Sitting in an armchair by the fire in a cottage in France with a glass of wine in hand, I look like the very epitome of holiday bliss. Except for one rather crucial detail: despite my surroundings, I can’t tear myself away from Slack. I’m not sure quite what I’m looking for as I scroll aimlessly through channel after channel, but it’s at this precise moment that I realise that my secret Slack lurking has become a problem.
It’s not just my vacay time that’s spent secretly lurking on Slack. After I leave the office, I find myself opening the app countless times during my evenings, regardless of whether I’m out for drinks, or at home on the sofa. Full disclosure: I’ve checked Slack on the dance floor of a nightclub. And, yes, I am aware how sad that sounds.
When I’m not falling into the dark hole of trawling through Twitter and Instagram of an evening, I find myself aimlessly tapping through Slack without any idea what I’m searching for. This infuriatingly unshakeable habit stems from a persistent concern that I need to stay on top of messages and mentions from colleagues working in different time zones. My mind frets—even with push notifications switched on—that, by not checking in to Slack in the evenings, I might miss an urgent message that needs an instant reply.
But, when I’m on holiday—supposedly enjoying a much-needed break from screens—with my Slack status firmly set to “vacationing,” something else is at play. During my time off, I cannot seem to rid myself of Slack FOMO. At various intervals, I’ll fire up Slack on my iPhone, and scroll through Slack channels to ensure that I’m not missing out on anything.
For Julie Ngov, founder of fashion startup Adrenna, her after-hours Slack lurking emanates from feelings of guilt. Ngov belongs to three Slack workspaces for three different organisations. “Because everyone in every group is so good natured and is SO willing to help, and there is a fantastic culture of paying it forward, I feel guilty if I don’t respond to someone else’s request for help,” says Ngov. “I do end up spending a lot of time after actual work hours catching up on Slack threads and responding to requests whenever I can. It’s time consuming,” she continues.
“I check it first thing before I go to bed, on my lunch break, and in the pub.”
Brenda Wong, who works in customer operations for fintech start-up Monzo, is a self-professed Slack lurker, who considers unread messages her kryptonite. “I check Slack first thing in the morning in my bed, bleary-eyed and uncaffeinated,” says Wong. “I check it first thing before I go to bed, on my lunch break, and in the pub.”
Wong’s Slack lurking doesn’t even require the nudge of a push notification to draw her back into the app. She says she wants to “keep an eye” on the many channels she’s subscribed to.
“It’s Slack FOMO,” says Wong. “Being part of a startup means change is constant. I never want to feel like I am behind on anything.” For Wong, who’s currently working remotely from Malaysia away from Monzo’s London HQ, Slack makes her feel like she’s “still part of all the hubbub.”
“It’s become like looking at your group texts with friends.”
And it’s precisely this social element which draws many Slack users in after hours. Sophie Ogunyemi, a PR account executive, says she sends Slack messages “even when supposedly offline.” “There’s definitely FOMO on office jokes and gossip especially in Slack groups,” says Ogunyemi.
PR account executive Jojo Connarty says her desire to lurk on Slack springs from a desire to know what’s going on. “It’s become like looking at your group texts with friends,” says Connarty. In addition to this social pull, Connarty says that she worries after hours that she might have forgotten to do something, or that she might be needed.
While lurking on Slack might feel like a totally innocuous post-work procrastination method, it might not be entirely harmless.
Niels Eék, psychologist and co-founder of mental wellbeing app Remente, says lurking on Slack isn’t conducive to recovering from work—something we need to do in order to perform well at our jobs. “If we are constantly connected, there’s an increased risk of getting into negative stress if you cannot rest your mind at times,” says Eék. ” Being constantly connected could negatively impact your recovery periods.”
A spokesperson for Slack suggested two features which might help people who struggle to disconnect from the tool after work hours. The spokesperson suggests the Highlights tool, which summarises what you’ve missed in the time you’ve been offline so that you don’t have to endlessly scroll through countless channels. You can also use the All Unreads feature, which, per Slack, “gathers all your unread messages in one easily digestible, scrollable view.”
As for me, I vow to make a concerted effort to cut down on my Slack lurking to properly demarcate my work time and rest time. And, to my fellow Slack lurkers: I suggest you do the same. Sit back, relax and stay the hell away from Slack.