I’ve written before about how the Offbeat Empire leans on Flickr, and now I find my business suddenly equally dependent on Slack, a tool created by Stewart Butterfield, one of Flickr’s cofounders. In barely a month, it’s completely transformed the way my business communicates. I know I’m prone to hyperbole, but I’m being stone cold serious, here: Slack has completely changed the way my staff communicates and gets work done.
I heard about Slack last summer when it launched, because I follow Stewart on Twitter… but I wasn’t immediately clear on how it would be of use to me.
“Yeah, yeah,” I thought to myself. “A productivity tool that I sink days into learning how to use, thereby killing all productivity benefit. Also, my bitches [yes, it’s a term of endearment] hate procedural changes, and I still regret that brief affair we had with Basecamp a few years ago, and you can pry gmail and IM out our cold dead hands…”
So I basically ignored it. Even after I chatted with Stewart last year at XOXO Fest, I was still like “Oh cool that he’s got a new product but whatever.” (STEWART OMG THE REGRETS, THE REGRETS.) I am ashamed to admit that it took this profile from Wired to get me interested: The Most Fascinating Profile You’ll Ever Read About a Guy and His Boring Startup. The title isn’t click bait — it’s accurate.
Ok, so I started to get it: Slack is a productivity tool for remote workers, founded by a guy I deeply admire whose birthname is Dharma. (Seriously, read the Wired piece.) Ok, so Slack is sorta like a chat room, but jacked up on steroids, coming up on of three hits of ecstasy, and wearing one of those hippie utility belts packed with swiss army knives, your favorite kind of gum, chapstick, a wrench, and two-sided tape. I started being like, “Wait, why am I not using this yet?”
Then I stumbled across this video:
Then I was basically like, MY BODY IS READY.
How we use Slack
As of today, the Offbeat Empire has a staff of six regular contractors, plus a project-based designer and extra developer who are working on some short-term projects. We’re located in Seattle, Los Angeles (but sometimes Hawaii), Omaha, the suburbs of Chicago, London (Ontario, not UK), Philadelphia, rural New Jersey, and Perth Australia. I don’t even know how many timezones that is, and yet somehow Slack makes it all work.
After the first couple days of using it, staffers were like “Woah, I love this” and “This thing is fucking cool.” I agreed, but thought to myself, “Meh, it’s still a shiny new toy. It’s well-designed and fun to play with, but we’ll see how if it keeps holding people’s attention.”
The next week, I got GitHub and Google Docs (or Drive, or whatever it’s called this week) integrated, and staffers were like “Holy shit, this is amazing.” And then we started working with the graphic designer in Perth and I realized Slack automatically shows me what time it is for her (+13 hours from me!).
THEN I realized that I could train Slack to talk back to me, so that if I type, say, “Chartbeat,” it automatically links our real-time stats for easy clicking. Or if I say “ug,” Slack replies sympathetically with pours you a glass of wine, pats your arm. And if I mention “dramaz,” (which I do when there’s a commentroversy bubbling up) Slack replies with this:
pulls up chair, gets out popcorn
Look, this is silly. Slack is so much more useful than this in so many ways — if I share a Google Doc or Dropbox file in Slack, the complete text of the doc is automatically indexed by Slack’s internal search! if I mention a hex code, Slack automatically inserts a little sample of the color! — but I guess what I need to share is that somehow Slack makes the day-to-day bullshit of running a small business across a bazillion timezones just way more… fun.
And the impact on my inbox has been completely transformative. As I said on Twitter:
I’m serious when I say that I’ve lived and died by Inbox Zero for years. YEARS. But now that 99% of internal emails have moved to Slack? We’re talking tumbleweeds in my inbox. When an email comes in from a reader or a sales client or a business partner, I pounce on it because it’s like the only email I’ve gotten in hours. I’m not even being hyperbolic here! It’s… astounding.
Using Slack has come with its own challenges, however. My staff and I are all a bunch of nerds who wrestle with work/life balance. We all use the internet for work and play. The thin membranes of boundaries we have between our Empire work and the rest of our lives is extremely hard-earned, and the worst thing I can say about Slack is that it’s such a joy to use that my membrane is feeling a little more porous than I’d like. I spent years training myself not to check my email after 8pm, but when I notice that all my bitches are drunk and hanging in the #random channel on Slack talking about which Emoji they use to represent sex toys, I CAN’T NOT GET IN ON THAT CHATTER. Slack is great for team morale, but a little bit rough for those of us who struggle with work/life tech/unplugged boundaries. I’ve submitted a “quiet hours” option as a feature request to @SlackHQ.
In fact, the Offbeat Empire is slacking so hard, and loving it so much, that even though it’s a free service up until a certain level of usage, I chose to start paying for it almost immediately. I believe strongly in paying for the tools that make my life better — I pay for Feedly, I pay for Github, I pay for Chartbeat, and you fucking bet I pay for Slack.
If you’re curious, you can try Slack for free and see if it makes sense for your projects. If you do decide to upgrade, you’ll get a $100 Slack credit from the Empire!