my office banned email — we can only use Slack and all messages disappear after a few days

A reader writes:

I’m one of several part-time workers for a growing start-up. We all work remotely, so I communicate with my managers and coworkers entirely electronically. I’m one of the higher performers in my department, so I’m trusted with more responsibility, but my position is pretty peripheral in the organization so I don’t really have any clout in the larger context.

Several months ago, a higher-up instructed us us to conduct all work-related communication entirely through Slack, as per a new company policy. Email was no longer to be used. I wasn’t even given an email address for my supervisor. I wasn’t a fan, but I shrugged and went along with it.

Here’s the problem: apparently, the company refused to shell out for a paid Slack channel, so they’re still using the free tier of service. The free version caps the total number of stored chat messages for the channel; older messages that exceed the limit just … disappear. Given the size of our company, this means that all Slack messages are gone and no longer viewable within a few days.

I’m incredibly uncomfortable with this arrangement. Unless I independently and proactively save every single message that might eventually be important, I can’t check back to make sure I followed instructions for an assignment correctly. I also can’t go back and review administrative messages, policy changes, and even major changes in how we’re paid, and they’re not posted anywhere else. This seems absurd, and I hate not being able to responsibly double-check my information.

I brought this problem to my manager, who just told me to ask her if I had any questions about an older message that had since disappeared. She didn’t seem to even understand that this is a problem, and her solution isn’t helpful; she’s terrible at answering questions and usually acts like I’m bugging her. And frankly, I shouldn’t have to bother her for every little thing! (She’s not a good manager for many reasons besides this.)

Am I being unreasonable? I just want to produce good work and keep up with work policies! Is this worth pushing back on, especially as a part-timer with a minor position? Should I just suck it up and spend the (unpaid) time screenshotting every single message I get? Usually everything works out fine, but this is driving me up a wall.

You are not being unreasonable.

This is ridiculous.

You’ve already spelled out most of the reasons why. I’m also very curious how they’ll comply with legal requirements around document retention.

And the fantastic irony is that I imagine they banned email because they decided it was sucking up too much time (that’s the usual argument against it) but their expiring message system is going to cause far more time suckage and inefficiency.

If you haven’t already been as explicit with your manager about the problems you foresee as you have been in this letter, do that. Or, if your manager is as unhelpful as she sounds, consider having that conversation with someone else with authority. Be clear there’s a paid version of the software that would solve this problem (so they don’t think you’re proposing jettisoning the entire no-email set-up, although frankly they should do that too).

But assuming that doesn’t work — and it’s likely it won’t, given what you’ve shared about the company so far — then you’re at the limits of what you can do, especially as a part-timer in a minor role.

At that point, you might as well take them at their word that this is the system they want, and proceed accordingly. Do not spend your time saving every message that you might need later. (Make exceptions for anything that might be personally important to you, such as instructions about an assignment or changes in how you’re paid.) Go to your manager once or twice a week with lists of what you need access to that’s disappeared. If she acts like you’re bugging her, ask if there’s another way she wants you to handle the missing info.

Also, talk to your coworkers about how they’re approaching this, and encourage them not to spend their unpaid time saving things that your company is too cheap to save themselves.

If a month or two of this doesn’t nudge your company to realize the inherent crappiness of their system, I’d seriously consider job searching because of how incredibly frustrating this will make your job … and because I’d bet good money this absurdity is the tip of the iceberg there.

{ 326 comments… read them below }

    1. RJ the Newbie*

      As someone who works in project accounting, specifically in budgeting, this is a major fail for whoever does Finance at this company. Major,major fail.

        1. TaylorMade*

          I guess I don’t understand. What financial audit would they fail for not using email and using the free version of Slack?

          1. tiffbunny*

            By their very definition, audits are a review of your records. If you have no records, it doesn’t matter which audit it is, you’re failing it.

    2. bluephone*

      I can’t link from this computer but the OP should google “how over 25 people got scammed into working at a non-existent company” and take notes. OP’s company probably exists, technically-speaking. But I’m predicting a blow up on par with the Drakore Studios’ mess so OP should have their resume up to date.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        My favorite “horrible-warning startup story” is from 2000-2001: google Gooey Industries. Quite a few of my friends and former coworkers worked there during that time. It also started with the money mysteriously running low six months after my friends were all hired, mandatory (unpaid) overtime, several rounds of layoffs. Then the paychecks started bouncing. Then the paychecks just stopped coming altogether, and everyone left. From what I was told, the company’s leadership team, which all consisted of 25-year-old recent college grads from upper-class families, got their parents and their parents’ friends to invest the money into their company. Then immediately used the money to buy houses, vintage cars, and give themselves six-figure bonuses. The entry- and junior-level developers that they’d hired at the lowest wage possible, were not able to deliver a viable product in the six or so months it took the company to run out of money; even with the mandatory 60-hour weeks.

        From a 2001 article that I just found:
        “Mr. (CEO/owner) said the company had been able to raise $6.5 million from numerous investors over its life. However, its financing sources went dry last summer, and Mr. CEO had been unable to convince investors to provide more money. Mr. CEO said the change at the top will help ensure that Gooey survives. The company has just eight employees at present, down dramatically from 100 a year ago.”

        “Mr. (CEO) also is in the process of selling his (really nice area) home, for which he is asking $900,000. He and his wife paid $835,000 last year for the 3,000-square-foot, four-bedroom home.” (the story checks out, huh. Must be nice to own a 3,000 sq ft house at the ripe old age of 25.)

        Bottom line, I agree with what bluephone said – weird attempts to save on things companies (even small) do not usually try to save on, that seriously hurt productivity, are a red flag.

        1. jasmine*

          Sounds like they defrauded their investors and broke a few other laws. Did any of the founders get sued or prosecuted?

          1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            Not that I know of. A couple I used to know back at the time, both worked for them for something like six months without pay. We were all recent immigrants with no savings. By the time the couple finally found new jobs and left, they had a 5-digit credit card debt. There was talk of going after (CEO) for back pay, but I don’t think that went anywhere – again, most of the people affected were recent immigrants with no savings or connections.

            I occasionally see (CEO)’s name in the news. One time, in an interview, he was complaining that the information about his past kept coming up and getting in the way of his new business endeavors and wasn’t that inconvenient! Another time, he had an art exhibit at a local gallery (apparently the man also paints… poorly). The bio proudly stated that he had founded a startup at 25. I chuckled.

      2. Auto Generated Anon*

        This reminds me of the 1999/2000 dot com boom too. Anyone remember f$xd company dot com? If it were around today (I’m assuming it’s not) they could live stream rooftop firings.

        1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          Yeap, the company I wrote about in a comment above was on f$xd company dot com!
          We could use that site today! I doubt it’s around, though.

    1. Bree*

      It seems benign on the surface, but when I imagine how it will unfold this is genuinely one of the most bizarre things I’ve seen on AAM.

        1. Gingerblue*

          In fairness, there’s some incredibly stiff competition. At least no one in this story is demanding organs.

      1. Database Developer Dude*

        Bree, *THIS* is one of the most bizarre things you’ve seen on AAM?? Have you been reading it long? OMG. There’s a story about a guy continually getting caught masturbating at work who smacks women on the rear end. There’s a story about a cashier who got written up because she needed a break to go take care of her period. There’s a story about a lunch thief who got his victim fired. It only gets more bizarre from there.

        1. Bree*

          Yeah, I’m a regular reader and those are definitely weird, in an immediately obvious way.

          But from a business perspective, this is going to affect every single employee of the company, which will descend into chaos and madness. It’s a more subtle kind of bizarre, which was my point.

    2. Witchy Human*

      They’re breaking the mold! Thinking outside the box! Shifting paradigms! Fostering innovation!

      This is a bad case of startup cloud cuckoo land: “we had this weird idea for something that other companies don’t do, and we want to Think Differently so we’d better implement it without any real research.” (See also: you don’t need health insurance, we got you bean bag chairs).

    3. Amber T*

      The compliance person in me is jumping up and down crying. This is both equal parts hysterical and hysterically bad. If you’re in any sort of financial field, what you’re company is doing is 100% illegal (I have no idea about non-financial institutions, but I imagine it’s frowned upon to not keep some records too). Plus the added bonus of it just being a dumb, bad idea. Wow.

      So companies come up with “great” ideas that are pretty bad a lot. But this one is so far off the deep end, I wonder what other corners they’re cutting. I’m usually not one to say “what other red flags are there that would make you want to leave?” but what other red flags are there that would make you want to leave?

      1. doreen*

        This is very possibly exactly the reason for this. Whether you’re in a financial field or not only certain records have to be maintained – there is no field where my message asking for Thursday off must be retained forever and I doubt that there is any field where a record must be made of every phone call. And some organizations prefer to use texting, Blackberry messages, phone calls, to avoid creating records that can later be subpoenaed or autodeleting emails before litigation can be anticipated.

        Posting a couple of links separately

        1. Plant*

          Slack still has all these messages and it is straightforward (but not necessarily free) to get access to them. If they are trying to hide things from when they get into litigation, they better hope the opposing side doesn’t realize that.

          1. Blue Anne*

            That was my first thought too. If they’re ever in a situation where they’re depending on these records not being accessible, they’re going to have a nasty surprise.

          2. jasmine*

            I’m sure that the opposing side and their lawyers realize that – it’s not exactly a well-kept secret. Anyone who has ever used the free version of Slack has seen the ads begging you to sign up for the paid version so you can unlock all your old messages. That’s essentially Slack’s business model.

      2. AKchic*

        From a records retention standpoint – it’s really bad. Depending on the industry, we’re talking federal charges and at a minimum – 6 figure fines (kind of doubt this is any kind of health care, legal or security field, though).

        If it were me dealing with this, I would be using a separate email created specifically for work emails because this is untenable. How do you communicate with outside vendors or other contacts? Not everyone uses Slack. Email is still the most professional, fast, efficient, go-to communication method in business. Eliminating email isn’t “outside the box” thinking, it’s “inside the dumpster” thinking.

        1. Barefoot Librarian*

          I was going to suggest this as well. Create an email for work specific communications and use it with those who are willing (a gmail is fine even). Is no one there communicating with outside vendors or customers? I can’t imagine they’d be okay with Slack (or even know what it is in some cases).

          1. TechWorker*

            A gmail is almost definitely not fine, unless you want to be fired… google own all your data and data mine your emails (check the small print :p) so using it for anything company confidential is an immediate no. Saying that perhaps the free version of slack does the same in which case this company doesn’t care much about confidentiality…

        2. M*

          From a records-keeping requirements perspective, this is *worse*. Even on the plan this company is described as running Slack on, Slack doesn’t *actually* erase the data of older messages, it just renders them inaccessible to any account on the company plan – they *can* be recovered if ever strictly necessary, it only requires activating the paid version. If the letter writer moves any of *their* communications into personal email accounts, in breach of company policy as described here, they’re a) risking an investigator deciding that they were trying to subvert record-keeping requirements themselves, b) significantly increasing the discovery burden on their company (and themselves) if their communications are ever required in a lawsuit/investigation, and c) risking the *company* deciding that those two created liabilities are enough to let someone go over.

          (Plus, creating extra work for themselves and anyone else who does this as they juggle conversations back and forth between mediums depending on who needs to be in the loop and whether they’re part of the Slack-subversion-squad.)

          As to how the letter writer communicates with *external* parties, nothing in this letter suggests they ever need to, and it hardly seems likely that the letter writer has just forgotten to mention it – seems most likely they just don’t have a job that requires doing that.

          In short, definitely don’t use a separate personal email to get around this.

    4. tamarack & fireweed*

      Indeed. The question actually made me laugh out loud (sorry for the OP – CLEARLY it sucks to work under this sort of regime, but it can’t possibly take very long before they run against a wall with it).

      Just wait until someone with the slightest bit of legal or regulatory knowledge realizes that there is no way for them to prove that employees have been informed about stuff that their state/government will require them to show.

      (I would in fact start job searching right away, because a startup that is too cheap to pay for a communications service – ANY communication service with archiving – is making me wonder about financial stability.)

  1. Phony Genius*

    Well, I guess this proves that all those people years ago who dismissed e-mail as a passing fad were right.

    (Sorry, I misplaced my sarcasm tag.)

    1. NotAnotherManager!*

      They can pry my email from my cold, dead hands. I can find shit going back YEARS, when needed and have a good archive of why we made a specific decision. (Our project records tend to be pretty good, but the meta around the project isn’t. And, when someone groans and complains about they way something was done in 2012, it’s helpful to be able to say, well, we did it like that because you and Bob decided to make it so. Except nicely.)

      Not saying it has to be in email, but if you’r going email free, it sounds like the paid version of Slack with some sort of archive record would be prudent.

      1. Tau*

        Yeah, my company uses Slack for almost all communications…

        but we have the paid version and I can search through messages all the way back to day one.

        (I prefer Slack to e-mail for a number of reasons, but OP’s setup would have me crying in frustration in short order.)

        1. J.*

          Yeah, agreed. There are some real benefits to using Slack (especially in the shared department channels – there are few things more annoying than those email threads full of “looping in X,” “looping in Y,” then someone inevitably replies to a message that wasn’t the latest and leaves people out). But if that’s the route you want to take, you’ve got to shell out the $$ for the archive, period.

      2. Feline*

        Count me as another who won’t give up my email. They’re preparing to take our email archives away, and I will lose 8 years of institutional memory, just like that. When people come to me and ask me about anything from before my medical crisis last year, I literally don’t have those memories any more. Much less the proof of various conversations that emails provide.

        OP’s situation sounds nightmarish for someone with memory issues like me.

        1. Forrest Gumption*

          Can you download your old messages someplace offline before they take the archives away? That would be my suggestion.

          1. Brett*

            If this is like similar situations I have seen where archives are removed, the employees are probably being strictly instructed to delete personal email archives (and they will probably run a script to delete any archives on local machines).

        2. Veronica*

          I save important project emails as .msg files in the project folder. They’re there just like any other project file, whenever needed. Can you do that with yours?

        3. pleaset*

          “I will lose 8 years of institutional memory, just like that”

          This is institutional memory tied to you and your email account. Which isn’t really institutional memory because if you leave it’s probably gone, unless they share it with your successors.

          Real institutional memory is as stuff saved in ways that some range of people within the institution can browse and/or search it in the future.

          Veronica wrote a proper suggestion:
          “I save important project emails as .msg files in the project folder. They’re there just like any other project file, whenever needed.”

          1. Tau*

            Honestly, this is one of the reasons I like Slack (paid edition) – new employees can access and search through past communication, as long as it’s in a channel and not between people directly. They have no way of looking through past e-mails without the sort of workarounds described.

            1. pleaset*

              For sure in this regard Slack/etc are much better than email. Email is siloed.

              Files are key for important documents, Slack/etc for ongoing discussion of stuff. Email no no on. Use it when you have to, but it’s siloed and in the modern organization in most situations that’s a bad thing.

      3. Just Elle*

        My company, with no warning, changed emails to fall off the end of the universe in 90 days. I lost 2 years worth of emails and it was The. Worst. Thing. Ever.
        Just today, 6 months later, it caused me a half hour of hassle because I didn’t have an email to reference. (I do now have auto archive set up to my documents folder but live in fear of my computer breaking and losing it).

        1. Mr. X*

          My company does this- I just save everything to a personal archive and then create a new archive every year.

        2. Vermonter*

          Dropbox and Google both have free cloud storage, and Carbonite was the best thing I ever bought. Like you, I live in fear of my HDD breaking. I already lost a vacations’ worth of photos, I don’t want to lose any more.

          1. AnnaBananna*

            Yep. I set up a pro gmail account that came with 10 extra email accounts for, like, $5.99/mo. If this startup can’t afford $6/mo, there are much bigger issues to worry about. Namely, whether OP will even have a job in 6 months.

            Also, Microsoft now includes the app called Teams with Office365 which has both slack like messaging (that interacts with your Outlook account) as well as video meetings within the messaging (via skype). Not sure how much our institutional license is but my point is that there are many many options out there. Only using a free slack account is just so….short sighted that it really drives home how limited in operational experience this company is.

        3. TardyTardis*

          Archive to a thumb drive–I wish I had before the IT dept tried to hook up my XP machine to Office 365.

  2. Em*

    What if someone is on vacation and misses an important payroll or policy announcement? This sounds like a terrible set up.

    1. Joielle*

      Or an assignment! This is what I was thinking – I guess they don’t want anyone to know what happened if they were gone for a few days? Or communicate with anyone outside the company who doesn’t have Slack? Admittedly, I’m not very familiar with Slack, but this makes no sense to me.

    2. Bilateralrope*

      Not to mention when people start denying that they saw something knowing that the employer doesn’t have a record of it.

      1. AnnaBananna*

        Not to mention (also) that it makes it near impossible to communicate with external stakeholders. If someone contacted me and wanted to open up a line of credit for my toilet paper (or whatever), and I realize they don’t have a company email? Yah, not happening.

        1. Aurion*

          I’m trying to imagine wanting to send a PO to an outside person and telling them on the phone “uh, sorry, we only use Slack, can you create a Slack account?”

          I would be laughed into next week.

          1. Timothy (TRiG)*

            There are plenty of people who don’t need to communicate much, or even at all, outside their company as part of their job. I’m a programmer. I communicate with my manager; my manager communicates with others. (Now, I’m in a tiny tiny company, so I do occasionally need to talk to clients directly, but I really do try to avoid it.)

            1. JM60*

              I work in QA, and if I see something potentially wrong with the product and/or need clarification about something, I usually communicate directly with the relevant developer. I’ll keep my boss looped in if it’s a big enough deal that I think she would want to know about it, but it would be an inefficient waste of her time if all 8 of her subordinates made her play a game of telephone for every little thing (especially since 2 of those 8 are overseas in a different time zone).

    3. writerson*

      Or misses something because OP is “one of several part-time workers.” If you only work, say, Mon-Weds and someone posts something Thursday morning, it could be gone before you return on Monday.

      1. TimeTravelR*

        I know someone that runs into something like that a lot (sort of). They get emails but they can only access them from work. So on Monday morning work sends an email for all ppl to [do something] by Wed. Except there’s two shifts that only work Thurs-Sunday…..

        1. Atlantian*

          I’m full time and run into this from time to time. There is an automated system that sends out tasks 3 times a day, one of which is about an hour after I leave on a normally scheduled day and is due in 24 hours. When those go out on Friday, I come in Monday morning to the original notice, a reminder from Saturday and an escalated reminder from Sunday evening that went to my manager. I finally have the new manager trained to ignore the ones on Mondays (I don’t ever let them get escalated otherwise, they are handled in a timely manner) because it is literally impossible to complete them before the deadline. Engineers refuse to update the system though, there are some people who have Saturday and Sunday as the middle of their week, so presumably they have the same issue Tues-Thurs or whatever. Still annoying though because it looks like I’m slacking when I’m definitely not.

    4. Treecat*

      lol, as if the people who run this company will let anyone take a vacation. Taking vacation is proof you’re not passionate enough!

    5. smoke tree*

      If you’re a part time worker and a message about an upcoming pay decrease comes in and disappears while you’re out of the office, can the company claim to have provided advance warning?

      1. LCH*

        “If you’re a part time worker and a message about an upcoming pay decrease comes in and disappears while you’re out of the office, can the company claim to have provided advance warning?” they could claim it but maybe not prove it? how could they prove all parties saw it?

    6. Ama*

      I belong to a professional association that tried to move from a list serve to Slack, and this is exactly why we ended up moving back after about a year — people were missing out on useful conversations all the time because most members had no time to look at Slack every single day (especially since in this case it was for a group that wasn’t our primary job), and if anyone went on vacation they missed everything (the association has a minimal budget so they were also trying to use the free version). So the Slack became filled with the same questions over and over,where on the list serve we actually have a rule that you can’t ask a question unless you check the list serve archives and make sure no one has asked it within the last year.

  3. That Girl from Quinn's House*

    Can you save a PDF of your open chats at the end of each day? That way, you have a written record of what was said while you figure out your next steps (ex: the company changes policy, you look for another job, etc.)

      1. Becky*

        Does Slack have an export feature? We used to use it and I think I might have seen an export feature…but I could also be remembering 2 work message apps ago…

          1. Becky*

            True! could be only in the paid version. For a very long time my company didn’t have a unified messaging system. When I first started there was a clunky 90’s looking base model message app (can’t remember the name, it was hosted on-site so it could have been home-grown for all I know), then free Slack, then the deparment sprang for paid Slack, then HQ made everyone get rid of Slack or whatever other app they were using and go to Teams company-wide (they’re already paying for it with the rest of the Office 365 suite and Skype for Business). It does make things easier when everyone is on the same messaging app, but there are somethings I got used to on Slack that I now very much miss in Teams.

  4. The Cosmic Avenger*

    How the heck are vendors and clients supposed to contact you??? Clients will NOT be happy if everything has to be done by phone — I want a record of what I asked my vendor/contractor to do, and when I asked!

    OP, run, don’t walk, to the job postings, and get out before this company implodes. This is “thinking outside the box”…without the thinking part!

      1. User 483*

        My guess is they do, but they have to use their own @gmail account or something and not anything that the company would have to pay for.

        1. One of the Sarahs*

          That is giving me the horrors for credibility, though – I can’t imagine getting an invoice allegedly from a professional organisation from @gmail, or a tender etc etc. It just looks dodgy to me.

          A charity I worked for back in the early 2000s did this, getting us to use free email addresses, and it was seen as a sign we were tiny back then, and one of the key things to change as we went from 2 people to expand. And that was seen as a problem 18 years ago!

          Just off the top of my head, problems I can think of include places that only accept references or some financial stuff from an company/institutional email address, and I bet that’s the tip pf the iceberg.

          (I know one can buy gmail addresses @ somewhere else, but again, that needs paying for…)

    1. Detective Amy Santiago*

      This was my question! Unless they are talking strictly internal communication must be handled via Slack? IDK, this makes no sense to me.

      1. GreenDoor*

        So if a client sends an email….there is no way/permission to forward that email to others that need to know? What if the email contains documents or other attachments? Must they all be dowloaded or transcribed and distributed somehow? Seems awfuly tedious. Plus, shouldn’t you err on the side of communicating how the client prefers, including by email? What if a government or other oversight agency wants communications handled by email? What are they going to do? Tell the government to switch to Slack? Ha! This is ridiculous. I’d push back and keep your eyes open. This is a red flag.

        1. The Cosmic Avenger*

          Copy and paste? I’ve had to do this between two different systems, and it’s miserable.

          I mean, I love my IM (we’re now on Skype for Biz), but there’s a time and place for each mode of communication. Taking one of the tools out of the toolbox is treating them like children who don’t know how to manage their time or resources.

    2. Just J.*

      At my last job, we used Slack for all internal communications and email for all external. (And we had Slack set up to save EVERYTHING.)

      But OP said her company did not even give her an email address, so…….yeah, how are you supposed to handle external communications?

      1. Feline*

        I’m not OP, but my role has remarkably little external outgoing email. The incoming stuff is mostly industry news, things from our benefits providers, or spam. Maybe OP’s role has internal customers, not external ones?

    3. Falling Diphthong*

      “Ha ha! No one can audit the box if the box is a slack channel!”

      Seriously I would look for who at the top just cashed out their stock options and booked a flight to the Caymans.

    1. Angwyshaunce*

      This is so strange – I’ve had that song randomly playing in my head all day for no reason. I haven’t even thought about it in years.

      Bizarre indeed.

    2. Former Young Lady*

      Took me a minute to remember my youth in the ’90s; all “doo/doot” refrains these days play in my head to the tune of “Baby Shark.” (…Sorry!)

    1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      I work in a paperless law office. Everything is potentially discoverable. We have emails saved that are old enough to work here.

  5. Jamie*

    Carrier pigeon would have better retention rates. Or a stack of crumpled post its

    This is crazy! I hated slack for the opposite reason, it was added as one more avenue of communication I needed to check in addition to email, texts, and phone…not to mention the people who would reply to emails in slack and losing my threading….arrgghhh.

    But I co-sign the advice to start looking because this is a level of cost cutting that makes me very nervous about the fiscal viability of the company.

    1. I WORKED on a Hellmouth*

      I misread this as “Carrier pigeon would have better retention rats.” And then I thought “I’m not sure how network of retention rats would work, but it STILL sounds more effective and feasible than the cockamamie “free Slack” plan.

      1. boo bot*

        Each employee is allotted five retention rats/year in the first year of service, increasing annually by one retention rat to a maximum of ten retention rats per year.

      2. Jamie*

        Ha – I agree. And now I’m picturing rats filing hard copies of emails who are for some reason wearing little green visors and suspenders, like old-timey accountants!

        1. Christmas Carol*

          I want to run down to my sewing room and make a little stuffed animal version dressed just like this

  6. Mr. X*

    I have no idea what industry this startup is in but if they are subject to SOX or similar requirements (in the US), they will get fined into oblivion for not meeting records retention requirements with their communications. Not to mention the whole “he said, she said” fun that will inevitably happen when there is no matter of record to document what anyone said more than a few days ago, regardless of country or industry.

    1. Allypopx*

      Yeah if this is meant to be cost-cutting in any way it’s incredibly short sighted and will bite them in the behind before too long.

    2. Bilateralrope*

      Oh it gets worse than he said, she said. Just wait until one of the employees starts keeping their own records. Then the employee edits their copy. Then brings that edited copy to court as part of a discrimination lawsuit.

        1. Mr. X*

          Yep, you’re both right about that. We’ve had people do exactly what you’re saying but with access requests. Fortunately we had the unedited, timestamped original.

    3. AndersonDarling*

      I immediately thought that the company’s main objective is to eliminate paper trails. Someone at the top does not want their communication documented. Scary. scary situation.

      1. Librarian of SHIELD*

        This was exactly where my brain went, too. I mean, it could just be startup bros thinking they’re innovative without thinking it through, but it could also be people who are actively trying to avoid keeping a written record of things. I can think of exactly zero un-terrible motivations company owners can have for purposefully avoiding keeping written records, so if OP thinks that’s any possibility at all, I’d recommend job searching.

      2. Shhhhh*

        I’m reading Bad Blood (book about Theranos) right now and…this feels like the same kind of resistance to documentation and muddying of communication channels that allowed Theranos’s fraud to continue for so long. I hope I’m overreacting and LW’s company is just anti-email and cheap for non-nefarious reasons, but…

      3. PSB*

        My first thought too. When my job had a disastrous change of leadership a couple of years ago, one of the first warning signs to me was that the new people wanted all announcements made by managers in person. We never receive news of any consequence in written form anymore.

      4. TiffIf*

        Yup that was my first thought too!
        I work in software that is used by the insurance industry so–lots of regulation lots of retention requirements; if an insurance carrier is being sued or suing we often get official legal notices to not destroy anything relating to or communicated with X client, etc.

        I really hope this bites them (company) in the rear, and I hope OP can figure out a way to retain records both to make her job easier and as a CYA.

    4. Quiltrrr*

      The records management part of me started gasping in shock when the LW said that messages disappear after a few days.

      1. Timothy (TRiG)*

        They don’t. They just become unavailable. Once you pony up for the paid version, all your history reappears.
        We do have email, but barely ever use it. Company communication happens in Slack and Jira. It works well for us. And we were using the free version of Slack at first.

    5. Observer*

      Unlikely to be SOX, but still more red flags than a May Day parade, to borrow a phrase.

      What are you willing to bet that not a whole lot of illegal things are (going to be) said all over the place, with the assumption that it’s “safe” because it’s going to disappear? That contradictory and / or incorrect instructions are not going to start popping up?

      And what other unreasonable and unrealistic instructions, schedules and initiatives are going to come down the pike?

      1. animaniactoo*

        Which is dumber than dogshit, because “not available to you” is NOT the same as “erased from the universe for ever”.

        Slack even makes it completely clear that if you pay when you’re over your limit, you’ll regain access to the old and now inaccessible messages.

        1. Tammy*

          Which probably also means that someone in a litigation context could subpoena those communications directly from Slack… (I’m not a lawyer, but I used to be in a role where I was involved with responding to subpoena requests for data stored in my company’s systems.)

          1. Antilles*

            And then when you show up in court, not only do you need to defend the content of the messages, your lawyers *also* now need to deal with the opposing counsel implying (or outright saying) “…and now that you’ve seen the damaging Slack messages, doesn’t it look suspicious that the company intentionally changed their document retention policy in order to cover them up?”

    6. OrigCassandra*

      Yep. My records-management heart is breaking into a million pieces.

      As will this company’s case in any legal proceedings reliant upon proper GARPy recordkeeping.

    7. Wintermute*

      It’s just willfully ignorant enough it makes me wonder if this is some “genius” higher-up’s “plan” to become lawsuit-proof. “They can’t serve us discovery if there’s nothing to discover! mwahahahahaha!” sort of thing

    8. ArtsNerd*

      To be fair, Slack still stores the messages so auditors and litigators can and will get their hands on them when necessary. Only paid plans let you set up a specific retention policy.

      Doesn’t mean that management knows that of course!


  7. J*

    RUN. Any company who is doing this and doesn’t see the obvious issues regarding documentation and communication is oblivious at best and intentionally law breaking at worse (since almost all company are subject to some form of document retention requirements). I’m gobsmacked at this.

    1. boo bot*

      Yup. My first thought was, “it’s not a bug, it’s a feature.”

      There are so many ways to send messages for free. You could make people use the IM feature on gmail, or some other free email. You could require group text messages. You could make people use Facebook or Twitter DMs. You could send carrier pigeons, or set up an intra-office telegraph. You could use. email.

      You know Hanlon’s razor, “never ascribe to malice that which can be explained by stupidity”? There are some things that can’t adequately be explained by stupidity. I’m genuinely not sure about this one. OP, I would consider taking screenshots of anything you think you might need in the deposition.

      1. Veronica*

        And take them home with you… save them someplace you can get them if you’re not at work. Someplace safe.

    2. Wintermute*

      You nailed it. I have strong suspicions this is some genius’ idea of a way to dodge lawsuits– “if we save NOTHING there’s nothing discovery can uncover!” sort of thing.

      That or they are sick of employees proving they are lying and plan to gaslight the entire company by removing the ability to prove to them (and the employees themselves!) that they actually did say X, Y or Z, so they can lie with impunity and there are no pesky “facts” or “records of what you actually told me” to get in the way.

      I can see someone of a certain persuasion being very taken by the idea of making it impossible to ever prove anything they said, or did, legally or otherwise, and take it as a license to act with impunity because in their mind you now have no proof if you go to the EEOC, NLRA, a civil court, and so on.

      1. LKW*

        Not a lawyer but did work in legal discovery for years. Believe me, any lawyer worth their salt would tell them this is a bad bad idea. Just because they don’t retain their records, doesn’t mean other people aren’t retaining theirs on the others does – or take screen shots as the OP is doing.

        1. Wintermute*

          Oh I know, I should have been more clear, this would not work. But I could see the concept appealing to a certain sort of person who has nefarious intent. There’s a lot of people that think they’ve figured out this one neat trick, which is usually highly inadvisable, that will make them totally immune to the law. It’s sort of like the sovereign citizen thing, “lawyers are like especially bureaucratic faeries, if you say the right words and perform the right rituals they can’t hurt you!” (which is, strictly speaking, true– if you consider ‘following the damn law’ to be a very elaborate ritual).

    3. ArtsNerd*

      To be fair, Slack still stores the messages so auditors and litigators can and will get their hands on them when necessary. Only paid plans let you set up a specific retention policy.

      Doesn’t mean that management knows that of course!

      (copied/pasted from elsewhere)

    4. Tinuviel*

      Agreed. If nothing else, you now know that they are immune to logic and are more concerned with looking “edgy” and “flashy” than using stable, proven reliable and effective methods. Is that the kind of place you want to spend your time and trust with your livelihood? They’re intentionally making it harder to get basic things done.

  8. char*

    How would the manager even be able to answer questions about the missing messages herself? Unless it’s something she knows off the top of her head, she won’t be able to see the old messages either. (Correct me if I’m wrong, but as far as I’m aware, until and unless the organization upgrades to a paid plan, NO ONE at the organization can see the old messages – not even managers or Slack admins.)

    1. Hey Karma, Over here.*

      “I brought this problem to my manager, who just told me to ask her if I had any questions about an older message that had since disappeared.”
      How does the manager propose to do this?

  9. Heidi*

    I’m kind of surprised that this has gone on for a couple of months without something falling through the cracks. If this happened at my workplace, it would only be a matter of days before this system imploded. I guess everyone has developed safeguards for saving their messages. But I doubt it’s more efficient, and not having any backups to accidentally deleting a message is kind of scary to me. Is the company monitoring the outcome of the policy change to see if it is effective at whatever they were trying to accomplish in the first place?

  10. Helena*

    “I imagine they banned email because they decided it was sucking up too much time”

    Maybe I’m too cynical, but I immediately assumed it was deliberate lack of accountability. If it isn’t written down, who is to say what your supervisor really said to you? It’s your word against theirs.

    The fact that assignment instructions are going awol and management seems more than happy for this to continue is waving red flags all over.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Nah, people who want that just don’t put things in writing. This is such a clusterfuck for the company that there’s no way it was a deliberate strategy to avoid accountability — and even if people at the top want that, they don’t want a total dearth of accountability below them / they don’t want junior staff to be unable to track basic instructions for their jobs.

    2. CouldntPickAUsername*

      for me I imagine it’s one of two things. Possibility A one of those “visionary” gimmick managers. “I know, we’ll be different, we’ll use nothing but Slack, it’ll efficientalize the workthrough blockchain process”
      Possibility B some manager got a bug up his butt that someone missed an email or had too many unread emails.

    3. it's me*

      I don’t know about the ins and outs of paying for email servers or pro email accounts, but if they don’t want to pay for Slack I’d be wondering how long it is until they can’t make payroll (I worked for a place years ago that paid once a month, on the first, and one month they went around telling people they’d be a few days late. Reader, I fled that joint.)

    4. Ulf*

      Maybe I’m just not cynical enough but my take was that this had everything to do with wanting to be perceived as cool and cutting edge. “Look at all those companies—even startups—who use email! That’s so 1997. Let’s be really forward thinking and use Slack! Old fuddy duddies other side of town will wish they’d thought of it first!”

      But as I say, maybe I’m just not cynical enough

  11. SheLooksFamiliar*

    Excuse me while I wipe tears of helpless laughter from my eyes. OP, I’m with you, and think your employer is just begging for trouble with this…okay, let’s call it ‘policy.’ Please share an update when things implode.

  12. Llellayena*

    Hmm. The normal response to “this policy is a problem and I want my objections on record” is to send an email laying out all the difficulties with the new policy the the heads of whatever departments would have control over it. In this case, the lack of email makes that a problem in itself. So I’d write up your objections in a formal letter format, on letterhead, listing the names of each person the letter has been copied to at the bottom and mail it. Yes, snail mail. if you have an internal mail system (ha!) you can use that, but it might drive the point home if you used actual USPS mail. Oh and one of your objections should be that if you want to document a formal complaint or request (such as sexual harassment, FMLA, ADA accommodations or policy objections) the current system with Slack is not set up to retain a record of these things for later reference. Email was supposed to replace paper, so show them what happens when you remove that medium.

      1. Iron Chef Boyardee*

        “Better send that via Certified Mail. Just to be complete.”

        Don’t forget the return receipt. Just to be complete-er.

    1. Bilateralrope*

      Then try a reimbursement request for the cost of sending the mail ?

      Not because you expect the money to be reimbursed, but just to emphasize the monetary cost of ditching email.

      Actually, what does the law say about costs imposed on employees because the business is operating in a non-standard way ?

      1. Wintermute*

        In California they’d have to pay any costs you incur as a result, but this would be an edge case because it’s a cost you are choosing to incur not one forced on you necessarily. They could argue it, but you may well win because they’ve given you no reasonable alternatives. Every other state does not require employers to bear any of the costs of your employment.

    2. Hey Karma, Over here.*

      “Oh and one of your objections should be that if you want to document a formal complaint or request (such as sexual harassment, FMLA, ADA accommodations or policy objections) the current system with Slack is not set up to retain a record of these things for later reference. ”
      Just in case anyone missed this. Seriously. This is insane. We are going to start a business. How can we save money? But keeping no records! No paper storage, no servers, no clouds. What could possibly go wrong?

    3. That Girl from Quinn's House*

      There’s a way to go around this, though, I had a boss do this to me.

      Me in Email: Hello Boss, the llama track is closed for safety reasons. We cannot reopen the llama track until we spend [amount of money] on fixing [lists specific ways llama track is out of compliance.]
      Boss in Email: Of course, I approve all purchases, send a list to the business manager ASAP and she’ll purchase it.
      Boss, on phone: WTF is wrong with you, you open that llama track RIGHT NOW and don’t spend a single penny. Business manager, don’t approve ANY purchases for the llama track.

      He created a paper trail that he told me to fix the llama track…so I’d be the one hung out to dry when someone got injured. Not him for vetoing the purchase.

  13. Naomi*

    Aaaaaugh. Noooooooooo. In addition to the issues mentioned, e-mail can be sorted, filtered, and weeded out in ways that Slack messages can’t. I work at a relatively small company, and even here I sometimes come back to Slack after half an hour to find dozens of new comments in a channel. It would be such a pain to have to search through all of those to find a relevant message–and at OP’s company, the ban on e-mail has probably caused a boom in Slack use, compounding the problem!

    1. animaniactoo*

      Slack can be filtered. But you have to be meticulous about setting it up to be sorted first, threading comments off subject titles, hashtag city, dedicated channels, etc.

      The advantage of e-mail is that you don’t have to put all of that in place before you search/filter for stuff.

    2. sofar*

      OMG i just spent the better part of half an hour this morning tracking down a very important Slack message in a channel of 30 people (that was apparently sent while I was out last week). Slack’s search feature is NOT great, and I had to wade through swamps of gifs and memes and random conversation.

    3. Aurion*

      Slack is, to my recollection, very like Discord…and while Discord is great for IM software, email offers far greater flexibility for batch actions. I can sort, filter, and archive all emails from the llama group, set the teapot group’s emails to autoarchive, add labels to all emails from the saucers group, have Gmail nag me about emails from Wakeen that are a few days old and I haven’t responded to yet, and the list goes on.

      The Slack channels are going to be filled with repeat questions because most people won’t be able to find a damn thing without the organization powers of email. If the powers that be were hoping to have more efficiency, they’ve shot themselves in the foot hardcore.

  14. Lola Banks*

    If it helps at all, LW, I think you might be able to pull up old messages in the free version of Slack by searching for specific words or phrases contained in those messages. Not an ideal workaround, but worth a shot.

    1. LaSalleUGirl*

      I just tested that on our (free, family, completely non-urgent) Slack channel, and it just gives me an error that the keyword may be found in old messages that are no longer visible. Bummer.

    2. Former Help Desk Peon*

      Only a certain number of messages back. We have a relatively small user base for ours (and still use email! lol) and we hit our slack limit after a year. If we hadn’t started paying, anything older than a year would have poofed. The company that develops and hosts Slack doesn’t have an unlimited amount of storage space to keep messages for free.

  15. Emi.*

    I don’t understand why time spent saving messages would be unpaid????? You should absolutely do that on the clock, just like you’d be on the clock to make notes from a work meeting!

      1. A*

        Enthusiastically thirded!! This is *work,* even if it’s inane horrible ill-contrived work that you didn’t ask for.

  16. Observer*

    I’m going to disagree with Alison a bit here. I would err on the side of saving too much rather than too little.

    I’m also going to agree with all the people who say that you should start job hunting like mad. To say the least, this is NOT a well run company.

  17. Wherehouse Politics*

    How is email a time suck next to Slack (or other messaging systems?) I don’t work in an office, but it seems like a negligible difference.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      The easier you make it to communicate, the more people do so. So if you impose a really difficult communication system–semaphore, carrier pigeon–and require everyone to only use that, it cuts way down on memo length.

      1. Czhorat*

        Sending a quick IM to an exisitng slack group is faster and more casual than composing an email; keeping everyone’s email box more empty to save archiving/deletion/review is a time save.

        Slack/Teams/Spark is a more casual tool better suited to quick ad hoc single line questions and answers, especially if they’re a long thread with input from multiple people. IT also threads better than email if everyone is answering on, say, availability for a meeting or event later.

        1. Just J.*

          Yes, we loved Slack at our last company. It made intra- and inter-office communications a breeze and it definitely improved the level of coordination on our projects.

          However, it became basically ‘facebook for the office’ and it was a huge time suck. We had lots of channels devoted to general communications and fun things. We would post gif’s, weather reports, sports updates, anything and everything to get a laugh or distract you from the humdrum.

          We loved it for all reasons professional and social. But, yep, total time suck.

          1. ArtsNerd*

            Slack has fixed a bunch of communications issues in my office! And it’s also not even a little bit a replacement for email. Sweet feminist deity, this is a mess. Run, OP; and don’t look back.

    2. pleaset*

      Slack or similar tools have big advantages for certain types of communications and I suspect that in a lot of organizations it would be appropriate to make those the default tools for internal communications – especially quick back-and-forth, or loose long conversations.

      But email is key for external communications and for distributing key important info. You can’t get rid of it, but I think a lot of organizations would do well to push for and make it easier for staff to use Slack or similar tools as the default.

    3. ssnc*

      There’s a place for being able to IM coworkers quickly – my old office used Skype for IMing people, which we could use to send documents as well as ask if someone wanted to get lunch. but we also had emails to send documents, especially to supervisors. Skype, as far as I can tell, keeps old messages, even though you have to search for them, and for our use was free (but maybe we were supposed to pay and didn’t, idk)

      But if I had to pick one over the other, it would always be email over a messaging system because document storage and organization is significantly easier, especially if there are long-term, ongoing projects.

  18. animaniactoo*

    All I can tell you is that last week, I sent my boss an e-mail titled “I am scary”. Because she’d asked me for some research we’d done years ago, and I was able to find it in under 5 minutes. Which included searching my e-mail and coming up as dry as she did after the company forced us to purge what we considered to be irrelevant/unimportant e-mails due to space issues some years back.

    If I wasn’t here, that research would have been completely gone. I mean, it’s on the server. It’s correctly filed in an accessible place. But you still have to know which rabbit trail to follow to find it.

    Not being able to find messages from last week? Oh hell no.

    1. Former Help Desk Peon*

      I’ve referred back to years old emails a few times and was hailed as a hero because no one else had the email or had it documented.

      Do I keep too much? Hell yeah, but you never know what’s going to be needed (and I’m too lazy to go back to 2017’s emails and prune now)

      1. An Elephant Never Baguettes*

        Yeah, the nature of my work is such that we regularly (not weekly, but every few months at least) have to find an old email trail from a couple years back which at the time no one thought would ever be relevant again. Outlook search all is my best friend in these cases. The idea of everything being deleted after a few days gives me hives.

      2. Kyrielle*

        This used to be me at a previous job. Then we were told to limit email we stored. I don’t suppose the lawsuit in which I provided about 1.5 GB of files was involved…. (Mind you, most of what I supplied was just clutter. ANYTHING with a particular keyword had to be involved, and I had a LOT of things that mentioned it in passing as in “after X, I’ll get to this and….” and bug reports related to X and….)

        Possibly the worst thing I turned in was an instant-message exchange that gave me directives to work on a task related to X. The directives part wasn’t the problem, the commentary – by someone higher than me in the organization – about the client involved, however, was. But they’d been sent to me only via IM, and so I’d saved it for the directives, and never worried much about the window-dressing commentary.

        I’m not seeing how Slack-only makes that scenario any less likely. Using email only for formal stuff and Slack for casual things might, but Slack-only just means people are going to save stuff off, and like me, they might not think “gee, what if there is one day a lawsuit, and this gets looked at” and prune it to the necessary elements.

        (Didn’t actually damage the outcome as far as I know. Still awkward and embarrassing for the person whose opinions were aired.)

    2. yala*

      Legit, just last week I dug through my emails to find some items we sent to another department and never got back. One of them was over 2 years ago.

      Heck, just today I had to get my old login info for our primary program off of one of my earliest e-mails because the stupid program reset and deleted my saved info.

      I can’t imagine not keeping emails.

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        Today I did a new piece of work on a file that was opened in 2008. All the email correspondence in those nearly twelve years is on the cloud file server and I can just go in and find it within about five clicks. This is not my oldest live file – that’s a decade older.

        Cold. Dead. Hands.

  19. Falling Diphthong*

    I can’t be the only one thinking that a failure to retain any documentation of anything is considered a feature by someone…?

    1. Allypopx*

      No you’re definitely not the only one thinking that.

      Though I have found that often when I instinctively apply malice to something it turns out to just be idiocy instead. But still, same instinct.

      1. Hey Karma, Over here.*

        I agree with idiocy.
        “why would we need to keep messages? That’s for lawsuits and audits. Nothing like that would happen HERE!”

    2. irene adler*

      I’d be exploiting those lost communications to my benefit, every time.
      Show me the proof that I’m wrong.

  20. TechWorker*

    The day you learn the company you work for is run by loons is the day you should start job hunting. I’m sorry.

  21. Goldfinch*

    I get aggravated at our “auto-delete at six months” e-mail policy, but apparently it can get so much worse.

    1. Bow Ties Are Cool*

      They froze auto-delete on my account 2 years ago because I project I was on ended up impacting a legal issue.


      1. TiffIf*

        My company is insurance adjacent (and therefore government and regulation and multi-million dollar contract adjacent) NOTHING gets auto deleted (at least email-wise–someone changed a setting and accidentally deleted a large chunk of our splunk logs last year-and they were not retrievable; VP was VERY UNHAPPY ).

        I still have emails from BEFORE my start date (IT set up email a week before I started so I got IT notifications, and a few other company wide things before I ever saw my desk.)

        1. Shad*

          I’m a paralegal. When I started, they set up my email on top of my predecessor’s, so I can still search all of her emails as well as my own.

          1. not really a lurker anymore*

            We forward the old email to the new person, for a while. How long depends on a lot of variables decided by people who get paid more than me. Then we disable and archive the old email. But we’re local gov’t so we have to keep everything.

  22. Czhorat*

    This is a stupid solution to a real problem; many organizations DO overuse email. I’ve often said that a complete UC plan includes email, instant message, telephony, desktop VTC, mobile VTC, in-room conferencing, file-sharing. Email is a great tool for sending non-urgent and important messages, for tracking certain types of work and deliverables, for policy updates. THe problem is that many of us (myself included) use email when we should be using a phone call, IM, or, yes, a post on the Slack channel (or Teams or Spark or whatnot).

    NO EMAIL EVER is a way to move people away from that. It’s heavy-handed and takes away email from when it IS appropriate, but I totally get the reasoning behind this.

    1. Observer*

      It’s a cure that is definitely worse than the problem, though. It’s like chopping off someone’s head to treat migraines.

      1. Czhorat*

        Oh, I absolutely agree; my first line is that it’s a stupid solution.

        There IS a real problem in email overuse. I see “NO EMAIL EVER!!!” as a poor reaction to this rather than buying into the conspiracy theories from some on here that it’s about deliberately avoiding paper trails out of malice.

        1. Observer*

          I hear you. The thing is that it is SUCH a terrible and stupid solution, ESPECIALLY when combined with a replacement that is beyond inadequate, that you have to wonder if that’s not just an excuse.

    2. Falling Diphthong*

      This reminds me of the manager trying to get people comfortable with electronic tablets by telling people to replace the simple task they knew how to do with a much more complex workaround using the tablet. Surprisingly, she met a lot of resistance.

      1. Czhorat*

        IT’s creating the superficial look of an organization that uses technology appropriately without first doing the work to change the culture.

  23. Kes*

    This is pretty bad. If this is what you have to deal with though, I would just keep your own notes on anything you think could be important (this won’t catch everything, but it might help at least) and count this as part of the work you now have to do for them
    But also, I might consider getting out since honestly, the fact that they’re not willing to invest in the tools needed for their employees to be able to work successfully is a bad sign

  24. Nicole*

    This sounds like a cover up, and they don’t want to leave a trail. I say cover yourself and save as many messages as you can just in case. In the meantime, look for a new job so that you won’t be caught up in something that you don’t want to be in.

  25. cmcinnyc*

    My first thought is that the company is doing something illegal and they want a plausible out on why there’s no paper trail or FOIA-able records somewhere down the line if it all goes south. Job hunt yesterday.

    1. SheLooksFamiliar*

      ‘When looking for a reason as to why things go wrong, never rule out sheer stupidity.’ Murphy’s Law No. 8

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        Of course, things can start as sheer stupidity, and a clever employee can than turn that into the key to their 8-figure embezzlement plan.

    2. Observer*

      That’s a very bizarre idea. However, it’s less bizarre than what these folks are doing. Normally, when a company does something ridiculous I tend to think there is a backstory that makes the behavior less crazy or the leadership is just incompetent. But I can’t think of a backstory that is less bizarre than this, and the level of incompetence required for this kind of nonsense is mind-boggling.

      Which is a long way of saying that this is so bizarre that I think you are right.

    3. ArtsNerd*

      To be fair, Slack still stores the messages so auditors and litigators can and will get their hands on them when necessary. Only paid plans let you set up a specific retention policy to actually delete them.

      Doesn’t mean that management knows this, of course!

  26. Irish Reader*

    Free advice from an ISO 9001 auditor…. you need email. I don’t care if y’all use Gmail & Googledocs as long as it works smoothly and efficiently for the company. You can always tool up later as the company grows.
    You need be to able to show an audit trail for things like minutes, announcements, instructions, handoffs. This is nuts..

    1. Jamie*

      A ISO 9001 kindred spirit. I can’t imagine it’s a certified company, but even so the lack of document control is making me clenchy.

      I have a recertification / scope expansion audit next week and no matter how worried I am …at least we aren’t running our controlled communication on free Slack!

      1. Irish Reader*

        High 5, fellow auditor:) Our ISO recertification audit is the week before Xmas, ugh. I am sure yours will be just fine. I don’t really get Slack, but maybe I just haven’t seen it deployed effectively. And this post isn’t helping ;)

        I think at one point, I had seven different communication apps on my phone for work (account mngt for a social media & marketing company). Insane!
        I won’t work at a non-ISO certified organization anymore, it isn’t worth it for me.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I am praying that this place isn’t regulated or certified in any kind of program like ISO. It simply wouldn’t work and they’re more of a mess than just using Free Slack for communications.

      1. Irish Reader*

        For sure. I would bet they’re not. I would be stunned if they’ve even heard of ISO or Lean at this point.

    3. Close Bracket*

      You need be to able to show an audit trail for things like minutes, announcements, instructions, handoffs.

      Email is a shitty form of data management. They need that trail, but there are way better tools to provide it.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Sure it is and if they were moving to an actual form of data management, that would make sense. However it doesn’t seem like that’s the case, since they’re just instructed to use a free version of Slack.

  27. LurkerVA*

    No email? How do you correspond with people outside the company?!

    There are SO many things wrong with this, not the least of which is audit issues if any emails have to do with financial concerns.


      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        But I don’t think your first response is totally off-base…since they just “did away” with email and they don’t have an email to their supervisor. So this reeks of “Use your personal email” for client relations.

  28. Larry Nyquil*

    That’s utterly hilarious. Oh my god.
    An email server can be set up for free if you know what you’re doing with Linux.

    Nah, man, FREE SLACK. That’ll work.

  29. 2 Cents*

    Seriously, OP, stop saving these messages on your own time. They want to be ridiculous? They can answer your questions later, since your boss will magically be able to read messages that have disappeared.

    As a former PT freelancer, when the company I was doing work for decided I should read through several(!) style guides on my own time because they couldn’t combine them into a coherent document and wouldn’t pay me, that’s when I said sayonara.

    1. Daffy Duck*

      This! You should be saving/screenshotting on company time as this is part of how the company conducts business. Yeah, it sure is gonna slow down output – that was their choice. If you are a freelancer, you now need to build that time into any contracts you negotiate with that company. I was under the impression you were a part-time employee for this company, in which case you should NOT be putting in unpaid time on anything related to company business.

  30. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    My mind went to “documentation retention” as well. This is…sideways.

    It sounds like one of those age old Start Up issues. Like when I was told when interviewing a place that they don’t keep receipts and are A-OK with just going off a credit card statement for things regarding a lot of expensive client relations. I internally jerked and couldn’t get out of there fast enough.

    They’re cutting corners and calling it “efficiency” without thinking about the long term or possibly not even caring.

    Not even supervisors have email…I just cannot.

  31. Clementine*

    I’d start a GitHub repository and store everything of importance there. People can follow threads too. Then you have a record. Or, if you have JIRA and Confluence, do something similar there. Is code stored in a repository? Start writing what you have to say in HTML or Markdown files and committing them to the code repository. This is a stupid situation, but I think there are (ridiculous) workarounds.

  32. Alice*

    You should not be saving messages on your own time. They’re work-related messages, that you need to do your work; you can save them while you’re on the clock. You shouldn’t waste time just because your company is run by loons.

    No advice aside from that, only sympathy. Consider job hunting because start ups are a risky proposition and this one is not making sound business decisions.

  33. Amethystmoon*

    How does this company do business with outside vendors and customers? Do they make people fax everything?

      1. Amethystmoon*

        I ask this because many US employers are still stuck in the 90’s and do not want users to have access to social media or texting during work hours. Some even block all the outside internet access and ban employees from bringing in cell phones to work because cell phones have cameras.

  34. Phony Genius*

    I just found an article titled “5 Reasons Your Team Should Quit Email, Text, & IM and Slack Instead.” I won’t post a link here, but you can Google it if you want. Either the boss read this article and is extremely gullible, or he wrote it himself.

    * – This commenter is not responsible for any user who smashes their monitor after reading that article.

    1. Midwest writer*

      I went and read that article. So Slack is better than text messages because typing on your phone is annoying … but Slack is good because it works on your phone? And emails are too long because email is too formal? (You could just send shorter emails. Model the behavior you want and people will imitate it. Or am I just weird?)

      1. Allonge*

        Oh thank you, a sane person. I just sat through an hour of complaints on how email is baaaad and we should IM instead.

        I mean, go nuts, k? But if you find email too formal, maybe start writing less formal emails? And if you cannot use less formal language with someone, how would IM-ing help, exactly?

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          Ayep. I work with someone I’ll call Formal CoWorker. Her individual text messages start “Dear Seeking” and are closed “Thank you, Formal”
          (She’s so darned good at what she does that we just work around it…but I wouldn’t want her to train the interns.)

      2. Christina*

        The benefit to me of Slack working on my phone is that I can get people to stop texting me work stuff! And now anything they would otherwise text is kept in a system with all my other work-related stuff that I can still access if I don’t have my phone. One less place to have to search, and I can manage how and when I receive that info.

    2. Veronica*

      The internet is patient. It will let you print anything on it!

      (paraphrasing my grandmother’s saying about paper.)

    3. Angwyshaunce*

      Hmm … it’s almost like there’s some kind of financial incentive involved.

      “5 Reasons to Stop Drinking Coffee!”, by Tea.

  35. Rayray*

    This is kinda beside the point brought up here, but it’s infuriating when companies try to save a buck by using free/trial versions of programs at a greet inconvenience to employees.

  36. Watry*

    My little CYA-trained heart just stuttered. This is a scarlet flag.

    Please don’t spend unpaid time saving messages, OP. That’s not a good use of anyone’s time and will only make the higher-ups think it’s working great.

  37. Environmental Compliance*

    As a compliance person, my skin is *crawling* at this. Just……why? Why would you choose to do this? It is going to absolutely F*ck the company later. 100%. Something Very Important will get lost and you will be absolutely boned. This is bananacrackers.


    1. Veronica*

      My corporate paranoia is revving up. I bet whoever made this decision *wants* the company to be f*cked later.

    2. pleaset*

      Is it appropriate to be saving Something Very Important *only* in email? I would have thought that things like that should actually be filed.

      I’m not saying eliminating email is a good idea, but is email really the right place for very important info to be stored in your business?

      1. Observer*

        Filed? As in on paper?

        Actually, no. But even if you were right, email would be LIGHT YEARS ahead of free Slack.

        1. pleaset*

          No, I mean digital files.

          Very Important Things should be filed, rather than relying on communications media whether slack or email.

          1. Veronica*

            Yes, and I save important emails as files in the project folder.
            However, it also happens that I need to refer to emails I didn’t foresee to save. Luckily my company keeps them on a server. I have to wait for emails more than ~1.5 years to load, but that’s much better than nothing!

          2. Veronica*

            I’m also thinking about times I and my boss were going “how did we do that thing one or two years ago?” and I go back and check the emails from that time to see… If OP’s company is around long enough, they’ll end up reinventing the wheel because there will be no records of how they did it last time…

      2. Environmental Compliance*

        Of course it’s not only in email – but at least email archives, and you can easily save an email that you need to if there’s relevant information. And if (for example) I flat out tell you via email (to document) that doing XYZ is against the federal regulations, and that you may not do The Thing, and then you proceed to do The Thing anyway, and we end up with an EPA investigation…. that is going to go horrendously bad.

        File documents, of course. But I don’t just need to file documents. I need records of communication, which a Slack that auto-deletes does not do easily or well.

        1. pleaset*

          ” I need records of communication,”

          Pro-tip – you can actually save email conversations into file systems.

  38. Katie*

    Just want to get ahead of the tinfoil hats – Slack’s TOS will tell you that all messages are retained and will be handed over to law enforcement if necessary. If the company upgrades their plan, the entire history of Slack messages will become searchable. Old messages don’t disappear; they’re put behind a paywall. The company isn’t going to get out of any auditing responsibilities by staying on the free Slack plan.

    That being said, I agree that it’s a red flag I’d a company won’t spring for the paid version and won’t allow email.

      1. Observer*

        Exactly – I’m guessing that at least some level of the company is unaware of it, given the supervisor’s response to the OP.

    1. Elspeth Mcgillicuddy*

      Company finally upgrades to paid Slack. Half of the archived messages say, “I’m sorry, can you send me X again?”

  39. Nanani*

    I gotta say “because email is considered a time suck” is pretty far below “Intentionally wanting to make document trails for shady stuff hard to make” in my list of reactions.

    LW, is there anything else shady in this set up?
    You might want to dust off the resume before this startup implodes.

  40. Xyj1313*

    Oh, hey, I think the LW and I might work for the same company–at least, in the “too cheap to shell out for a Paid Slack plan for the peons” sense. Upper management totally gets a paid plan, though.

    Difference is, in our region we actively encourage the employees to email managers *because* all the Slack messages go bye bye.

  41. Elbe*

    Either management is shady or they are incapable of thinking even a few weeks down the road.

    People who genuinely can’t tell why this would be a MASSIVE issue are likely not capable of running a functioning business. I doubt that this “growing start up” will be around for long.

    1. Observer*

      Agreed. Even if there is nothing shady going on, this is a huge red flag about the competence of management.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Yeah. I don’t really think it’s shady shenanigans with just this to go on but they’re certainly rookies who shouldn’t be running businesses. They’re not as smart and savvy as they think they are.

  42. Qwerty*

    Mattermost is a free alternative to Slack that allows for unlimited history retention. I don’t want to enable your company since the current setup is illogical and think that it spells bigger red flags about this start-up, but for your own sanity maybe you could suggest this as an alternative so you get chat history and they get a free chat client. My company had the same aversion to paying for a chat client (though we have email) but saw that not having chat history was problematic so we recently switched over.

  43. WellRed*

    Hmm, I’m now wondering my company doesn’t use Slack for internal communications, instead of emails. I shall have to ask!

  44. Dagny*

    “I’m also very curious how they’ll comply with legal requirements around document retention.”

    They don’t.

    If your company gets sued, your employer has to immediately ensure that all documents relating to the lawsuit are preserved. “The internet magically disappeared them” is not going to fly in a court of law.

    (This was, in fact, my first thought upon reading this.)

  45. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

    I want a follow up in a year when everyone starts asking things like, “What did we do last year for the XYZ account?” “What was the budget/purchase order number/vendor/specs for that last year?” “Who was in charge of ABC on the Jones account, and who approved the XYZ? Wait, was it approved?” It’s almost like they don’t intend to be in business for years to come.

  46. Emily K*

    From a practical/tactical standpoint, if they continue to be ridiculous about this you might look into one of the various web-based collaborative project management tools. Most of them have some way to exchange messages and record notes, typically organized into threads by project. My team uses one and whenever my employee and I make a decision over Slack, I record it in the relevant project thread “for posterity.”

    It doesn’t feel like a lot of overhead the way saving in a file system would because I’m already recording these kinds of things somewhere to be able to do my job – the project management tool just helpfully serves as both my to-do list and my project notes, AND is a way to keep all the communications I have with my colleagues organized by project. I have the website bookmarked on my computer so it’s super easy to pull it up and write, “Per Slack, you’re going to order 250 Kongs instead of 200 to get the volume discount. We decided to pay for expedited shipping to give Karen more time to assemble swag bags for the influencers and their owners. I’ll get in touch with Karen today to make sure she clears that day for party prep. ” If I can’t boil it down to a quick summary like that, I’ll just copy and paste the whole relevant part of the conversation directly into the project thread.

    And then everything is not only recorded, but it’s 1) distilled to the most relevant comments focused on one narrow project and 2) organized and easily searchable in the future. I strongly prefer it to email for collaborative work.

      1. Emily K*

        We’ve used a few over the years. Currently we’re on Basecamp, which might not work for the LW because I’m not sure if there’s a free version or how good it is, but we used the free version of Trello for a while, and a few smaller sub-teams use the free version Notion.

  47. Misquoted*

    I use Slack for non-work-related groups, and the loss of older messages drives me nuts. I can’t imagine using it for work!

  48. But There is a Me in Team*

    Nah, Bro. No way. Last Job was a train wreck of a small non-profit that (ostensibly) helped disadvantaged entrepreneurs and was trying soooo hard to be innovative/disruptive/we’re so cool like the private sector now! We have a dart board! Espresso machine! Keg! It was like a cartoon of Y2K Silicone Valley. They kept email but really pushed everyone (everyone being 10 people) into Slack. A giant time suck. Also, totally unnecessary as in their rush to be all new and cool, they crammed 10 people into a space the size of my dining room. Our desks touched. So the absurdity of Slacking the person arm’s length from you instead of shifting in your chair and asking if they wanted to go to lunch… Also, though, a place with upside down financials. Please, please update us OP!! And good luck in finding a better gig.

  49. Elizabeth West*

    This would not fly at any place I’ve ever worked. What’s going to happen if they need that information to back up something down the line, say, a customer issue, or even a legal matter? It’s a bad, bad look.

  50. IT Guy*

    A few people have mentioned an audit trail. All of the information messages sent in Slack are stored by Slack in-perpetuity, even on the free plan, and the company can request it data as needed for HR/legal reasons. The free plan of Slack only displays the last 10,000 messages to the end-user (employees). My own org used the free version until messages started disappearing after 18 hours due to our usage of it. We moved to the paid tier and all of the previous messages that were lost, were now visible.

  51. pcake*

    I would screencap every single message and save it by date and subjects in the name of the screencap like 09182019-ordering-teapot-handles.jpg or 09182019-new-dresscode.jpg

    I like FastStone Capture or Awesome Screenshot the best – they’re fast, free and easy to use.

    1. Bilateralrope*

      I’d go for something that saves the messages automatically in plain text.

      Simply because that would be the scariest option to anyone who thinks the messages are actually gone. The option most likely to scare them into keeping their own records.

  52. The One with the Unpopular Opinions*

    They obviously didn’t run this past their lawyers. It’s so irresponsible. If they make a decision like this, how can we be sure their other decisions are sound.

    1. Observer*

      You can’t.

      In fact, I think it’s reasonable to assume that most of their decisions are not sound, or if they are it’s by accident.

  53. Quill*

    When I worked for a start-up that wouldn’t shell out for antivirus, that should have been my first sign that it was being run by a completely unreasonable person.

      1. Quill*

        It took two years and getting fired for invented reasons, but yes.

        Things I learned from that job: how to remove computer viruses by hand, and how to run like the wind the first time your boss says “we’re like a family!”

  54. ShwaMan*

    I’m pretty sure this is the set of circumstances that led to Mr. Carlson dropping live turkeys out of a helicopter.

    (Run away, OP – before the indictments start.)

      1. Risha*

        It’s a famous (and hilarious) scene from the 70s sitcom, WKRP in Cincinnati. YouTube link in the next reply, to get temporarily caught in the filter.

  55. TootsNYC*

    A business-process consultant I worked with (he was internal, and now he has his own tiny firm) gave me this advice:

    Make it visible.

  56. St. Rose of Lima Beans*

    From a litigation standpoint, this is very bad. Very bad. What are they going to do if they get a litigation hold?

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Cry about it and pay out the nose for their negligence.

      But it really also depends on their business in general, for the most part many don’t have to worry about litigation nearly as much as others. Lots of businesses are pretty lowkey.

  57. Alston*

    Hey LW

    Before my old company shelled out for professional Slack we had the same issue. The messages don’t totally disappear (at least a few years ago they didn’t) you can still search for past messages. So when stuff disappeared I could search for a couple of key words and it would pull up the messages. I don’t remember if it was just the message I searched for, or if it had the couple of messages on either side as well. But as a stop Gap until your bosses come to their senses use that.

    Maybe add the word kumquat (or something else you never write) to a message with instructions you need to be able to find again. Hell you can make your own special slack channel for instructions/reference stuff you use, and just put kumquat in everything so you can find it. To be clear, it’s stupid you have to do this, but this might help you. You could also just start printing everything :p

  58. Keyboard Jockey*

    This doesn’t speak to the heart of the problem, LW, but if you star important messages, they’ll still be accessible in your starred items even after they “disappear.” (Slack keeps all messages, even from free tiers, and restores the archive if you get a paid account later.) I’d liberally use that feature if I were you!

    1. Slacker*

      Ctrl+F’d to find if someone else had mentioned this because I was going to say the same thing. On a free Slack space I’m in (not my work one, thankfully) I have starred messages from 2016, so they stick around for a while at least.

      A short-term fix, but hopefully it gives you some peace of mind in the meantime.

  59. Quandong*

    LW my advice is to find another job or jobs as quickly as you possibly can.

    There are ways to get around the free Slack feature of hiding messages after reaching the limit, if using it for social reasons.

    What is going on at your workplace is staggeringly bad and the fact your manager doesn’t care is a massive red flag.

    Get out of there! This is not normal and it’s not okay.

  60. char*

    By the way, if, by any chance, this organization is a nonprofit: Slack offers a free upgrade to the “paid” version for nonprofits with under a certain number of employees, and a heavily discounted rate to nonprofits who have more than that number of employees.

    Not that that would solve the numerous other issues this organization seems to have. But it would help with this one specific one.

  61. Peter*

    OP, please let us know how this one turns out. The updates from letter writers are always interesting and yours especially so given how bizarre this is.

    Even if I wanted to emulate this ridiculous proposal, I would at least use a program like WhatsApp (which can be accessed from a web browser not just a phone) not a system that loses messages after a few days.

  62. Commenter*

    I haven’t used Slack for a while, but when a previous job had the free version, files/images uploaded were still accessible after the messages weren’t, as long as you knew which conversation to find them. If OP is in a position where her communications might be helpful for someone to retain, she could send it as a file so that her colleague will be able to retain it. Still soooooo far from ideal though.

  63. Wrench Turner*

    If they’re still hiring, as their new operations/facilities manager, I will only send out reports in emojis. Because ‘startup’ or ‘disruption’ or whatever.
    Plumbing update:
    Air Conditioning Update:
    Parking lot repair update: ⌛️

  64. haley*

    this is so wild! it’s only like six dollars per person per YEAR how cheap are they. i can’t imagine how frustrating of a work environment that must be. they could even make the part timers into multi-channel guests and it would be even cheaper.

    and if they’re trying to expunge their records, this isn’t how to do it. slack keeps all the data for if the team upgrades to a paid plan. if they were trying to get rid of their history they’d have to upgrade and then enable a message retention policy which can be configured to delete messages after X days, though that only works for private channels and DMs.

  65. Oaktree*

    Wow, hope that company has fun with the inevitable e-discovery phase and fines for failure to retain records… Lol.

    LW, you should start looking at job postings. This company may or may not actually go under/go into litigation, but this will definitely not be the end of the bad, weird stuff they will definitely try to pull. (My guess is the next step will be payroll discrepancies.)

  66. Miss H*

    For YOUR peace of mind, an easy workaround would be to install Pidgin, a messaging client, and a third-party plugin that provides Slack access. Pidgin will log all messages that come to you and that you write. It makes a folder for each person/conversation and it keeps an html file for each day (which can be opened with Pidgin’s log reader or any web browser). For each person/conversation, you can search within the chat logs for keywords. At least then you will have your own records without all this work screenshotting.

    I have not used the Slack plugin, but I have happily been using Pidgin and its logging functions with the Skype plugin for a while now. It works well, and it logs without any additional effort on my part.

    Slack plugin for Pidgin:

    But, seriously, your employer has major issues. Good luck on your job hunt!

Comments are closed.