When Cal Henderson began working on real-time workplace communication platform Slack in 2013, he never expected people to turn to it for organising family vacations or for sharing their love of burgers.
Henderson, the chief technology officer and cofounder, is in Australia to open the company’s new Melbourne office. He told Mashable Australia the use of the platform by groups of family and friends came as a surprise, but fits well with Slack’s record of bottom-up growth.
“We see it used by interest groups, such as leadership groups, or groups of developers who don’t work together … that’s been a real vector for it to spread,” he said. “A lot of our growth has been bottom-up within a company, where someone introduces it to their small team and then it grows from there.” The company claims to have 2.3 million daily active users globally.
Henderson himself has a family Slack channel, but maintained the company is not going to focus on consumer messaging. “The product wasn’t built for that, so you lose out on a lot of the things that are good about Slack,” he explained. “If you’re a software development company, then we integrate with GitHub and Asana … Typically, you don’t use that with your friends for going out, unless you’re particularly fastidious.”
For the moment, non-commercial use of the platform will remain simply a happy side-effect. “We’re not spending a lot of time thinking about how to make the best product for consumer messaging,” Henderson said. “There’s already a lot of great products out there, especially with mobile, that do a really good job.”
Instead, Slack will focus this year on building up its enterprise offering for teams of up to 100,000 people, he said, as well as taking a fresh look at Slack’s platform integrations with outside products such as Salesforce and Google Docs.
Perhaps people are using Slack for non-work activities because they already spend all their waking hours logged on. The act of messaging someone on Slack is so effortless, the company could be blamed for helping to erode the boundaries between the work day and after hours, already fairly fragile thanks to the ubiquity of the smartphone.
Henderson, for his part, suggested Slack makes it easier to completely switch off. In his view, rather than needing to turn off notifications across email, Skype, SMS or even Facebook Messenger, Slack consolidates communication and allows you to easily kill alerts. “Because it’s all in one place, it gives you an easier way to turn it all off,” he said.
“I have ‘DND’ turned on overnight,” he added, referring to the program’s do not disturb mode. “[Slack] is the sole medium I use to communicate with people at work. If I want to switch off, it’s just the one app I have to ignore.”
Ultimately, he suggested, the manner in which Slack is used comes down to workplace culture. “Early on, we’d look at a lot of statistics about how different companies were using it,” he said. “In some companies, nobody looked at Slack on the weekend. Zero. Some people, there was no difference between the [week and the] weekends. Some people have a hard cutoff at 5 p.m., and some people trickle away until 2 a.m.”
At Slack in particular, it comes down to individual teams and how they operate. While their operations and customer care teams work 24/7, there aren’t any blanket rules. “People have their ‘DND’ rules set up individually,” Henderson said.
In any case, at least Slack users are hopefully getting less email. “We’re in our fourth year of building Slack now, and I’ve received maybe five or 10 emails from other people who work at Slack in that whole time,” he said.
Using Slack could also mean companies are enduring less horrendous reply all situations on email. “We do a lot of voting via emoji reactions [at Slack],” Henderson said. “That’s a way to gather feedback. Using email, that would have been hundreds of emails replying yes or no, which is a terrible use for email.”
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