The business world has spent decades searching for the right piece of software that would allow workers to communicate with each other quickly, pleasantly, and without getting distracted or losing key pieces of information in labyrinthine archives.
Email promised to improve on the failings of phones, fax machines, and snail mail when it rose to prominence in the 1990s. Slack, the workplace chat company, vowed in 2013 that its software would sweep away the irredeemable failings of email and usher in a happier, more productive age of work. And now the cycle has begun again; today, a new vanguard of startups is making a raft of promises to fix the dysfunction of Slack.
Perhaps the reason we haven’t found the perfect communication tool yet is that the problem isn’t about technology. Melissa Mazmanian, an associate professor at the University of California, Irvine with joint appointments in computer science and organization and management, offered an alternate theory. After years spent studying how workers use email, smartphones, and other forms of communication to signal our value at work, Mazmanian concluded the real root of our communication problems lies not in the tools themselves, but in workplace culture.