Office Workers Are Taking Slack Home To Organize Their Family Life

Jul 12, 2019
Originally published on July 12, 2019 5:00 pm
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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Lots of office workers use apps to manage projects and streamline communication among colleagues. Some of those workers have begun taking those apps home with them and using them to organize their family life. Taylor Lorenz co-wrote the story for The Atlantic headlined "The Slackification Of The American Home." She joins us now to explain the trend. Welcome back, Taylor.

TAYLOR LORENZ: Thanks for having me.

CORNISH: What are some of the most popular apps people are using at home?

LORENZ: Well, so a lot of families will plan a family vacation by starting a Trello board. Some people use Asana, which is another project management software to denote, you know, what type of chores a child needs to get done before they can go out and play. Others use Google Calendar reminders, Slack channels dedicated to grocery shopping. You might have a Slack channel for kids asking for playdates. Any kind of project management tool that's traditionally been used for business purposes, people are bringing home with them.

CORNISH: One example that jumps out is a couple where after making decisions, they send each other email recaps saying things like, quote, "as per hour earlier conversation, we have decided that the children will be enrolled in tennis camp over the summer. Please let me know if you want to follow up on this." I am both jealous and appalled. What's the rationale for this kind of communication between people who could look each other in the face and say this?

LORENZ: Well, families are busier than ever. You know, our children today are super-over-scheduled. They've got more playdates and activities and extracurriculars than any child in previous generations. And so it's a lot for parents to keep on top of. So you almost need to run things as a business, and you need to set those reminders and send those sort of corporate-sounding emails just to make sure that you're staying on top of things.

CORNISH: Your story has gotten a lot of reaction on social media. If I could sum it up in two words, it would be ridicule and horror. One comes from @GordonPlutsky - another must-read from Taylor Lorenz, an absolute nightmare - bringing soul-crushing work technology to your kids. Is there something to that?

LORENZ: Well, look. I know a lot of people sort of cringe when you hear about these workplace technologies being brought into the home. It sounds very dystopian. You know, we already have not very strong boundaries between work and home. So I can understand the reaction. But a lot of families actually find this really helpful. You know, sometimes it takes a job to teach us really effective task management systems. And so, you know, bringing that home can actually lead to a more effective family life. And you can spend more time focusing on the fun part.

CORNISH: A lot of people are criticizing this basically on the basis that, is this a substitution for what is very necessary communication to make a family work?

LORENZ: Yeah. I mean, look. Families thrive on negotiation. That can often be very messy. And so to have it kind of sanitized in this really a corporate way can be off-putting, and I get that. But I think, you know, families that are communicating in these really overly corporate emails, that doesn't necessarily mean that they're talking less. None of the parents that I interviewed or people in relationships that were using this system said that they felt like it had really taken away from the intimacy of their family. The ones who stopped adopting it did so usually just because they found it wasn't useful or it was just another kind of task to manage.

CORNISH: This is rising alongside another concern, which is the group of parents out there that is trying to get rid of the screens - right? - to have screen-free time. Can you do that if everyone in the household is communicating this way?

LORENZ: You can't. And that's one thing that parents have found as a drawback for adopting these types of platforms and systems. It is another excuse for kids to be on their phone. So a child might start by checking their tasks to do on Trello or Jira and then, you know, quickly pop over to Instagram or start DMing. And it's a very slippery slope.

CORNISH: Do you think this is going to catch on? I mean, I assume this right now is among a certain class of white-collar worker. Can you see it spreading?

LORENZ: It is right now among white-collar workers and those who have office jobs that use these systems in those environments. I could see it spreading further, though. I mean, we're all trying to organize our lives a little bit. And everyone pretty much has a smartphone these days. So I do see it proliferating a little bit, but we'll see. Maybe somebody will adopt a better platform that's just for the home.

CORNISH: That's Taylor Lorenz of the Atlantic. Her story with co-writer Joe Pinsker is "The Slackification Of The American Home." Thanks for speaking with us.

LORENZ: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.