Slack vs. Productivity: Here’s what happened when everyone’s favorite communication tool went down

If you’re one of the 8,000,000+ people who use Slack as their main communication tool, your day was probably a little different on Wednesday, June 27th.

For a few gloriously nerve-wracking hours in the morning, Slack’s service was interrupted.

Slack bills itself as “where work happens.” So what happened when it was essentially closed for business?

To get an idea of how much Slack usage affects our productivity we compared the anonymized productivity data of 12,000+ RescueTime and Slack users on June 27th—the day of the Slack outage—to a week prior.

When Slack was unavailable, users spent more time on productive work than during the same time the week before

You might think that losing your communication tool would grind productivity to a halt. But when looking at the productivity scores of Slack users during the time when Slack was down, we found people were ~5% more productive than during the same time period the previous week.

(Note: We’ve seen that productivity patterns change by day of the week, so comparing Wednesday to Wednesday made the most sense.)

Slack outage productivity

It’s hard not to look at this graph and not draw some pretty clear conclusions.

First, compared to a “regular” day, a few hours without Slack brought some pretty serious boosts to productivity.

This makes sense when you think about it. Without the option to even use their communication tool of choice, more users spent time on tasks they categorized as “productive” in RescueTime.

Next, when service was restored it created a productivity “whiplash” effect with users dropping to a daily low in productivity.

But, isn’t Slack supposed to reduce our need for communication and help us stay focused and productive?

In practice, sure.

However, when we recently looked at how people actually use communication tools during their workday, we found that on average, knowledge workers spend 40% of their day multitasking between communication and other productive work.

Productivity multitasking

Even worse, because of this, on an average day, workers only have 1 hour and 12 minutes of productivity time that’s not interrupted by communication tools.

It’s pretty well established that multitasking kills our productivity and focus, which means we’re self-sabotaging our workday by always keeping communication tools open and in the background.

Want to get the most out of your Slack time? Check out our Guide to Setting up Slack for Focus 

We love Slack. But communication multitasking is an issue that’s getting more and more serious.

None of this is to say that Slack is a total productivity killer.

We’re religious Slack users at RescueTime and absolutely love how it helps us do great work (especially as a remote team!)

The issue isn’t in the tool itself, but in how most of us use it.

Constant context switching between Slack (or email) and other tasks fragments our day and kills our focus. In one study, Dr. David Meyer found that “even brief mental blocks created by shifting between tasks can cost as much as 40 percent of someone’s productive time.”

Just think how many times you’ve mindlessly popped into Slack only to get derailed by puppy gifs or random conversations?

The Slack distraction struggle is real. And yesterday’s outage proved it.

The next time you’re feeling behind, give yourself a communication coffee break

Communication tools like Slack are essential in the modern workplace. But they are also one of our main sources of distraction. And seeing what happens to productivity when we’re forced to not use them is an eye opener.

So while we’d never advocate getting rid of Slack (or whatever tool you use). It’s pretty clear that taking a short break can do wonders for our ability to do good, focused work.

Ready to see how much time you spend in Slack every day? Sign up for RescueTime for free and take back control of your time. 

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Jory MacKay

Jory MacKay is a writer, content marketer, and editor of the RescueTime blog.

3 comments

  1. The one measurement not noted is accuracy or quality of work during a thattie, My remote team during that time was running a little blind being productive but 30% had to be redone or started over. Maybe it is because we do licensed work. So we may showed increased productive garbage statistically. We definitely showed the latter it in manhours billed.

    1. That’s an interesting point Ken! We’re assuming that people are doing good work because they’re doing tasks they’ve categorized as “productive”. But without the shared knowledge of a team, that productivity can be wasted on poor-quality work.

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