How Slack uses a raccoon to keep distractions on Slack at bay

Slack has undoubtedly changed how employees at many companies communicate. But more and more, it feels like Slack’s focus on immediate responses is far more distracting than the asynchronous emails it often replaces. As Slack CTO and co-founder Cal Henderson noted at TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin today, we still have to figure out how Slack can fit into many a company’s culture and how to keep Slack discussions from going off topic despite the existence of GIFs and emoji. Internally, at Slack, the company mostly uses a raccoon for doing this.

“Internally, we have this idea of the polite raccoon,” Henderson said. Whenever a conversation goes off topic, the raccoon means that it’s time to take that conversation into a different channel (or maybe offline).

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Henderson noted, too, that a lot of the work that Slack is putting into machine learning is about making people more efficient and reducing the number of unnecessary messages. “There is definitely more we can do in terms of filling up people’s time so that can better separate between work and outside of work,” he said.

Henderson himself, too, uses Slack’s do-not-disturb setting to keep messages at bay during his off time, but throughout today’s panel, he noted that it’s very much up to the individual and company to set their policies. He also very much defended the existence of Slack itself.

“Something like Slack would have existed even if we didn’t build it,” he said. That’s in part due to the rise of consumer messaging in general and the fact that businesses are now comfortable with buying their software from multiple vendors, which has resulted in a situation where there is no obvious center for business software.

“Communication is the only obvious location to tie those together.”