The team-communication software has become a boss-sanctioned way to be social at the office—and beyond.
On Slack, users communicate in one-on-one direct messages ortopic-specific chatrooms called channels: #feedback, #sales-operations, #office-book-club, or anything else users create. Hardie, a 24-year-old sales analyst at the cloud communications platform, quickly graduated from talking about sales targets to chat with coworkers about projects that weren’t strictly work-related: making lunch plans, or exchanging music recommendations. From there, it was a natural transition to bring Slack outside his professional life.“A lot of my friends at other tech companies were using Slack too, so we made different little groups to chat at work,” Hardie says. Now, he spends much of his workday toggling between the different domains within Slack: channels for Spikeball games and SOMA happy hours with coworkers at Twilio; direct messages about weekend plans and group chats about new music releases on his Slack shared with friends.
Although the platform has clients across the world, it’s particularly popular among tech and media companies: Yelp, Airbnb, Salesforce, Stripe, and Spotify all use it. (As does WIRED.) A year or two ago, many of the recent college graduates now working at these companies were spendingeight hours a day in the library or in lecture, where you could send your friends a mass text, a Snapchat, a GroupMe. In the adult workplace—even one with snack bars and nap pods—your boss might notice if you’re constantly on your phone.
Enter Slack. “You don’t want your phone buzzing in yourpocket all day,” says Hardie. “So you can just do it through Slack, instead.” Indeed, Slack offers all the functionality of texting, and more: The features designed to make the workplace more playful—GIFs, embedded songs from Spotify, custom emoji, funny replies from Slackbot—turn out to be equally fun with friends.
So Slack has become the boss-approved way to chat with your friends on the clock, replacing Google Chat or clandestine texting. “There’s a perception that if you’re using iMessage, you’re texting, for personal use,” says Jake Kanter, a sales account executive at Uber who uses Slack to chat with his friends throughout the day, even though he uses Hipchat with coworkers. “Slack is commonly used for business communication, so it’s more work-appropriate.”
After all, if you’re already using the platform to chat with coworkers about visiting the in-office ice cream bar or drum studio, it’s not much of a stretch to use Slack to compile a grocery list with roommates or coordinate after-work trips to the climbing gym.
Connecting Beyond Friends
People are also using Slack to form new communities around common interests: There’s a Slack group for vinyl collectors, for vaping enthusiasts, for a popular hip-hop subreddit, for “nomads living in Chiang Mai, Thailand.” These Slack communities provide a way for users to have personal conversations about shared interests, all while at work.
“It’s a pretty mixed group—people that run coffeeshops, coffee roaster professionals, people who just love their Keurig or whatever,” says E. John Feig, founder of talk.coffee, a Slack group devoted to the drink. A software engineer, Feig is active in several other Slack groups as well:one with his friends, one for Google experts, one discussing startups. He used to be active in the IRC coffee channel and r/Coffee on Reddit, but says that he finds conversations in Slack groups much more personal.
Although some interest-driven Slack communities are quite large, most are dominated by a core group of frequent users. Although over 500 people have signed onto Feig’s talk.coffee, he estimates that only 15-20 post every week. Despite the relatively low numbers, some of those core users have become friends and coffee-sharers IRL, after another member started hosting meet-ups in the San Francisco Bay Area.