The HipChat Stress

Email stress has been widely acknowledged for some years. Email is a major source of pressure in workplace as people feel the obligation to respond quickly. While we are still searching for solutions to cope with email stress, unfortunately, a newer and even worse source of pressure has emerged: the HipChat stress.

Here is a real story. I was having an in-person conversation with a lady lately on a weekday afternoon. She works for another software company where HipChat is used as much as emails, if not more. Our conversation was about an important matter, so I put aside all my electronic gadgets to focus on the conversation, as well as to pay respect. The lady had her laptop opened next to her while we were talking, as she said she wanted to stay online. Our conversation was interrupted for several times, because she noticed that someone was “at-ing” her on HipChat. Since it wasn’t an emergency (e.g. live site incident), I asked her why she felt the obligation to respond right away. She said that’s because it was on a group channel.

Later that day, I couldn’t stop wondering what’s the difference between (a) a group channel on HipChat or Slack, vs. (b) an email thread which has the whole team on it. It appeared to me that our brains seem to equate a group channel in HipChat to a real team meeting which has everybody in the same room (btw, such illusion is a testimony of HipChat and Slack for successfully bringing the team closer together.) In a real team meeting, of course we feel obligated to respond when our names are called. Hence we feel the same when being at-ed in a group channel in HipChat or Slack.

As the instant messaging services like HipChat and Slack are gaining popularity at an unprecedented pace, I guess that the HipChat stress that I observed on that lady will also soon become very common and probably dwarf the email stress. A hundred years after Henry Ford installed the first moving assembly line in the world, HipChat and Slack are becoming the new assembly line, for the software engineers.

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