Laura works in ad sales at a well-known tech company. Her office uses Slack, which is likely either as integral to your workday as email or you have never heard of it before. In which case, some explanation: Slack is a workplace messaging app that lets co-workers easily carry on an assortment of group and individual conversations, some private and some public, all organized in a simple user interface; it’s chattier than sending an email, less of a hassle than scheduling a meeting. It’s also easy to use on your phone — not so different from sending a text — and perhaps because of that ease, or because of the bright Silicon Valley affect it shares with services like Facebook and Instagram (Slack’s headquarters are in San Francisco), it tends to foster a dashed-off, emoji-laced vernacular. It does well with millennial workers.
Such was the case in Laura’s office, where the salespeople, who are generally more senior, use Slack less than the account managers, who are generally more junior. One day last summer, a saleswoman was looking for a conversation she’d had with an account manager, so she typed her own name in Slack’s search bar. She found a public Slack channel, says Laura (not her real name). “It was eight account managers, and it was pretty much dedicated to just bashing everybody in sales, from the top, top people, all the way down.” Within two hours, word had spread to the entire sales team, which spent a Friday afternoon reading the channel’s history start to finish. “There was some borderline racist stuff,” she remembers. And, “people were getting called ‘dumb sluts’ left and right.” At first, as salespeople started reading, the talk continued, but then the account managers noticed who was joining and began to flee. The fight-or-flight impulse was not particularly useful here: They could make the channel disappear from their own view of Slack, but running away did nothing to delete its history. The last thing to see in the chat record was the account managers’ boss entering the room. “As far as I know, nobody lost their job over it,” Laura says. “But I think people were pretty embarrassed.”