Everything starts with a project

William Bauer

The line between distraction and focus is blurred, and chat tools like Slack and Discord are the culprits.  It’s not that the tools are designed to draw your attention away from your work, but they actually reduce your efficiency because their original use case was not for a work context.   If these tools are being used by companies as an avenue for discussion, why are we spending so much time on them?  The answer is that the longer we use a chat tool, the more disorganized and difficult it is to find relevant information as fast as possible.  We’ll take a look at how this came to be, and what you can do to fix it for your work.

Active vs. Passive

At its core, collaborative discussions are divided into two categories: active and passive.  For example, you can imagine an active discussion between two software engineers, where one person needs the other to push a change ASAP before the other can resume work.  On the other end of the spectrum is a passive discussion, where one engineer sends documentation for the code they have written.  The difference between the two communication styles is the level of immediacy.  In short, chat tools = active, email = passive.  The average person doesn’t send an email with the expectation of an immediate response, then why are we using chat tools as an avenue for passive communication?  By nature, these discussions and important (but not immediately needed) documents will get drowned out or lost.

Chat tools are not designed for slow responses, while email is not designed to organize the outcome of discussions.  Companies have unknowingly fused two polar opposite styles of communication into one tool.  You can probably take a second to realize that your company fits into either the chat-heavy category (Slack, Teams, Discord) or email-heavy category.  There’s no right or wrong, both have their positives and negatives, and a number of CRM solutions have been built for email.  So why haven’t our chat tools gone through a transformation?

Lost in Chat

Slack and Teams are the natural evolution of chat tools like AOL instant messenger that millennials and Gen X grew up with.  If you had a computer in the early 2000s, it’s likely you developed habits of seeing casual online chat as normal.  Unfortunately, this has carried over into the work environment and exacerbated all sorts of behaviors: unfocused discussions, cluttered channels, and a sea of messages with little real value behind them.  Most companies find that they have too many channels, multiple repetitive questions, and way too frequent socialization rather than work.

If you take a step back and look at why this could happen, it comes down to the structure of these chat channels.  They’re designed to place the main actors in the same “room”.  For example, a marketing department would have multiple teams, each with its own collaborative channel.  The work that these teams cycle through is continually changing, but one of the more constant elements in which people are involved.

Flip the Script

What would it look like if the work topics were the defining characteristic of channels?  We can flip the script: people can come and go, but all of the discussions, files, videos, and links are the constants.  The noise dissipates because there’s no room for unfocused chat.  Everything is exactly where it’s supposed to be, and it didn’t come from a conscious behavior change from the team.  The structure of the tool paved the way.  The groundwork for this shift is already being laid with asynchronous work.  Fully-remote companies like Gitlab have shown us that employees don’t need to physically be in the same room to be a multi-billion dollar company. It takes unprecedented levels of transparency, trust, and organization to be able to pull off a fully-remote company, and Gitlab has created the playbook on how to do it.  One of the key questions they drill down is “How would I deliver this message, present this work, or move this project forward right now if no one else on my team (or in my company) were awake?".  This sort of mentality is rare in current hybrid companies (work from home, but also in-office) because asynchronous work hasn’t been a core value of the company from the beginning.  It’s a mental shift that requires everyone be on board, and a commitment to using a single system for communicating project progress.

Team-based vs. project-based

As communication flows more efficiently across our tools, departments that historically rarely spoke with one another are now just a click away.  Cross-department collaboration is on the rise, helping companies move together as a unit.  These clusters of teams have much more cross-over: they run like a well-oiled machine when properly set up, but also a massive time-sink with a laundry list of dependencies when improperly set up.  Most business initiatives require input from a number of teams, yet we still haven’t come up with an efficient way to get everyone in the same room.  In-person meetings are a prime example of this, just go to your local town hall meeting to see it in action.

Bringing it back to the virtual workplace, we believe that the future of work is headed in the direction of project-based rather than team-based.  Asynchronous work is a prime example of this. Translated to our tooling, this means changing our communication from “a message in a channel”, to a message about a specific topic in a project.

Picking Up the Pieces

So how can companies move forward if they want to be more asynchronous, centralize information, reduce clutter and avoid unfocused meetings?

There are two methods: keep your current chat tool, or start fresh.

If you’re considering fixing your current chat tool, you are looking at an uphill battle.  Sometimes the sheer volume of messages and habits associated with your current tools make it necessary to try to salvage your current setup.  The key is to continuously audit your chat tool and consciously structure discussions around topics rather than teams.  This will likely take a number of hours reorganizing your current workflow, or setting up Zapier integrations into your Slack channels.

If you are looking to set up new processes and promote cross-functional teams, you can look into finding a tool that gives you templates, chat, and is topic-based.


Once we discovered the fundamental shift in thinking towards project-based discussions, we knew we would have to build it ourselves.  We wanted to build a tool that guided this shift in mindset, and was specifically designed to keep our projectsorganized.  With NineFive, you will have less clutter, more structure to any of your processes, and all of your key project information in one, intuitive layout.

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