slack, first released in 2013, has essentially ushered employer-sanctioned social media into the workplace.
“There was some borderline racist stuff,” she remembers.
And, “people were getting called ‘dumb sluts’ left and right.” At first, as salespeople started reading, the talk continued, but then the account managers noticed who was joining and began to flee.
At some point over the last year, it started to feel, at least in a certain kind of office, as ubiquitous as those other social-media giants.
Like Facebook or Twitter, Slack induces the same anxious, attention-hungry rhythm in its users, the same need to endlessly refresh, and gives off the same illusion of intimacy in an ultimately public space.
Slack was not the first company to offer workplace chat and instant messaging: Before Slack, there was Campfire; there was Hip Chat. Slack comes in a free version with limited storage and features but also offers several tiers of expanded plans, priced per active user.
Open Slack, and it greets you with a friendly message as it loads: “Be cool. The day just got better.” Or: “Always get plenty of sleep, if you can.” (They’re all signed from “your friends at Slack.”) The left side of the screen lists your contacts and group “channels,” with green lights to indicate whether users are active and pink badges to mark unread messages.
The question is, what does this intrusion do to the delicate diplomacy of office life?