The joy of using Slack to work remotely
Years ago, for a story and to be more successful, I read a number of books about how to become a woman at work. Since women face backlash for their confident behavior in the workplace, most of these books advise you to pretend they’re nicer while subtly trying to get what you want. (This is the innocent spring of the pre-Trump era, “what you want” was usually considered a promotion.)
“If possible, women should replace ‘I’ with ‘we’,” writes Sheryl Sandberg in Lean In, the scriptures of the genre. “A woman’s request is better received when she says, ‘We had a great year,’ as opposed to, ‘I had a great year.'” Even better if she can do so while smiling like a rodeo clown . The girls’ guide to being a boss (without being a slut) advises said girl, “Don’t let self-doubt creep into your tone.” Former CNN Vice President Gail Evans suggests women try to sit more like men in Play Like a Man, Win Like a Woman, admitting, “It took me years to figure out how to inhabit my executive desk chair. ” Years! Worry about sitting!
Now I feel like I can throw all these books in the trash, because only the sentences I type in Google Docs and the sentences I type in Slack count for my work success. I don’t have to smile, I don’t have to worry about my voice tone, and nobody cares how I sit.
Of course, I still want my coworkers to like me, so I still bend one knee according to gender norms. I just say what needs to be said in Slack, add an exclamation point and a nice emoji, and leave the workday. It is much easier to show off your gender with a dancing penguin than with “power posing” or whatever. Best of all, Slack breaks the double bond in which women are not liked because they are either too assertive or too caring. Nobody finds the happy cowboy (🤠) intrusive. Nobody would condemn the cat of pleasure (😹) with weak praise for being “sympathetic enough”. All of this slacking seems to be working because for the first time the performance review we had in the middle of the slack-heavy pandemic called me “friendly”.
In short, I love Slack! It’s a great tool for women who just want to get through the work day without worrying too much about how they’re “coming off”. A reporter once ruefully told me that a woman who behaved as “quirky” as all the prominent “quirky” men in the media would be fired on the spot for being insane. Now there is no longer any danger because we can all keep our quirks to ourselves while we say “Interesting idea! ”
I have expressed my love for Slack from several women at work I know, and they said that while there has been little research on gender and Slack, that might be true. “Women are expected to smile all the time, men are not. It’s exhausting, ”says Deborah Tannen, professor of linguistics at Georgetown University and author of You Just Don’t Understand. But “it’s liberating when you don’t have to worry about your make-up, your hair and whether your head is feminine.”
Because people tend to prefer managers with lower voices, “women often tell me that when they ask for career advice, they have to lower their voices,” says Kim Elsesser, a psychologist who studied gender dynamics at work. With Slack, “you don’t have to worry about it”.
Women are often punished for not being gentle and cooperative. But nobody on the internet knows you’re a slut. “One thing women have to do is not be as aggressive as men,” Elsesser told me. “So if you use the same aggressive prompts or whatever and put a little smiley face next to it, and then suddenly they don’t seem so aggressive anymore.”
Even so, Elsesser believes that I don’t like slacking because I’m a woman, but because I’m the kind of person who likes to write things down. “I mean that’s what you do, right, you are a writer?” She said. “So is it crazy that your preferred medium of communication is being written?”
As any woman who’s used Twitter.com can tell you, women aren’t always welcome in digital spaces. When the audience is large and unregulated, women can feel marginalized, harassed, or ignored, says Susan Herring, a professor at Indiana University who studies gender and digital communication. But in situations where a teacher or boss is reading what people are saying – like a discussion group in the classroom or a Slack channel at work – people tend to be polite.
Some women and members of marginalized groups have of course experienced setbacks because they only work virtually. With so many people still working remotely, some women and people of color are finding they get more “housework” at work – organizing meetings, taking notes – and less prestigious tasks, says Joan Williams, gender and legal expert at UC Hastings . “You can no longer hear the plum tasks in the hallway and try to convince yourself that you are part of the action,” she told me. This is on top of all of the actual housework and care that mothers have to do as childcare options have been eliminated during the pandemic. And Tannen emphasizes that many women who do not use emojis and exclamation marks in digital communication are still mistakenly viewed as bitchy.
However, certain benefits of Slack apply to people of all genders. Because of its asynchronous aspect, I find it an excellent tool for anger management. The work is frustrating at times, but part of what you get paid to do is not take your frustration out on your coworkers. (They work too.) The first thing that comes to mind when I’m frustrated is rarely what I want my coworkers to hear. The second through the tenth are usually not either. The 11th thing – which I’ve scraped together all the tiny bits of dough from my generosity into a nice little cookie – is the one that’s suitable for slack.
To buy time to bake my generosity cookie, I find it a lot easier to avoid slacking for a few minutes than avoiding a few minutes of speaking. (It’s also much more obvious choking your anger in person than typing and deleting Slack drafts. I usually do this in an offline text file to avoid the ominous “Olga typing.”) But the effect is this by writing “Sure!”. in Slack while you say “What the hell?” quietly I spare my colleagues and myself some grief. I do a little better every day. I have a little time to figure out if I want to make a big deal out of it – or “spend institutional capital on it,” in the language of the girl boss – or just brush it aside. If a blogger has a meltdown and isn’t looking at Slack, did it even happen?
Yes, Slack conversations are more scripted, but I don’t find these scripts particularly insincere because the scripts we all follow at work are insincere anyway. Do you really care how that person’s weekend was? Does someone tell you that they will get you this PowerPoint soon, actually “awesome”? Scripts save time and, frankly, if followed closely, could also save a few people from committing fire-proof office faux pas. If we are following scripts I would prefer that they are at least copyable.
Some people say they don’t like Slack, but I think these people are actually saying they don’t like the way other people enjoy Slack. Unpleasant people abound, and some people are digitally uncomfortable just as some people are personally uncomfortable. For me, it is preferable to make skimpy changes in Google Docs than if an old-fashioned editor sat me down, looked at my draft, looked at me, and said soberly, “Words matter.”
I’m not suggesting that someone replace face-to-face conversations with Slack if they don’t want to. I understand that some people live for the few minutes of banter that takes place after everyone has gone into the conference room, but before they get the presentation going: these chairs are so comfortable. Oooh, where is the bagel from? I would never dream of taking this away. My view of Slack is similar to my view of the office: it should be there when you like it and avoidable when you don’t. I’m just saying that in the frantic search for silver linings on This Whole Thing, I found mine. Maybe, girl, it’s yours too.