The Challenge of Chat

I’ve followed 37 Signals (now Basecamp) and Jason Fried for years. I think they’ve built an amazing company and have a philosophy on business and life I admire. They’ve written books, and they blog often. Recently I saw a post on chat, which is something that I’ve struggled with at times. Even before this work-at-home-at-scale experiment we’re all living, the challenges of everyone reaching out have weighed on my mind.

Without an office that physically concentrates many people together, many of us are only communicating electronically with our coworkers. We’ve had email for years, and video conferencing is growing in use, and some of us have had instant messaging for years.  It seems that chat has become more pervasive and the ability to reach out with live, interactive chats is something that has become expected in many organizations. Whether this is on Slack, Teams, or some other channel, there is some good and bad with the medium. I think the post highlights the bad outweighing the good, and it mentions a few things I hadn’t thought about.

I do have Slack running most of the day, and initially I found it to be exhausting and distracting. I think I also knew chat might create some implied consensus and lessons deep thought, but I hadn’t thought much about before reading this post. Chat has been a great quick tool for questions and answers. I often use it to pose a question about how some feature in our product works, not necessarily getting an immediate answer, but also having this work better than email as a developer can pull the question rather than it being pushed to them. It works well in threads, but not very well if responses aren’t tied to questions.

At the same time, there are enough distractions for most of us, and having more of them randomly appear throughout my day has been an issue. Over time, I’ve learned to utilize some of the advice in the piece. I ignore lots of channels and just mark them as read often. I’ll take bigger discussions into email or a meeting, and I’ve learned to not check this all day. I use it at times, but I’m happy to drop out, and even ignore direct messages if I’m concentrating. It helps I have most notifications turned off.

Attention is limited, and like time, it’s a valuable resource. As you work alone, there might be more of a need to interact and engage with others, but recognize it for the productivity drain it can be.

Steve Jones

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